Advisory Committee Sifts Finances Of Operating A Town Dredge

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Dredging

A dredge from Barnstable County works in Pleasant Bay.   FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS — Steering a ship of skeptics and advocates of the town buying its own dredge, dredge advisory committee chairman Charlie Carlson kept an even keel Monday during discussion of a financial model prepared by Woods Hole Group.

Members punched holes in the draft model and each other’s arguments in a process that will lead to a recommendation to the select board and, if it passes that hurdle, a future town meeting.

“The question of whether the town should purchase a dredge has arisen because there is so much dredging ahead for the town,” Carlson said, noting needs in Nauset Estuary, five channels in Pleasant Bay, and Rock Harbor, “all of which need dredging because they are becoming very unsafe for navigation.”

The town contracted with Woods Hole Group to study whether it should rely on the county’s dredge service, private contractors, or its own equipment, not just for immediate needs but for maintenance dredging over the next three decades. The model examines purchase and ongoing operating costs for three options - the Ellicott 370 hydraulic dredge, the Ellicott 670, and a mechanical dredge – versus the county and private companies.

“The model in its current form indicates that using private contractors is the most expensive alternative,” Carlson said. “The choice is between a town-owned or Barnstable County dredge if all three water bodies are dredged. It’s also clear that there may be a need to use private contractors in certain instances.”

The model “indicates that using the Barnstable County dredge is less expensive than a town-owned dredge unless Nauset Estuary is dredged with a 100-foot channel and there’s dredging behind the barrier beach,” said Carlson. “The barrier beach is the last mile to get to the ocean,” and therefore essential for commercial and recreational boaters. “It may be challenging, but I believe we will get the permits eventually.”

Carlson said the draft financial model “lacks a revenue element (and) only covers costs incurred by the town (for owning and operating a dredge).” That revenue could take several forms: the town using dredged sand elsewhere rather than buying it and trucking it in, selling sand to other towns and to sand and gravel concerns, and using the town dredge in other communities through contracts. Carlson estimated that, given the cubic yards to be dredged in Orleans annually, the dredge could be available to other towns about 40 percent of the time.

Nate Sears, the town’s natural resources manager, noted that regardless of who’s doing the dredging work, the sand produced would belong to the town. DPW and Natural Resources Director Tom Daley said that the recent restoration project at Nauset Beach “was probably the biggest dune project that happened on the Cape,” but used a fraction of the sand all the proposed dredging would produce. He warned that “we might have more sand than the market can absorb.” Carlson said he’d asked Woods Hole about the demand and been told that was outside the scope of the study.

Member Betsy Furtney pointed to the limited capacity of the town’s planned spoils dewatering site just north of Nauset Beach, as well as the need to turn the sand to ensure the demise of red tide cysts. “That assumes the sand is going toward beach renourishment,” member Bill Amaru said, “but there are plenty of uses for sands inland.”

“Inland pits are running out of sand,” said member Steve Smith. “I’ve been told that by one of the producers in Brewster who bought the Rock Harbor sand… If they want the sand, they’ll come in and truck it out on their cost.” And having some on hand, he added, would allow the town to start beach renourishment as soon as permits were in hand rather than waiting to truck in sand.

“There’s a worldwide shortage of sand,” Amaru said. “We will never have a time when we can’t rid of the sand we have on hand… At a time when the town is looking to curb costs, we’re gonna have to have a real good reason to go forward with the purchase of a dredge.”

Furtney and member Ginny Farber stressed the lack of data on which to base revenue estimates for the financial model. Carlson said there should be further conversation with Woods Hole Group about developing such information so the committee could make a proper recommendation.

County dredge personnel are planning a site visit to Orleans on Oct. 15, Carlson said, and he hopes to get a better sense of what the regional service would cost over the decades, especially the rising costs to mobilize each year that he indicated may be understated in the financial model.

The model also assumes an either-or purchase of a hydraulic or mechanical dredge, but several members pointed out that both methods will be required for different sites. “Ginny’s right,” Carlson said. “If Rock Harbor can’t be dredged hydraulically, it ought to be taken out of the model.”

“It seems to me that we are trying to figure out whether it makes sense to buy a dredge when we should be asking what’s the most cost-effective way to address the town’s needs,” Sears said. “If the county’s involved, how can we rely on the county? We have some serious needs on the back side of that barrier beach that need to be done on a regular basis. We need to figure out how to get that area done without relying on the county.”

The committee debated staffing levels proposed in the financial model, among other issues, and will meet again to review the report that accompanies the Woods Hole Group draft financial model. Members will have a formal meeting with the consultants later this year.

The finance committee plans to meet with representatives of the dredge committee on a Thursday evening between Oct. 9 and the Oct. 31 town meeting.