CHATHAM — A private dredging company is now clearing the Stage Harbor entrance channel, continuing the work started by the Army Corps of Engineers' dredge Currituck in January. In light of severe shoaling, the work was essential to keep the channel open for this summer's boating traffic, but the job is costing significantly more than it would have if the Barnstable County dredge had been available.
Texas-based Dredgit Corporation was hired by the town to move 15,000 cubic yards of sand for a $530,000 contract, more than twice what the town would have paid for the same service from Barnstable County. Because the county dredge’s booster pump malfunctioned and hasn’t yet been repaired, the town was required to seek private companies to clear the channel.
Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said the Dredgit bid was far lower than the two other bids the town received, $1.4 and $1.5 million, respectively. A key reason was that the equipment was already in Chatham carrying out dredging at Outermost Harbor Marine, so the town did not need to pay for transportation costs, Keon said.
Extreme shoaling at the harbor entrance, caused by stronger currents flowing south of Morris Island from the barrier beach inlet known as the Fool’s Cut, has threatened to close the harbor to deeper-draft boats.
“This was crisis potential,” Keon said. When the Currituck visited, it was unable to dredge in some customary locations because severe shoaling meant the channel marker buoys could not be moved. “The Corps did what they could,” he said, but it’s still not clear how much sand they were able to remove before they were required to move on to the next port. Had additional dredging not been carried out, there’s a likelihood that the channel would’ve substantially silted in.
“This really was a critical dredging need,” Keon said. There is a chance that the town will seek to hire Dredgit to do additional work above and beyond the amount in the contract, he said.
That amount, 15,000 cubic yards of sand, “may sound like a lot,” Harbormaster Stuart Smith said, but it’s not likely to be adequate. Smith estimated that fully clearing the channel might require removing between 50,000 and 60,000 cubic yards of material.
A booster pump is required because the dredge spoils are being used to nourish beaches to the west. Some of the sand will be placed on Cockle Cove Beach, and in exchange for a financial contribution to the job, the residents of the Harding Shores neighborhood are having about 4,000 cubic yards of sand placed on their beach. The remainder will likely be placed on Harding's Beach.
Dredge crews are working hard to beat required annual closures designed to protect horseshoe crabs; additional limitations are sometimes also required to protecting nesting shorebirds.
Though the town is reassessing its spending priorities in light of the COVID-19 crisis, funds for the dredging have already been secured. The town received a state grant last year to support the effort, and town funds for the work were appropriated last year. Voters at the most recent special town meeting were expected to be asked to appropriate $500,000 for maintenance dredging, but that article was not acted upon, as town officials found the money elsewhere.
The Dredgit dredge completed its work at the Outermost Harbor entrance channel a couple weeks ago, and marina officials report that the entrance is in excellent condition and has been marked with channel buoys by the town. The sand recovered from the effort was largely placed on the Quitnesset Spit and has provided some storm protection to the Morris Island causeway, Smith said.