Posted on November 9, 2021
CHATHAM – Three decades ago, boats heading out of Pamet Harbor in Truro formed a line to get to and from the open bay; the waterway was only navigable at certain tides.
Then a Barnstable County program was launched and the first job of the public dredge, Cod Fish, 25 years ago, was in Truro. The original Cod Fish went in at high tide and at low tide it was grounded, but finished the job. Now the dredge comes back almost every year to keep the channel open.
“It’s a game changer,” said Harbormaster Tony Jackett, who used to captain a commercial fishing dragger in Provincetown and knows the value of safe and reliable access to the ocean.
The county dredge program just celebrated its 25th anniversary with a milestone of removing almost 2.4 million cubic yards of material during more than 300 projects. Ninety-five percent of the dredged material went to rebuilding beaches around the peninsula.
Last year was the most successful, close to 150,000 cubic yards removed from projects in Barnstable, Yarmouth, Falmouth, Bourne, Provincetown, Truro, Dennis, Mashpee, Chatham and Harwich.
Chatham’s harbors are constantly shoaling in, which makes dredging essential.
“Chatham’s fishing fleet is an integral component to the town’s economy and to the entire state, it is third in Massachusetts in terms of catch and dollar value,” said Ted Keon, Chatham’s coastal resources director. “Supporting dredging projects has significant economic return. We are a maritime community and access for mariners is critical.”
Dredge Superintendent Jason Bevis and his county crew have been working with two and a half dredges. The larger dredge, Sand Shifter, had been plagued with breakdowns until last year. The newest dredge, Codfish II, was purchased in 2019 for $1.25 million. The original Codfish makes up the remaining half as it has been enlisted as a booster to get dredged sand to beaches farther away.
The program has come back strong after being beset by equipment and staffing problems that for almost three years left towns with limited county services. The county charges 73 percent less than market-rate dredging, which translated into $6 million in savings last year.
The county hired a new dredge administrator, Ken Cirillo, to help straighten things out. He celebrated his one-year anniversary in August.
“It was a great year,” Cirillo said. “There are so many balls in the air. The more challenges the better for me. Some people like to multi-task. I like to multi, multi, multi, multi-task.”
There seems to be strong approval for how the department has turned around, and that it’s essential.
“The dredge just dug out the whole mooring basin this spring,” Chatham’s Natural Resources Director Bob Duncanson said on a fall day, giving Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito a tour of the pier. “Been a godsend.”
Duncanson and other Cape officials believe demand is going to increase as natural cycles are exacerbated by climate change. In a recent port profile study undertaken by the state Division of Marine Fisheries, the Fishermen’s Alliance and UMass Boston’s Urban Harbors Institute, dredging was the top concern in virtually every Massachusetts port.
“The work of the county dredge is as essential as maintaining our roads and highways. The Cape’s economic health hinges on having reliable ways to the sea,” said Seth Rolbein, who led the port profile effort for the Fishermen’s Alliance.
One of the issues is the tight window of work created by permitting restrictions. There are what is known as time of year (TOY) closures to protect species during spawning, from flounder to horseshoe crabs. That can shut the dredge out of communities for up to five months at a time. Most dredging during the busy summer beach season is out as well.
The Fishermen’s Alliance hopes to work with scientists and regulators to help eliminate bottlenecks.
“No wonder dredging came up as a top priority for communities,” said Dawson Farber, harbormaster in Dennis, rattling off about five agencies who must sign off before work can begin. “It’s nothing shy of an absolute nightmare.
“We have commercial boats running out of here all year long,” he said. “If the channel is restricted that has an impact on the industry. If boats are having to identify other ports you areconceivably taking away a revenue source, not to mention a cultural asset.”