A Lot Of Clams: Upweller Project Gets $295K Boost From State

By: Alan Pollock

An architect’s rendition of the new upweller and pier at 90 Bridge St. COURTESY STANTEC

CHATHAM The town has raked in a $295,000 grant from the Massachusetts Seaport Economic Council to help design a new shellfish upweller facility at Stage Harbor.

The grant will fund the next phase of engineering for the upweller and multi-use waterfront facility at 90 Bridge St. The funds will cover designs, permitting and bid document preparation for the projected $3.4 million project.

The final plans must be endorsed by the board of selectmen, and the town will seek additional grants to help cover the actual construction costs. Absent that money, the project will be funded under an existing waterfront bond authorization already approved by town meeting.

An initial version of the plan was rejected by selectmen as being too ambitious and expensive, and the project team scaled it down to its current form.

“That plan was then endorsed by the board,” Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said. The facility will include an upweller building on a pier next to the Mitchell River drawbridge, surrounded by a deck where visitors will be able to fish, along with gangways leading to a floating dock. The existing timber pier on the property would be expanded and would include a gangplank to an additional floating dock, and all the floats and docks will be fully accessible by people with disabilities. A public restroom with a composting toilet is also included in the project. The plan for the site was endorsed by the town’s water-related advisory committees.

While the facility could be used by commercial fishermen, that’s only one of its purposes, Keon said.

“The original goal was to provide a waterfront access for mixed municipal and public uses,” and a chief purpose was to provide a new upweller, he said. Used to grow shellfish from seed, the town’s upweller is the central piece of equipment in it shellfish propagation program, which supports Chatham’s robust commercial and recreational shellfishery. In 2017, the commercial wholesale value of shellfish in Chatham topped $5 million.

The current upweller is located underneath the harbormaster’s office at Old Mill Boat Yard, and is at full capacity with no room for expansion. Since power outages can cause the juvenile shellfish to die, a generator needs to be on standby at all times, but there is no permanent generator at Old Mill Boat Yard. The intakes where salt water is pumped into the system are located close to where boaters fuel, pump out and wash down their vessels, and any pollution pumped into the system could be disastrous to the growing shellfish, officials say.

Proponents say a new upweller at 90 Bridge St. will provide better water quality, which will keep the shellfish safe and give them the opportunity to grow to their maximum size. The new building will provide better viewing of the operation by the public, and a safer work environment for town staff, and it will share a generator that will be used to power the adjacent drawbridge during outages.

Having earlier submitted a detailed application, town officials pitched the project to the state’s Seaport Economic Council last week, and learned that $295,000 had been approved. Building on the preliminary engineering and designs done last summer, the funds will be used to pay for a final design, as well as permitting and the preparation of documents necessary to bid the project.

“Any final plan would ultimately go back to the board of selectmen for final support and approval,” Keon said. It will be up to the board to decide whether to proceed with the project, which is expected to cost around $3.4 million – though an exact price won’t be known until bids are returned. Initially, the job was estimated to cost $2.09 million, but that was a “rough ballpark estimate,” Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the board in June. When the design was refined, it became clear that a bulkhead would need to be installed, which will cost up to $1 million. Given cost escalations from 2019, the $3 million estimate now stands at $3.4 million.

Because it involves some dredging, and because the new upweller pier will be a new license application rather than the expansion of an existing license, the permitting process is expected to be a lengthy one, Keon said. If all goes according to plan, construction could theoretically begin a year from now.

“I think that’s optimistic, just given the permitting phase,” Keon said. A more realistic time frame would likely have construction starting in the fall of 2022.

Until then, the parcel will remain as-is.

“It’s been very actively used,” Keon said. “It’s quite popular.” Anglers use the existing dock for fishing, and commercial fishermen and shellfishermen have also used the space for unloading their catch. “The goal of this project is to make the site as user-friendly as possible and expand opportunities,” he said.