ORLEANS — Orleans will have to navigate the perilous passage to permitting for the Nauset Estuary dredging project without the financial support of Eastham.
At the Aug. 20 meeting of the Nauset Estuary Stakeholders Group, Eastham Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe said her select board was “not willing to fund the continuation of the permitting process because they do believe the permitting issue was put to bed last year when we came to an agreement we would support the project but weren’t going to fund the permitting part of the project.”
Orleans select board member Mark Mathison urged maintaining an even keel.
“Every time we have brought this to (Orleans) town meeting, the people have voted in favor of funding,” he said. “I understand the concerns that both towns have about this. Until we get the permitting process done and all the science is completed and all the questions people have raised are answered, clearly this is not going anywhere.
“The town of Orleans started this. I’m certainly willing to go to our town meeting and advocate for funding the permitting process… This is a time we either put up or shut up. We go to town meeting, get the funds, do the permitting, and at that point ask the town of Eastham to join us in completing the project… Once their questions are answered, I assume they’ll be much more willing to contribute their share to the actual project itself.”
“The board understands that once the permitting process is complete and we’re into an actual proposal for dredge services that Eastham would then clearly be in the project in terms of funding,” Beebe said.
Orleans Select Board Chair Kevin Galligan noted that Eastham is already contributing through the participation of Beebe and other officials and citizens on the stakeholders group. “Your input is really important in this,” he said, “and speaks well of supporting the permitting process.”
Coastal geologist Leslie Fields of Woods Hole Group outlined a proposal for services to complete permitting, dividing the costs into the current fiscal year ($166,126) and FY2022 ($159,856). Both figures include a 10 percent contingency reserve.
“We have developed a scope of services that includes environmental permitting required for a joint (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Cape Cod Commission) review as well as follow on permitting with local, state, and federal agencies,” Fields wrote, adding, “It is expected that permitting will take at least two years to complete.”
Fields told the stakeholders group that “the costs did go up. We doubled the amount of time for each of the permits for responding to comments and coordinating with agencies. If we don’t need that time, we won’t use it and won’t charge you for it. I’m responding to what I heard the group say before: better to ask for more money and not use it than ask for some amount and say you need more later.”
Leaving the question of funding aside, the stakeholders endorsed unanimously the proposal for services. It’s likely an article for funding will be brought to the Oct. 26 special town meeting in Orleans.
The next big step for the group is a pre-permitting meeting with state and federal regulators, scheduled for Sept. 1, a follow-on to a similar scoping session held in Lakeville more than two years ago. It’s an opportunity to present the project and address concerns in an informal setting. Last week, Fields reviewed a matrix she will present that looks at the feasibility of dredging the estuary via four factors: environmental impacts, construction, cost, and permitting.
Fields stressed that the effort is about improving navigation, not water quality. “There won’t be a measurable change in tidal flushing with this project,” she said. “We’re not dredging the mouth of the inlet to allow a bigger tidal prism in and out of the harbor… That trickles down to water quality… This project will not have a measurable impact on improving water quality. That shouldn’t be thought of as the reason we’re doing it.”
The consultant said the proposal has “no impacts on intertidal resources anywhere other than behind the barrier beach. With the 100-foot wide dredged channel, we lose 1.92 acres; with 50 feet, .96 acre.” She said there may be ways to minimize this with a deeper channel.
Studies of shellfish density found 13 quahogs per cubic foot in Town Cove, a number that might raise concern among regulators and require a relay to other areas. The number also piqued the interest of the water-wise stakeholders.
“I’d like to see exactly where (the quahogs are in Town Cove),” commercial fisherman Steve Smith said. “That’s pretty dense for the middle of a channel.” Fields told him the survey was within the dredge zone, not just in the channel.
“Worth rakin’,” Smith said. “It is worth rakin’,” Orleans Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears agreed. “So also worth protecting,” Fields observed.
Later, Fields sketched possible post-permitting construction costs and the practicalities of carrying out the project in the wintertime window allowed by environmental regulations. She also laid out the annual and less frequent costs of maintaining the dredged areas. The stakeholders group hopes to host a visit by the new superintendent of the county dredge department to the estuary next month. In addition, the project would require a mechanical dredge for work in Town Cove.
Woods Hole Group is also working with the Orleans Dredge Advisory Committee on a study of whether the town should acquire its own dredge, such as that owned by the town of Edgartown, for a variety of projects including maintenance dredging in Pleasant Bay and at Rock Harbor and perhaps even jobs for neighboring towns. Chatham is also examining buying its own dredge, and expects to receive a report in the next few weeks.
At the Aug. 17 meeting of the dredge advisory committee, members reviewed a draft financial model for a town dredge prior to receiving the formal report next month. “The short story is that Woods Hole Group has tried to price out the capital costs of a dredge and all its associated equipment, support equipment, boats, and pipe,” chair Charlie Carlson said. “They’ve tried to create a budget for personnel to run the operation and have included periodic replacements of certain elements like trucks and things which will not last 30 years.”
The study is looking at two sizes of hydraulic dredges, the Ellicott 370 and 670, and at mechanical dredges. “It is very clear that the amount of dredging that a mechanical dredge can do is only a fraction of what a hydraulic dredge can do,” Carlson said. “The Ellicott dredges can dredge out about 200 cubic yards per hour at optimum whereas a mechanical dredge does 250 cubic yards per day.”
Committee member Bill Amaru said there’s no need to investigate the Ellicott 670, which he said is too big and too expensive to run for the work needed in Orleans, and added that the 370 “is the right size for what we’re doing.” Carlson said Woods Hole Group coastal scientist Adam Finkle, who’s doing the study, had heard concerns from Ellicott that the 370 might not be up to the task of maintaining the channel in the very active area behind the barrier beach. He said he asked Finkle, who will meet with the committee Sept. 14, to ask the manufacturer whether the smaller dredge could be outfitted to handle that area.
Carlson told the committee he planned to meet with a representative of the Sipson Island Trust this week to discuss possible disposal sites for materials from Pleasant Bay maintenance dredging and to look also at sites outside Quanset Pond and at the entrance to Pah Wah Pond. He said he’d be joined by Fields, Sears, Finkle, and conservation agent John Jannell.