Cape harbors hurt as funds for Corps dredging dry up

CHATHAM - (06/06/06) Harwich Harbor Master Tom Leach passed on a tour of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge Currituck yesterday.

Call it dredge envy.

Chatham ended up as the only harbor on the Cape to be dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers this year.

U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., whose district includes Cape Cod, was in Chatham yesterday and told Leach what he already knew - federal money to dredge small harbors such as Saquatucket in Harwich was virtually nonexistent. And there is little chance of relief in the future, given an $8 trillion national debt, the massive amounts being spent on Iraq and the drain of relief money flowing down south to rebuild after Katrina.

Delahunt was critical of President George Bush's administration for tasking the Corps with large projects in Iraq, such as the $20 million Mosul Dam repair project, while cutting the Corps budget by $600 million. That left the Corps short on resources it needed to do critical infrastructure projects such as dredging, he said.

In fact, the budget to dredge in Chatham was slashed by more than $125,000, allowing for clearing only the channel, not the 9.5 acres of anchorage behind it.

''This is the hidden sacrifice that Americans are making. This is hurting the people I represent,'' Delahunt said yesterday on the Chatham Fish Pier.

Harbors left undredged can become so shallow that commercial and recreational boats can't use the waters. This can have an adverse economic impact.

The combined ports of Chatham and Harwich, for example, were the sixth highest port in the Northeast for groundfish landings in 2004, and had a total of 116 boats permitted to catch these fish, which include cod, haddock and flounder.

Cape and Islands fishermen, working out of these same small harbors, landed fish worth nearly $12.7 million paid to fishermen in 2004.

That doesn't include the many more recreational boats that use these harbors or the transitory tuna and scallop fleets that add around 100 more commercial vessels to Saquatucket Harbor each summer and fall, Leach said.

This winter, the Massachusetts Harbormasters Association, along with associations from Maine and Rhode Island, sent a letter to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development protesting the budget cuts they say wouldn't allow for federal dredging in 170 small harbors throughout New England.

A combination of the value of commercial enterprises in a port and the cost of dredging is used to determine which ports are done each year. That typically rules out many small ports. But in the past, the Corps was allowed to use any leftover funds from one project toward dredging other smaller harbors in the district. But Congress recently banned that practice.

It's not just private commercial fishing that is impacted by lack of dredging funds. When the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, the Henry B. Bigelow, arrives at its home port of Woods Hole for the first time this year, it will have to pull into temporary docking at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution because the channel leading to its own pier is blocked by shallows that need dredging.

Chatham Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said towns may have to look to the Barnstable County dredge to take up the slack in dredging secondary harbors like Stage Harbor. But towns must pay that cost out of pocket, unlike when the Corps does it.

At an estimated $6.75 per cubic yard for the county dredge, the 50,000 to 60,000 cubic yards of dredging done by the Currituck could have cost the town between $338,000 and $405,000.

Doug Fraser can be reached


(Published: June 7, 2006)

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Selectmen Look For Beach And Dredge Management Policy

HARWICH - (06/14/06) The town has hired an engineering company to assist in putting in place a comprehensive dredge and beach management permit that would allow dredging in all channels, and placement of materials along all beaches.

Selectmen hope this permit will help to better manage coastal beaches. The board has been talking about putting in place a beach management program that would help resolve erosion problems facing both public and private stretches of shoreline. Selectmen have discussed putting a committee together to examine solutions. Harbormaster Thomas Leach concurred with that approach Monday night, suggesting he and members of the conservation commission could work with a group of three to five people with expertise in the subject to identify solutions. The formation of a group came at the urging of Selectman Peter Piekarski, who said they need to determine what should be done to address beach nourishment and what it will cost to get it done.

Selectman Ed McManus wanted to know the status of dredge permits and the current dredging needs. He also asked if the town has the money to meet those needs.

Acting Town Administrator Rene Read explained the town has contracted with Coastal Engineering, Inc. of Orleans to update dredge permits. He said as part of that process the town is exploring the idea of implementing an overall, coordinated approach to harbor dredging and beach disposal locations. The permitting is being conducted in conjunction with Leach, Conservation Administrator John Chatham and Town Engineer Joseph Borgesi.

The staff has attended a pre-application meeting with representatives of the state department of environmental protection’s wetlands and waterways program. The purpose of the meeting, held in Boston, was to determine and outline the permitting processes for a comprehensive or combined permit, while trying to clarify various state, town and federal government perspectives. A second meeting is scheduled with the Army Corps of Engineers later this month. “It’s a broad permit,” Leach said. “It will allow us to dredge from any of our five channels and go to any beaches, public or private.”

The harbormaster cited a request by a private resident along Saquatucket Bluffs seeking to buy dredge material to be placed along the beaches. Leach said the selectmen will have to wrestle with the general policy of sand being placed on private beaches. “Do we get paid for it from beach associations and private groups?” Leach inquired.

The harbormaster said the channels are dredged to six feet, and at low tide the ferry, draggers and full-keel sailboats get stuck. He said the channels should be dredged to eight feet. Leach said this would provide a lot more sand. But he emphasized this is “not mining sand. We’re dredging channels.”

Leach said there is a need to dredge the entrance channel to Wychmere Harbor and mucky portions inside Allen Harbor. It is also important to push for federal dredging of the Saquatucket Harbor channel. That channel has traditionally been done with the Army Corps of Engineers dredge, Currituck. However, Leach said that vessel is only scheduled to do Chatham Harbor this year, and then will be moving south. Leach is part of a contingent of harbormasters who have written a letter to federal agencies complaining about the absence of that dredge in smaller harbors in the Northeast.

The cost of dredging is another issue. Leach said a comprehensive dredging permit will require an environmental impact report, and that will cost a lot of money. He said there is $50,000 to $60,000 in the dredge account, and town meeting reduced a request for $100,000 to $50,000 in May. The environmental impact report could cost $20,000 to $30,000, he said. The harbormaster agreed there may be a need to place dredge projects in the town’s capital plan.

Selectman Larry Cole asked about a letter in the selectmen’s correspondence relative to a homeowner wanting to pay for additional sand to be placed on his beach. Leach said the county dredge is scheduled to clear 4,000 cubic yards of sand from the “bottleneck” in the Wychmere entrance channel in about three weeks. That sand is proposed to be placed in front of private homes along Saquatucket Bluffs based on a permit granted in 1993. The permit allows the removal of 9,999 cubic yards, Leach said. But the town is planning to remove 4,000 cubic yards at this time. Homeowner Stephen Seymour has said he would pay for placement of the additional 6,000 cubic yards on his property and those of his neighbors to the east. Acting Town Administrator Stephen Lombard urged Leach not to get into this discussion, pointing out there is litigation underway at this point involving the town.

Selectmen agreed there is a need for a dredge plan so they can monitor the activity and prepare for funding requests. Board of Selectmen Chairman Robin Wilkins urged the town administrator to create a dredge project status report to provide selectmen with a tool upon which to base decisions. Wilkins also urged the creation of a beach management policy.

Chronicle 6/15/06

High School Principal Kevin Turner Charged With OUI

HARWICH - (06/15/06) Harwich High School Principal Kevin Turner was arrested by a state police officer Friday night for operating under the influence of alcohol while driving on Route 6 in Yarmouth.

The high school principal is active politically, also serving as the Cape and Islands coordinator for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli. Turner also served in that capacity for Shannon O’Brien, who lost the governor’s race in 2002 to Gov. Mitt Romney. Turner, 38, of Centerville, had been in attendance at the second annual Hall of Fame awards, a school-sponsored event held at the Jailhouse Tavern in Orleans, earlier that evening. He was stopped by State Police Trooper Jeffrey McCarthy after the department received a phone call from a motorist reporting a vehicle driving erratically.

The state police report said a call was received from a Harwich resident who observed the vehicle “operating very erratically” in the westbound lane of Route 6 near Exit 11 in Harwich. The person who called the police followed Turner’s vehicle and provided assistance to Trooper McCarthy in locating the Turner’s black Kia as it continued along Route 6 in Yarmouth. Turner was stopped by McCarthy at 10:47 p.m. Friday evening. The state trooper’s report said he followed Turner’s vehicle for a half to three-quarters of a mile and it jerked repeatedly, drifting from the travel lane to passing lane, and on one occasion passed over the yellow line along the median. “During the time that I was observing the vehicle, I was watching my speed. I was keeping a constant distance from the vehicle and my cruiser speed was between 75 and 80 miles per hour,” the trooper’s report states.

McCarthy’s report states after the officer stopped Turner and he had exited the vehicle, “When Mr. Turner spoke to me, I immediately detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage and noticed his speech was heavily slurred.” The report also states McCarthy asked Turner if he had any alcoholic beverages that evening. “He stated that he had ‘three or four,’” the report states. The officer performed a field sobriety test and placed the high school principal under arrest for operating under the influence. The police report states Turner decided not to take a breathalyzer test and was given notice of suspension of his license.

Turner was also charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle, a marked lanes violation and speeding. A notation on the police report added by State Police Sgt. Paul McGlynn stated “after reviewing the BOP (bureau of persons file) it was determined it was Turner’s second offense.” Turner was arraigned in Barnstable District Court on Monday, pleading not guilty. No bail was set and he was released. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for June 27.

Harwich Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Daniel Cabral said he was informed of the incident by Turner on Saturday. Turner, from his perspective, explained what had happened. Cabral said he then informed School Committee Chairman Thomas Blute and vice chair Polly Hemstock. Cabral said he had two or three conversations with Turner that day. “We continue to support Mr. Turner as a valued member of the administration team in the Harwich Public Schools,” Cabral said. “I know Kevin has taken the necessary steps to address this issue. We await the findings of the authorities on June 27.”

Cabral said this time of year is very demanding on administrators with all the end-of-the-year events. “It’s not uncommon for school personnel to be putting in 18-hour days to end the year on a positive note. I am certain fatigue was a factor in this incident.” The superintendent said Turner will continue as principal at the school until the court takes definitive action. “Then we will revisit this issue,” Cabral said.

The interim superintendent said the Hall of Fame event held at the Jailhouse Tavern is a recent initiative which Turner was instrumental in instituting. The event honors past graduates who have made significant contributions either while a student, or in post-secondary educational institutions, professionally, or in civic, educational and community involvement. “It is a school event, no doubt in my mind,” Cabral said.

Cabral said he wants to underscore that Turner continues to receive the administration’s support, and “we’ll address this matter objectively and passionately.” Turner did not return a call to the high school from The Chronicle on Tuesday.

Chronicle 6/15/06