CHATHAM – When Ken Cirillo took over the Barnstable County dredge program as its director in August 2020, he was tasked with one major assignment: stabilize the program.
It was a lofty task given the challenges the program had faced in recent years, most notably dealing with equipment issues that continuously plagued the county’s two dredges.
“The goal this year was to stabilize and rebuild confidence,” Cirillo said. “There was not a lot of confidence in the program in the prior years with COVID and equipment breakdowns. This year was about making the program work and we’re almost there.”
One of the first decisions Cirillo made was to hire a new mechanic, Rich Randall, a Barnstable native and 2009 graduate of Cape Cod Tech who began working in September. However, because the team is still shorthanded—Cirillo said a new deckhand is set to begin in a couple weeks and that he’ll be looking to hire another in July—mechanical issues still aren’t uncommon.
That was the case when Cirillo and the dredge program invited The Cape Cod Chronicle aboard the county’s Sand Shifter during an ongoing dredging project taking place in Aunt Lydia’s Cove in Chatham. Before boarding the dredge, Cirillo disclosed there was a corroded fitting that needed to be replaced. It ultimately was a quick, easy fix, though it offered a firsthand glimpse at how important maintenance is to the operation.
“We were lucky that today’s fitting that blew out was a rather easy fix,” said Cirillo, “but you could also argue that if we had somebody doing routine maintenance and seeing those issues, they would be able to spot issues and prevent them.”
“The goal is to have Rich spend time on preemptive maintenance and focus on repairs and spare parts before the fact, not after the fact,” continued Cirillo. “We have another hire we’re going to be making—another deckhand in July—so we can get Rich off the dredge and he’ll be able to focus on routine maintenance and spare parts.”
In addition to Randall and Cirillo, the dredge program’s team also includes superintendent Jason Bevis and leverman Chris Armstrong, who sits in a chair complete with computer screens and numerous levers and buttons—almost reminiscent of a pilot’s cockpit.
“Chatham is dynamic,” said Armstrong, a Harwich resident. “You’ve got the two cuts and a lot of currents from every angle. When I was doing Stage Harbor, it was like dredging in the middle of a rotary with the way the current was coming at you.”
Bevis, a Barnstable native, is a constant moving presence around the dredge, shuffling from one task to another, often even hopping off the dredge and onto a smaller boat to help move the anchor or piping which carries the extracted sand to nearby beaches.
It’s tough work and a constant challenge to keep up, but Bevis enjoys traveling town to town while improving beaches throughout the Cape.
“Every job is different—that’s kind of why we’re here,” Bevis said. “We’re not office people. We don’t do well with the same old stuff every day.”
The Chatham project was split between Chatham Bars Inn and the town. When Cirillo and the program welcomed the Chronicle to observe their work, the sand they were extracting was being offloaded on the beach south of Minister’s Point.
“The goal is basically to put sand here to help the shoreline along this section and have it become what’s called a feeder source to erode naturally and migrate and help build up the shoreline along North Chatham,” explained Ted Keon, Chatham’s Director of Coastal Resources, who was overseeing the release of the sand.
Keon added that it is essential for the county to maintain a successful dredging program.
“Most of the coastal towns around the Cape all have some level of dredging need,” he said. “So, this program has been a very, very valuable program to maintain our relatively speaking small channel systems. We all have a similar need, but I’d argue that Chatham, in some ways, is exacerbated more so than the others where we live on the elbow and there’s so much going on. A lot of sand moves very rapidly.”
The dredge program is a few weeks from finishing up its 25th season and the first season under the guidance of Cirillo, who joins the program after years of working at C-MAP and Garmin. When asked if it seems like the program is heading in the right direction and feels more stable, Bevis quickly pointed toward Cirillo, who he credited for helping turn the program around.
“That right there is stability,” Bevis said as he pointed at Cirillo. “He’s been outstanding. His organization, planning and attention to detail—the whole nine yards—he’s everything you’d want in a manager and a businessperson.”