Chatham Debates Location Of 'Expedition Blue' Waystation

By: Debra Lawless

A rendering of the Expedition Blue waystation proposed for Bourne. A similar “cube” is proposed for Chatham, but a location has yet to be determined. COURTESY PHOTO

The Blue Economy’s Expedition Blue initiative will be showcased through four “front porch” waystations in Chatham — but the question remains where those waystations will be placed.

During its meeting on Oct. 27, the parks and recreation commission is expected again to discuss possible sites for Expedition Blue’s eight-cubic-foot modular cube. The commission rejected Oyster Pond as a site for the cube during its virtual meeting on Sept. 29 and sent the town’s Expedition Blue working group back for another look at possible sites. The commissioners subsequently visited the proposed Oyster Pond site of the cube.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll have some solid information to bring forth to the board of selectmen in November,” Community Development Director Katie Donovan said last Thursday. The selectmen ultimately have final say in accepting the sites.

The story of Cape Cod’s blue economy is to be told through Expedition Blue, Donovan said. Expedition Blue is a network of sites that describe the region’s strong economic, social and historic connections to water. Grant money was allocated for Expedition Blue in 2019 by the Baker-Polito Administration’s Seaport Economic Council. The project as a whole is being overseen by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. The interpretive waystations must be placed on public land.

The series of installations is scheduled for 10 towns from Provincetown to Bourne, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Chatham and Harwich are two of the participating towns. Bert Jackson, director of community engagement for the Blue Economy Project at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, appeared before the commission to ask for the commission’s endorsement of the four waystations that would consist of three interpretive posts and the modular cube. But commission chair Meredith Fry saw the waystations differently.

“Setting up these modules is impinging on the view of Chatham,” Fry said near the start of the Sept. 29 meeting. While she said she supports Expedition Blue’s concept, she does not support installing the cube at Oyster Pond. “I feel like we can find a better place for it,” Fry said. Among other sites, she suggested the community center.

Toward the end of the commission’s 37-minute discussion of the waystations, the three commissioners who were present — Fry, Kimberly Robbins and Ira Seldin — voted 2-1 against endorsing the Oyster Pond site, with Robbins dissenting. However, lacking commissioners David Eldredge and Dave Mallowes, the matter was deferred to a later meeting. Fry also requested that Donovan, who was at the meeting to speak about Expedition Blue, add a member of the commission to the working group set up to choose the waystation sites.

The six-person working group is made up of Donovan; Chairman of Selectmen Shareen Davis; Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson; Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon; Chatham Shellfish Constable Renee Gagne; and John Pappalardo of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. The group proposed that, in addition to the cube at Oyster Pond, posts be placed at the Chatham Lighthouse overlook, the Chatham Fish Pier and 90 Bridge St. overlooking Stage Harbor.

The spots the group settled on, all near water, were chosen “to showcase the beauty of Chatham,” Donovan said.

Fry disagreed. She later said a post, rather than the cube, may be acceptable at the Oyster Pond parking lot site close to the beach entrance.

The design for the open cube, which would have a bench inside it, was inspired by the lifesaving shacks that provided refuge for shipwrecked sailors along the coast of the Cape, according the bluecapecod.org website. Each of the sites has a viewfinder that tells people what they are looking at and is supported by an interactive mobile website to give users a multimedia experience by scanning a QR code on a smart phone. The Blue Economy website would provide additional information and links to related attractions such as seafood restaurants or, for example, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. The cubes would “allow for contemplation, education and investigation about the region’s past, present and especially, the future.”

Seldin said while the cube idea was “theoretically” fine, he believed that families going to the beach are not interested in pausing at signs. “They’re just interested in getting onto the beach as quickly as possible,” he said.

Once approved, the installations would be built off-site during the winter and installed in the spring, Jackson said. The units were designed by the award-winning architectural firm CambridgeSeven, the primary architect for the original New England Aquarium. The units would be gifted to the town which agrees to reasonable maintenance for 15 years.

Selectman Cory J. Metters, the board’s liaison to the commission, asked at the Sept. 29 meeting if, in light of the pandemic, the bench in the cube would need to be sanitized. Duncanson replied there is no need for sanitizing the bench “unless conditions change drastically.”

One of the Blue Economy’s goals is building regional identity. “Our relationship with the water is very special,” Jackson said. He added that along with a respect and reverence for the water comes a responsibility to care for the environment.