CHATHAM — Some unusual activity at Harding’s Beach this week is a precursor to a large dredging operation expected to take place later this month or in early February.
Starting Tuesday, the easternmost parking lot at the beach was closed to vehicles to provide working space for crews assembling dredge pipes. The finished pipes will be used by the Barnstable County dredge to pump sand from the Stage Harbor entrance channel west to a beach just west of Cockle Cove Beach.
For years, dredge operations have used sand from the harbor channel to nourish beaches to the west, and this project is of a similar design, Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said.
“This will, however, be a larger project,” moving an estimated 20,000 cubic yards of sand, he said. “We haven’t done a project of this scale since the early 2000s.” By comparison, the dredging of Mill Creek last spring removed about 6,000 cubic yards.
Moving sand to a beach nearly two miles away has always been a challenge, requiring long lengths of pipe and a booster pump. One of the county’s two new dredges was reserved for this purpose, but there was a shortage of pipe. The county has sufficient pipe, though it is stored in various locations around the Cape, on the north and south sides. If they collected all of it for use in Chatham, “they would basically be shutting down all other jobs, now that they’re running two dredges,” Keon said.
To solve the problem, the town has purchased 3,000 feet of its own pipe, which is being assembled at Harding’s Beach. The 50-foot sections of plastic pipe will be fused into ten 300-foot long pieces. The parking area is expected to be closed for four or five days for the operation.
The town will own the pipe and will either rent it or lend it to the county during the dredge operation. Given the pipe’s sheer size, storage presents a challenge, Keon said. It makes sense for the equipment to be kept nearby, “as we fully expect that this is going to be a somewhat routine requirement,” he said of the dredging. No storage site has been chosen yet, but the preferred option may be to submerge the pipes offshore and mark the location with a buoy, so they can be retrieved when needed. Alternatively, they might be buried on the beach in such a way that “no one even knows it’s there.” he said.
Though the dredging will be extensive, it will not likely be enough to prepare the harbor channel for summertime boat traffic, Keon said. Last year, dredges visited the area several times to clear persistent shoaling moving through the area from the east, likely driven by currents passing through the inlet in the barrier beach. Without last year’s repeated dredging, the harbor entrance would likely have become impassible for some boats. So it’s not surprising that the county dredge might not be able to complete the job, particularly given that late winter coastal storms will undo some of the effort.
“It is anticipated that we would likely need to have the [Army Corps of Engineers] come back, hopefully in the spring or early summer,” Keon said. Complicating the request is the fact that the hopper dredge Currituck remains in a shipyard for a major overhaul and will not be available. Also, with a lack of clarity about the next federal budget, it is not clear how much money – if any – would be available for the project. Should federal money be lacking, the town might be required to provide supplemental funding, which it has done previously, Keon said.
While the dredging is planned for sometime in January or February, “given the time of year this is always uncertain,” he said.