Fisheries Service says dredging mooring field could cost Wellfleet $13.5 million

A grab dredge sits in Wellfleet Harbor on a late December afternoon. The town is at odds with the National Marine Fisheries Service over the cost of dredging the harbor's mooring field, which the Fisheries Service says will cost the town more than $13 million. Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times

Posted on May 5, 2021

WELLFLEET – The town’s Dredging Task Force is hoping a lobbyist will help open the doors for the dredging of the mooring field in Wellfleet Harbor next year.

Last month, the Select Board approved a $25,000, one-year contract with the lobbying firm FBB Federal Relations, which will represent the town in discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The mooring field, also known as Area 2 in the harbor, includes intertidal mud flats that have been designated a “special aquatic site” by the Fisheries Service. As a result, the Fisheries Service wants the town to pay $13.5 million in mitigationcosts to cover any disturbances to the flats that might be caused by the dredging.That amount is based on a formula of $14.26 per square foot.

GEI, the town’s engineering consultant, said the dredging can be done without damaging the intertidal mud flats. The National Marine Fisheries Service disagrees.

The Army Corps of Engineers has refused to sign a dredge permit for the project until the matter is resolved.Meanwhile, the Corps has impeded direct communication between the town and the Fisheries Service, and is refusingto discuss the issue with town officials. Instead, it will communicate only through GEI.

Enter FBB Federal Relations, which town officials hope will work to give the town access to the Army Corps and the Fisheries Service.

The firm said in its proposal to the town that it would work with both agencies “to ensure that the Corps District and the NMFS work directly and constructively with the town.”

“We’re relying on that, and our congressional delegation, to work on our behalf to open doors,” said Joe Aberdale, who co-chairs the Dredging Task Force.

The mooring field has been used as such for 100 years, Aberdale said. It was last dredged in 1957.

Because it’s been 64 years since the area was last dredged, the Fisheries Service has  classified the work as an improvement dredging project, complete with the $13.5 million price tag.

Aberdale said he believes the town has a strong case.

“It’s been an active mooring field forever,” he said. “Our engineers have documented in great detail their opinion that no damage would result to the mooring field with it being dredged.”

The project has won the support of federal and state legislators. U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Bill Keating agree that the town should be allowed to dredge the mooring field, Aberdale said.

“They are advocating for a meeting with the Corps and the Fisheries Service,” he said.

State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, have also been very helpful, Aberdale said.

The town has worked with FBB Federal Relations in the past. In fiscal 2020, the firm helped the town obtain $5 million in federal funding for the recent dredging of the channel and federal anchorage.

Aberdale noted that the ability to dredge the mooring field has great implications for the town.

“One of four people in town are employed in fishing and aquaculture,” Aberdale said. “This has a huge economic impact on the town.”

Contact Denise Coffey at dcoffey@capecodonline.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT. 

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