Facing April 1 Deadline, County Dredge Changes Tactics

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Beaches , Dredging

The county dredge crew maneuvers pipe on Harding’s Beach Tuesday. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO


CHATHAM The plan was for the county dredge to move the sand from the Stage Harbor entrance channel to a feeder beach west of Cockle Cove, where it would slowly drift east, nourishing beaches along the way. But thanks to a looming deadline related to piping plovers, that plan is being modified a bit.

Updating the select board last week, Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said the dredge has been successfully clearing the channel and moving the sand through long pipes and a booster pump to the feeder beach some 12,000 feet away. But thanks to that long run, the process has been slower than anticipated.

“The through-put has not been as great as we would like,” Duncanson said. The dredge is required to finish work by April 1, when regulations limit activity on the beach to protect nesting shorebirds. But the goal of moving about 30,000 cubic yards of sand from the harbor entrance remains unchanged.

“This was really a navigational project to restore the Stage Harbor entrance channel,” Duncanson said, though “the public probably sees the beach nourishment part of it more.”

Responding to the deadline, officials relocated the dredge pipe slightly to the west to nourish Cockle Cove Beach directly for a day or two, and then shortened the pipe further to deposit the sand on Harding’s Beach. Because the sand is being pumped a shorter distance, the work is now progressing more quickly, Duncanson said. Last year’s nourishment at Harding’s Beach focused on the areas in front of the two parking lots, but left a gap between the two areas where the beach was thinner. It is that area that is now being filled, Duncanson said.

The work is not expected to clear the channel sufficiently for this summer’s boating traffic, “because the currents aren’t changing. They’re continuing to push sand into that channel,” he said. The town has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bring its hopper dredge to do additional clearing in the spring, and that work will be key to ensuring the waterway remains navigable, Duncanson said.

Dredging at Stage Harbor will be an annual occurrence for the foreseeable future, he noted, and the town purchased 3,000 feet of dredge pipe for this purpose. Discussions are underway about where to store the pipe when it is not in use; the preferred alternative is to cut it into shorter lengths and store it at the rear of the second parking lot at Harding’s Beach. Town officials are exploring ways to secure the pipes for the safety of beachgoers, and to make sure they don’t get dislodged by hurricanes or other severe storms.

“The last thing we want is all this dredge pipe, now in 150-foot lengths, all in the marsh,” he said. Discussion on storage of the pipes are scheduled to continue at the park and recreation commission meeting March 23.

When the county dredge completes its work at Stage Harbor, it will travel to Chatham Harbor to clear the mooring field at Aunt Lydia’s Cove. That area, which hasn’t been dredged recently, is experiencing shoaling from the North Inlet and from the washover of North Beach Island opposite Chatham Bars Inn. The recovered sand will be placed on the private beach at Linnell Lane and on the beach at Chatham Bars Inn, two areas that are severely eroded.

Select board member Jeffrey Dykens said he favors supporting CBI, a major taxpayer in town, but has mixed feelings about Linnell Lane. Dredged sand was used to reinforce that beach in the past, and Dykens tried to use the beach and was refused. “I was kicked off unceremoniously by some property owners over there, saying that they had paid for the sand.”

Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said that, in the past, those private property owners had purchased the sand outright, but they did not want to do so this time. In lieu of payment, they will be granting the public a strolling easement, he said.

“It does not give you the right to plop your beach chair and cooler down, technically, but you do have the right to stroll along the beach,” he said.

Voters at the June 12 annual town meeting will be asked to approve a warrant article spending $300,000 from the town’s free cash account to support dredging operations. Dykens questioned why the appropriation is being handled as a warrant article like a big-ticket purchase or project.

“This is just an annual operating expense,” he said.

The answer is a practical one, Finance Director Alix Heilala said. Were the dredge funds to be included in the operating budget, any unused funds would revert to free cash, she said. By appropriating them as a stand-alone article, the dredge monies are available for use the following year if not fully expended.

“That’s an excellent reason,” Dykens said.