Chatham Waterways Projects Make Headway

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Waterways

The new trap dock at Old Mill Boat Yard. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM Despite the disruptions to life on land, the town is making good progress on several key waterways projects. The new trap dock at Old Mill Boat Yard is complete and is already being used by commercial fishermen, the long-awaited observation deck at the fish pier is basically finished, and there’s a plan for completing the dredging at Stage Harbor.

In a recent update for selectmen, Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said the new, expanded observation deck at the fish pier is essentially complete. As of June 2, town officials were expecting the installation of a new telephone line for the emergency phone in the new elevator, after which point the elevator contractor was expected to make final connections that would allow the state’s elevator inspector to visit. At the time of his update, Duncanson said there were three or four small items on the “punch list” for completion, and the town was retaining $38,500 from the general contractor to ensure the items were finished.

Duncanson said the total project cost, including town-authorized change orders, is $1,711,000. Originally slated for completion before Memorial Day, 2019, the project was plagued by slow work and a lack of construction workers. The town has assessed $38,500 in liquidated damages because of the delays.

“It’s been a very, very long process,” Selectman Cory Metters said.

Duncanson said town officials hope to have a virtual meeting with general contractor Sciaba Construction and reach some agreement about the liquidated damages so that both parties can conclude the matter without litigation, “because neither side wins in that scenario,” he said.

Even once the deck is complete, it’s not assured that it will be opened to the public immediately. A state order remains in place that prohibits gatherings of 10 or more people, and until that order is lifted, “there isn’t a lot of reason to open the deck,” Duncanson said. On a busy summer day, large crowds of sightseers use the deck to watch seals and fishermen, and the new deck is designed to accommodate even more people than the old one.

Harbormaster Stuart Smith warned selectmen that the sightseers are coming whether the deck is opened or not.

“We’re going to have groups of people, and we’re going to have to manage that in some way,” he said. If the town doesn’t open the observation deck, “it doesn’t solve the problem of crowding at the fish pier. It may even exacerbate it,” Smith said.

The newly reconstructed Stage Harbor trap dock, by contrast, is complete and already in use.

“Unlike the fish pier observation deck, this project has moved along at lightning speed,” Duncanson said. The contractor has finished work and removed equipment from the site, and commercial fishermen started using the facility around June 6. The dock has two davits for unloading fish totes and room for two trucks to receive the catch. Instead of the gravel and dirt that was previously in place, the new facility uses articulated mats like those sometimes used to build revetments to create a stable surface for trucks.

The $2.3 million contract with general contractor ACK Marine includes a $47,000 change order. The project budget included a $230,000 contingency fund, of which the town only used about $80,000, Duncanson said.

“We will end the project still with about $150,000 in the contingency and no unexpected overruns,” he said. The job was delayed slightly by the pandemic, but the town and the contractor agreed to extend the schedule somewhat. ACK Marine agreed to extend the workdays from eight hours to 10 to accelerate the work, knowing that the local fishing fleet was under pressure to leave its winter berth at Saquatucket Harbor.

“This contractor has been wonderful to work with. They have been extremely responsive,” Duncanson said.

“It just goes to show you, with whom you contract really does matter,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said.

The multi-phased project to dredge the severely shoaled Stage Harbor entrance channel is ready to enter the next phase shortly, Duncanson told the board. Started by the Army Corps of Engineers in January, the project was suspended when the hopper dredge Currituck had to move to its next assignment and was unable to dredge in the usual places because of a silted-in channel marker buoy. The buoy and its mooring were so covered in sand that a Coast Guard buoy tender was unable to remove it.

The town retained the services of a private company, Dredgit, which was already in town to dredge Outermost Harbor. The Dredgit crew cleared 22,000 cubic yards of sand from the channel, placing it on Harding's Beach, and allowing a crew from the Robert B. Our Company to reach the 2,000-pound block holding the buoy in place. That crew actually removed two other buoys that had previously been silted in from the channel.

“Now we have a straight channel that the Currituck can work efficiently in,” Duncanson said.

Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon has signed a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers, which expects to work for 10 days to clear the remaining sand, using $360,000 in existing funds from the town’s dredging account and a state grant. Duncanson said he’s hopeful that the wide, deep channel will be sufficient for boaters this summer, but that remains to be seen.

“That area’s so dynamic, unfortunately at this point we just don’t know how long that’s going to last,” he said.

Normally, the dredging of Stage Harbor is shared by the Currituck and the Barnstable County dredging program, but equipment failure and other problems at the county took them out of the equation this year. Given the great expense of hiring a private dredge, town meeting authorized a study to determine whether it would be cost-effective for Chatham to purchase and operate its own dredge. The draft report is expected to be ready by early July, and it will analyze four alternatives. The consultants analyzed dredging projects in Chatham over the past decade, “so they know where we need to dredge, how much we need to dredge, the conditions in the area” and the town’s economic data, Duncanson said.

It might take the county a year or two to get its dredging program “back to where it was,” he said. “And we can’t necessarily wait for that.”