Posted on October 23, 2023
The United States Army Corps of Engineers is about to begin dredging the Cape Cod Canal and, in a boon to Sandwich, has promised to place the dredged material on sand-starved Town Neck Beach.
The town has also asked, for years, that the Army Corps coordinate its canal dredging projects with its longstanding promise to dredge hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand just off Scusset Beach—to replenish Sandwich’s sand-starved shoreline.
The Scusset plan, known formally as the Army Corps’ 111 project, is expected to finally begin next winter. The canal dredging is imminent. But the news is bittersweet.
Last week Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham outlined the bitter part: the Army Corps has confirmed during remote meetings that it will not be able to synchronize the dredging projects.
And in further bad news, the Corps has confirmed that the amount of sand to be dredged will not be as voluminous as originally estimated.
The town had been told by its beach environmental consultants—the Woods Hole Group—that it would need to receive close to 400,000 cubic yards of sand to really restore the storm-torn beach. But the Army Corps has said it can only dredge about 225,000 cubic yards, Mr. Dunham has said.
The canal dredging will provide only about 40,000 to 80,000 cubic yards of sand, Mr. Dunham said.
The town has also pledged to pay about $225,000 for replanting the dune grass after the work is done and putting up fencing to protect the plantings, if needed, Mr. Dunham said.
Shane T. Hoctor, chairman of the selectmen, reacted with frustration.
“We did everything we had to and at the last minute the Army Corps said it was never going to happen anyway,” Mr. Hoctor said of the Corps’ news that the dredging projects would bot be coordinated.
It is especially disheartening because the Army Corps has said it costs more than $4.5 million to mobilize the barges, tugs and dredging equipment for such projects. That amount will be subtracted from Sandwich’s final tally for the 111 project, for which the Army Corps has a cap of $12.5 million, Mr. Hoctor said.
The town has asked the Cape’s federal delegation—US Senators Elizabeth A. Warren (D-Cambridge) and Edward J. Markey (D-Malden)— to lobby for the $12.5 million cap to be raised substantially.
Selectman Michael J. Miller expressed similar frustration.
“It took us 20 years to get the Army Corps to admit they caused the problem and that they have to mitigate, but their mitigation is not going to solve the problem. So how can you call that mitigation?” Mr. Miller asked.
Mr. Miller was referring to the findings of the 111 Study, a years-long investigation into whether the jetties the Corps built at the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal more than 100 years ago have diverted and starved Sandwich’s beaches of sand.
The Corps last year determined that the jetties were contributing to the problem, accepted responsibility, and promised to dredge sand from the “borrow” site off Scusset Beach and place it on Town Neck. But no reparations have yet been made.
Mr. Dunham said town officials, as well as members of the federal delegation, are trying to convince the Army Corps to help Sandwich develop a long-range plan to distribute sand from the canal dredging onto Town Neck Beach when it dredges the canal every few years.
“If we don’t come up with a long-range solution, we’ll be paying 20 percent of our annual budget for sand every four or five years,” Mr. Hoctor said.
Mr. Dunham said, however, that the town should be grateful that the Army Corps has agreed to give Sandwich any dredged canal material.
“They seem committed to putting the sand on Town Neck Beach every time they dredge the canal. That’s a huge change since the last discussion we had,” Mr. Dunham said.