Port Support: State Delivers Dredging, Infrastructure Grants

By: Alan Pollock

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito kneels down to chat with a fisherman unloading his catch at Stage Harbor. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM — In an unusual meeting under a tent at Old Mill Boatyard Tuesday, the state’s Seaport Economic Council handed out millions of dollars in grants to waterfront communities in Massachusetts, including Chatham, Harwich and Orleans.

Topping the list of Lower Cape grants was a $1 million award to Chatham to help it replace an aging bulkhead at the fish pier and to make other improvements to boost safety and accessibility. But Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who chairs the seaport council, said while the state supports shoreside improvements at Massachusetts harbors, “if you can’t get to it, it’s not going to work.”

To that end, the state also announced assistance to various communities for dredging projects.  Orleans and Eastham jointly received a grant of $162,100 to help plan and obtain permits for maintenance dredging of Rock Harbor; Harwich received $48,000 to support dredging at Allen Harbor; and Chatham received $500,000 to help ongoing dredging of the Stage Harbor channel.

“On Cape Cod, if we’re not talking about wastewater, we’re talking about dredging,” said State Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, who lobbied for the projects in her district. She praised the Baker-Polito Administration for establishing a fund for dredging and recognizing the economic value of the state’s ports, large and small.

Periodically interrupted by fuel deliveries, passing boats or trucks offloading fish at Old Mill Boatyard, the council heard presentations from each of the applicants before voting to approve the slate of grants. Polito and administration officials took time to tour the facility, which has been renovated in recent years with support from a pair of previous grants from the council.

The $1 million grant to support the work at the south jog at the fish pier directly supports the commercial fishing fleet that contributes to the town’s economy, Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon told the council. With visitors coming to watch the fishing boats and the seals, the fish pier is also one of the region’s top destinations for tourists.  

“It is a very busy place,” he said. And while the fish pier has a new observation deck, “we do need improvements to the infrastructure itself,” Keon said.

The project, now expected to top $3 million, includes the replacement of the nearly 50-year-old bulkhead and the installation of a new sidewalk and paved walkway designed to help provide more separation between pedestrians and fish delivery trucks.

Council member Edward Barrett, the president of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Association, said he wishes all the state’s fishing ports had observation decks like the one in Chatham.

“It really helps connect the public to the fishing industry,” he said.

The grant being shared by the towns of Orleans and Eastham provides $162,100 to support the design, engineering and permitting of maintenance dredging of Rock Harbor, Orleans DPW Director Tom Daley told the council.

“Rock Harbor is home to a popular public boating facility,” he said, referring to the public landing on the Eastham side of the harbor. “It provides an easy, convenient access point” to transient boaters seeking to access Cape Cod Bay, he noted, and is also home to an active commercial fishing fleet that contributes to the local economy.  Orleans and Eastham have supported dredging and harbor improvements there in the past, but the need for dredging is now a key concern. Shoaling has created conditions that are “very hazardous to the commercial fishing fleet and larger charter vessels,” Daley said.

With planning funds from the council, the towns plan to pursue a dredging project that will remove an estimated 31,000 cubic yards of sand from Rock Harbor, with the work likely taking place in fall 2023 or winter 2024, he said.

When the state created a fund to help communities with dredging several years ago, it was quickly overwhelmed by requests for help, Polito said. In response, the Seaport Economic Council began accepting grant applications for the planning and permitting of dredge projects, with funds for actual dredge work coming from a dedicated fund under the Massachusetts Saltwater Dredging Program.

Following the seaport council’s meeting Tuesday, Polito announced a round of grants totaling $3.2 million to support dredging projects. Chatham’s $500,000 grant will support the clearing of the Stage Harbor entrance channel, which is now done twice each year to keep the harbor accessible. Polito said it makes sense for the state to support dredging here, given the funds it has already contributed toward shorefront improvements at Old Mill Boatyard. The goal is to see “these investments used to their fullest potential” to help create jobs, economic growth and tax revenue, she said.  

Harwich Town Administrator Joseph Powers and Harbormaster John Rendon were on hand to accept a $48,000 grant for their town. The funds will be used to support the removal of about 8,000 cubic yards of sand from the entrance channel at Allen Harbor. Dennis received $87,000 toward dredging at Sesuit Harbor, Truro was awarded $20,000 for work at Pamet Harbor, and Wellfleet received $2.5 million to help pay for a large project to dredge the south anchorage in Wellfleet Harbor.

Polito praised Rep. Peake and Rep. Timothy Whelan, R–Brewster, as “incredible partners” in supporting port communities. In the waning days of the Baker administration, Polito said it has been “the honor of a lifetime” to serve as lieutenant governor and to meet dedicated public servants, both in the legislature and in town government.

Peake admitted to feeling “a tinge of nostalgia” at the prospect of ending the partnership with the outgoing Republican governor and lieutenant governor. In Massachusetts, reaching across party lines is the rule rather than the exception, she said.

“If only others in the country could learn from the example we set here,” Peake said.