Compromise Sought On Width Of Nauset Estuary Dredging

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Dredging

An aerial view of Nauset Inlet, with Town Cove on the upper right and Nauset Beach in the upper left.  COURTESY PHOTO

ORLEANS Eastham and Orleans continue to struggle to find common ground on how to dredge the clogged-up Nauset Estuary.

When it met July 23, the Nauset Estuary Dredging Stakeholder Group found agreement over the area to dredge but not the width of the new channel. “I was under the impression that we kind of sorted this out,” Eastham member and commercial fisherman Jonathan Granlund said, noting previous discussion of a 100-foot-wide channel from the Town Cove basin, shrinking to 50 feet around the Hole in the Wall and 100 feet down (and 300 feet off) the barrier beach. The plan would include a dredged spur down to Priscilla Landing.

“I would vote against that,” said Eastham member Harry Swift, a geologist. “I would want it to be 50 feet across the board to reduce impacts.” Eastham Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe agreed. “I know that my (select) board will not want to increase the width of this channel,” she said. “We’re on the board with the preferred alternative and at the 50-feet level. If you want to widen it to 100 feet, in my mind that’s against the advice of the regulatory authorities that looked at this project. We created that 50-foot channel because of their comments to us.” Eastham Conservation Agent Shana Brogan added her support for the 50-foot maximum.

Orleans representatives to the group have urged preserving at least the potential for a wider channel.

Recreational boater Charlie Carlson, who was elected chair of the group last week, asked Beebe whether her board would support seeking permits for a wider channel “without any commitment to constructing that wider channel, so that we have the ability to potentially construct on a wider basis if that proves necessary for any reasons: traffic, the way the channel is being changed by the movement of water.”

“To expand the scope is going to cost a lot more money,” Beebe said. “It will take a lot more permitting time. I’m not sure (the board) will want to go for either one of those things… I understand why the fishermen in the group want it to be larger, (but) I don’t think that’s what the board agreed to.”

“I’ve hung on to the term ‘dredge zone,’” Orleans Select Board Chair Kevin Galligan said, “and listened carefully to what (Woods Hole Group consultant Leslie Fields) pointed out: this is not one and done. If we don’t permit an area we can work in over many years and we limit ourselves to just a narrow channel, that’s all we’ll be able to do.”

“That’s what we want,” Granlund said, “a zone we can dredge in as westward migration continues. Pretty soon, we’ll be too close in a 50-foot channel. You can say dredge 50 feet wide, but we want a permitted zone 100 feet wide.” Orleans commercial fisherman Steve Smith had his doubts. “The fishermen did say they wanted a 100-foot channel,” he said. “That gives us the chance to succeed. Right now, we already have a 50-foot-wide channel (that) goes through Cable Creek,” an option that has its own drawbacks.

“A whole lot of people are using (Cable Creek) that would never use that if the prior channels that ran down through the Hole in the Wall to Snow Shore, Priscilla Landing (were clear),” Orleans Select Board member Mark Mathison said. “I understand Harry’s concerns about the impacts on the marsh and the number of boats going through there… Dredging traditional channels through the estuary will take the pressure off Cable Creek, that northern part of the marsh, and get the flow back where it always was… Short of putting someone out there in a boat with blue lights and telling people not go through there, the only way we can change behavior” is to put the channel where it was.

“I understand the concerns our neighbors in Eastham have,” Mathison said. “Out of respect for that, we can amend this (later). We should jump on the consensus here for a 50-foot channel. I know it’s not ideal for fishermen, but let’s get this thing moving forward… The sooner we get something going here, the sooner the pressure is taken off Cable Creek and the northern part of that marsh.”

Earlier, Granlund had said, “If we have to fight an extra two years for a 100-foot channel, I’ll take the 50-foot channel sooner, get the stent sooner to keep the inlet alive. It does need water exchange. It’s critical to the survival of Nauset Estuary.”

Fields said she’d work on a comparison of intertidal area impacts of 50-foot and 100-foot channels, noting that her group is consulting on a Sandwich harbor dredging project that’s requiring “minimizing the channel and doing mitigation for fisheries and bird habitat. At low tide, when these shoals emerge, that’s foraging habitat for endangered shorebirds. The way to mitigate now in Sandwich is to reduce the size of the project.” Also, “(There’s) better success permitting with a 50-foot channel.”

To keep the permitting process moving, Fields needs to file a request for a special review process that would allow joint consideration by federal and state agencies and the Cape Cod Commission. “We can be vague in this document,” she said, “and say we’re still trying to decide the width.” “Say, minimum 50 feet wide, with further discussion,” Carlson suggested. “That will give Woods Hole Group time to develop the science on the intertidal impacts.”

Beebe said she’d consult with her board again. “I declare this unresolved, and we’ll come back to it at our next meeting,” Carlson said. “We’ll see if we can reach consensus on how to proceed.”