Posted June 11, 2019
ORLEANS — Plans to dredge the Nauset Estuary seem to be stuck in the sand as town officials try to convince Eastham to go along with the project.
Fishermen and boaters have come to the town of Orleans pleading that something be done to open up the channel from Town Cove through Nauset Harbor and out to the Atlantic Ocean. Shoaling in the area has made it increasingly difficult for boaters to navigate the channel, even in the best of high tide conditions.
Orleans town officials have been pushing for the project, but a majority of the dredging would need to be done in Eastham, where town officials have been less than receptive to the idea.
The Eastham Board of Selectmen are especially worried about dredging behind the Nauset barrier beach. Members fear work could accelerate erosion in the area.
“The barrier beach is not something that Eastham is willing to take the risk to dredge behind,” Eastham Town Administrator Jacqueline Beebe told the Orleans selectmen last month.
Eastham worries there could be unintended consequences of dredging the area, and at their spring town meeting, voters declined to put money toward permitting the project.
Without Eastham on board, there is little that Orleans can do to improve access to the ocean, Orleans Selectman Mefford Runyon said.
“If Eastham doesn’t join in the application, there’s a lot that’s off the table,” he said.
In an effort just to get some portion of the project moving, the Orleans selectmen told their consultant to bring them a plan to dredge the inner parts of the harbor, staying away from parts of the project that Eastham officials say they can’t sign off on.
Leslie Fields, a consultant hired by Orleans from the Woods Hole Research Group, came before the board Wednesday with a revised plan, one that was much smaller and likely could skirt some of the reviews that the larger plan required.
Channel dredging was reduced in half, from 100 to 50 feet wide, and there was a significant reduction in the amount of material that would need to be dredged. The revised project would be outside the Cape Cod National Seashore, which means one less approval needed to get the dredging going.
But the plan doesn’t really get at the heart of the issue, which is getting boaters from Orleans out of the inlet.
“It doesn’t get us to the ocean,” Orleans Selectmen Chairman Mark Mathison said of the revised plan. “So why bother?”
There is no point in doing the inner harbor if Orleans can’t convince Eastham to sign onto dredging all the way to the inlet, Mathison said.
“If we don’t realistically look at permitting a channel along the west side of the estuary between the barrier beach and the islands, we really don’t gain anything with all the time, money and effort that we put into dredging the inner parts of the estuary,” he said.
Orleans Selectman Kevin Galligan wondered if Orleans could start permitting the project in two phases, one for the noncontroversial portions and one behind the barrier beach.
Aimee Eckman, chairman of the Eastham Board of Selectmen, was at the meeting. Although she maintained that Eastham was not comfortable dredging behind the beach, she said the two boards should come talk the matter through.
Orleans was on board with the idea.
“It would be really great to have everybody in the same room, hearing the same information at the same time,” Orleans Town Administrator John Kelly said.
A joint meeting has been scheduled at 5:30 p.m. June 24 at Eastham Public Library.