Commercial Fishing Community Lands Support For Rock Harbor Improvements

By: Ed Maroney

Looking across Rock Harbor Road from the bottom of the illustration, proposed improvements to the Rock Harbor commercial wharf can be seen, including a shortened bulkhead (left) allowing end-in docking and a triangular viewing area for the public. The charter boat fleet is at the left, and Eastham’s facilities are across the channel. FOTH-CLE ILLUSTRATION

ORLEANS There’s an old-timey feel about the town’s commercial wharf at Rock Harbor, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Instead of enjoying end-in docking like the nearby area for charter boats, fishing vessels may have to tie up side to side. There are no floating docks for easy access; ladders are required to carry on equipment. The narrow channel between the Orleans and Eastham sides of the harbor is another drawback, and there are no identified areas from which the public can view the action while not interfering with business.

“Rock Harbor is a working harbor with a long history of commercial fishing,” Harbormaster Nate Sears told the select board last week. “It’s something the town should be embracing… We should be showcasing this. Presently, the harbor appears to be a place forgotten, almost like something out of the history books. We owe it to the fishermen and the heritage of the town to bring it back to life and make it a safe place for our working fishermen.”

A response has been quite a while in the making. Four years ago, CLE Engineering, now part of Foth, looked at all the town bulkheads. “What got us focused on the commercial wharf at Rock Harbor was that the wharf itself, the landing dock, needs work,” said DPW and Natural Resources Director Tom Daley. “The wooden boat pad adjacent had a 15-degree lean right next to our fuel dispenser.” That led to a vehicle restriction in part of the area and a project in the town’s five-year capital plan.

Given the opportunity to apply for planning, design, and, eventually, construction support from the state Seaport Economic Council, the town looked at “turning this immediate bulkhead need into a full-service rehabilitation of the wharf,” Foth-CLE Engineering senior project manager Christine Player told the board. The town secured approval from the council for help with design, permitting, and bid costs and conducted public outreach efforts, running alternatives by members of the fleet and the public.

So far, the council has provided $147,200 of the pre-construction costs of the project, with the town’s share at 20 percent or $36,800. At its Aug. 5 meeting, the select board agreed to proceed with the detailed design and permitting stage. The estimated construction cost, including a 20 percent contingency reserve, is $3.9 million, and it’s anticipated that the council would fund up to $1 million of the total.

“It will likely take a year to get through the permit process,” Player said. “If you complete the preliminary design this fall, you’d have the final by September 2021. The bids would go out early January 2022, and the contract would be awarded sometime in the spring, so construction could start in November 2022. That would dovetail with the need for town meeting approval of the project.”

Commercial fisherman Bill Amaru said the local fleet “had a lot of input. The safety features are just tremendous. One of the really difficult things about operating out of Rock Harbor on the commercial side is getting on and off the boat, and drafting alongside. That goes away with this project.” Noting Sears’s comments about the need for an update, he said that “having a working operation that looks like the 21st century rather than the 19th century is something we need to pay attention to.”

Plans call for a new bulkhead to be constructed 20 yards landward of the existing one. “It really opens up the waterway and allows us to install a floating dock system to support the current fleet,” Player said. “All this is based on current users having end-in access to the floating system to dock through two landing areas. A small landing up in the north will be constructed so the floating dock can extend there to serve the remainder of the smaller boats that are part of the commercial fleet. Then we’re also looking at rehabilitating the existing pier the town owns.”

A small triangular area bordering the sidewalk, part of a pile-supported concrete deck, will become a public viewing spot. “We did learn in talking with the users that there’s a lot of curiosity on the waterfront,” Player said. “A lot of times it interferes with commercial operations. (We would) isolate this area to give the public viewing and seating to enjoy the harbor.”

The vote to move forward was unanimous, with select board member Andrea Reed adding, “long overdue.”