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Chatham Renews 10-year Dredging Permit; Stage Harbor Dredging Delayed

The Army Corps of Engineers hopper dredge Murden, in Chatham in 2022. It was scheduled to arrive to dredge the Stage Harbor entrance channel this week, but mechanical problems sent it to a shipyard in New York.

Posted on July 1, 2024

CHATHAM – While the Stage Harbor entrance channel awaits dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers, the town is preparing a 10-year renewal of its comprehensive permit dredging.

The Corps hopper dredge Murden was scheduled to arrive in Stage Harbor today (June 27), but mechanical problems diverted it to a shipyard in New York City for repairs, according to Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon.

“The full nature of the problem is not fully understood,” Keon said Tuesday. The dredge was slated to spend 12 days clearing the entrance channel. It was unclear if the repair delay would be deducted from the total days it was to spend in Chatham, or even if the dredge would be able to make it here, he said.

If it does arrive, the Murden will be working 24-hour shifts, depositing dredged material off the Harding’s Beach shore.

The comprehensive dredging permit from the state department of environmental protection covers “Chatham Harbor and environs,” including much of the harbor as well as areas in Pleasant Bay, the Stage Harbor and Morris Island channels, Mill Creek and smaller areas around town landings such as Ryder’s Cove, Bridge Street, Old Mill Boatyard and Barn Hill Road.

The permit also covers sand disposal sites, including the Nantucket Sound and Chatham Harbor shorelines, according to Keon.

The renewal has been in process for quite some time, he said; many of the necessary permits have already been issued, including orders of condition from the conservation commission as well as the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office process. Extensive work, including analysis of sediment, had to be done, even though there are few changes from the previous 10-year comprehensive permit.

“To renew the permits, we basically have to start from scratch,” Keon said.

One of the most significant changes is in the identified dredging areas for Chatham Harbor. Because the system is so dynamic, it’s almost impossible to identify exactly where dredging will be needed to keep navigation channels open; the town had identified zones where dredging could potentially occur, Keon said.

“I think we all know how different Chatham Harbor is [now] than it was 10, 15 years ago,” he said.

The North Inlet and North Beach Island are constantly undergoing changes, and the comprehensive permit acknowledges that almost anywhere could need dredging at some point, Keon said. Strict conditions apply, however, including no dredging in areas with eelgrass. Surveys and coordination with state environmental agencies are required prior to dredging, he noted.

Tern Island in Chatham Harbor has been hard hit by erosion, and the new permit reinstates it as a dredged sand disposal area. The island, which is owned by Mass Audubon, has been shrinking in recent years due to erosion; having that as a location for material disposal will add to the resilience of the island, which helps shelter Aunt Lydia’s Cove, the fish pier and parts of the mainland shore from direct ocean waves.

Whether Tern Island will be used will be based on the needs at the time, Keon said. “But at least we will have it permitted.” No dredging is planned in Chatham Harbor at this time; the Aunt Lydia’s Cove mooring basin was dredged last year.

A slight change was made to where the Stage Harbor entrance channel can be dredged, and the new permit allows the town to dredge sand from the off-shore location that the Army Corps of Engineers uses to dispose of material when it clears the channel. That’s “high quality sand” that town officials wanted access to as a possible source of beach nourishment, Keon said. The disposal site is a quarter mile or so off Harding’s Beach, and dredged material has built up there for years.

“It gives us flexibility,” Keon said of the ability to mine that sand.

The town annually sets aside about $400,000 for dredging, and in recent years state Seaport Council and state matching dredging grants have supplemented that, including helping cover engineering and permitting costs, Keon said.

About $800,000 for the Army Corps dredging was approved last year with help from the region’s congressional delegation and is available for this year, Keon said.

He noted that the town’s Army Corps of Engineers dredging permit expires in December. He hopes it can be renewed before then, so that next year’s dredging can go forward.

“We’re going to be pushing them as best we can,” he said.


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