Urgent action advised to cut nitrogen in Pleasant Bay system

ORLEANS — (11/26/07) For those who enjoy a good sail, swimming, shellfishing or fishing, Pleasant Bay can be said to live up to its name. But time might be running out on the halcyon days of this Lower Cape body of water. A recent report shows algae blooms fed by nitrogen from septic systems, along with other contaminants, are destroying plant and animal life in many of the smaller bays.

On Nov. 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certified nitrogen limits proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection as part of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project. Nitrogen acts like fertilizer for algae, promoting rapid growth. In the Pleasant Bay system — which runs from East Orleans to Chatham — the problems are worst in areas farthest from the flushing action of the outlets to the Atlantic Ocean in Chatham. Researchers are already noting algal scums, odors, fish kills and the loss of plant and animal diversity on the bottom of the bays as decomposing algae suck oxygen out of the water. The state report shows that some areas of the Pleasant Bay system need extensive reductions of nitrogen — like an 83 percent cut in Meetinghouse Pond in Orleans — and others much less — like a 25 percent cut to Pleasant Bay itself.

Orleans and Chatham are furthest along in addressing the problem. Chatham hopes to install sewers for the entire town at an estimated cost topping $300 million. Orleans also has been moving to limit nitrogen input into Pleasant Bay, enacting a nitrogen cap of 19 parts per million, or ppm, per septic system in new developments with more than five homes. With the typical septic system emitting 35 ppm, that means developers must install more expensive nitrogen removal systems. The Orleans Board of Health is also preparing a new regulation that will require 10,000 square feet of lot size per bedroom. It will apply to new construction as well as renovation of existing homes. For those on half-acre lots with two-bedroom homes, it could mean forgoing that third bedroom. Public hearings are expected to be held in January, with implementation possibly by May.

In the majority of the 19 small bays and rivers included in the study, the reductions needed are too great to be reached by adding a nitrogen removal system or restricting development. In many cases, some type of wastewater treatment plant will be needed, said Augusta McKusick, a member of Orleans' health board.

Large wastewater treatment facilities, like those in Barnstable and Yarmouth, connected to homes by sewer pipes, can get nitrogen emissions down below 5 ppm. They also remove all wastewater, and thus the nitrogen, from sensitive areas. The town could also locate smaller plants that would treat homes in a neighborhood, as did the Community of Jesus a few years ago. Their small treatment plant has nitrogen emissions down to 5 ppm.
Doug Fraser can be reached at dfraser@capecodonline.com.

Town Meeting To Decide Fate Of Undeveloped Bank Street Property

HARWICH — (11/22/07) A split board of selectmen voted Monday to allow town meeting to decide whether more than two-and-a-half acres of town land on Bank Street should be reserved for conservation or kept available for possible sale or development. The board unanimously voted to retain control of the front parcel of land, currently occupied by the harbormaster’s workshop. The board has been weighing whether to reserve the land as open space, adding to a large tract of adjacent land held by the Harwich Conservation Trust, or to sell or develop some of the buildable upland behind the harbormaster’s workshop. The discussion stemmed from a recommendation made by the Operations Review Task Force, which advised the town to consider selling surplus land to raise cash and increase the property tax rolls.

Selectman Larry Cole argued that the board should follow Town Administrator James Merriam’s advice and retain control of the front parcel where the workshop is located. In the previous week’s meeting, Harbormaster Thomas Leach told the board that the building—formerly the fire station—serves a number of important purposes, providing space for equipment maintenance and storage, as well as storage space for a host of local community groups. Cole said the selectmen should continue to control that 1.6 acre parcel, and when the land is no longer needed for its current uses, “then its future use can be revisited.” Selectmen Peter Piekarski and Larry Marsland each said they believe the workshop property, or a portion of it, should be sold for private development. Piekarski said the land could host one or two single-family homes. “I’m not looking for major development,” he told the board.

The board unanimously agreed to retain control of that parcel, but showed less agreement on the fate of the undeveloped land behind the workshop. Selectman Ed McManus made a motion to have town staff draft an article for an upcoming annual town meeting, transferring the two-and-a-half acres to the jurisdiction of the conservation commission. If town meeting were to approve such an article, it would give the land strong protections against development, since it would take a two-thirds vote of town meeting and a two-thirds vote of the state legislature to remove the land from conservation commission jurisdiction.

Geoffrey Weigman, president of the Harwich Taxpayers’ Association, argued against reserving the land for conservation, since doing so would effectively preclude selling any part of that land. The board should leave the parcel under its own control, “and then think about it,” Weigman said. Gorham Road resident Diane McCafferty said selectmen should allow the decision to be made by town meeting. “I’d like to vote on it,” she said. “I don’t think I’d like to see that decision made here.” The board voted 3-2 to support McManus’ motion, with Cole and Piekarski dissenting.

In the Nov. 13 meeting, McManus had asked Leach whether his department takes special steps to protect the adjacent wetlands from chemicals used in the workshop. Leach said his staff is careful to sweep up paint chips when boats and buoys are cleaned and maintained. The property is also used by the highway department during the summer as a staging area for dirt and debris collected by street sweepers that work along Route 28.

This week, Leach reiterated that his operation has a minimal impact on the wetland, since many of the boats cleaned at the workshop do not use bottom paint—and those that do employ a non-toxic kind of paint. Leach said he also objects to discussions that label the workshop property “surplus,” since his department is very active and generates important revenue for the town. “I don’t see us as surplus. I see us as a very important department in this town,” he said. The location on Bank Street is conveniently located to the town’s harbors, he added.


SJC Hears Oyster Creek Dredging Dispute

BOSTON - (9/13/07) The decision to allow dredging in Oyster Creek rests with a state Supreme Judicial Court panel, which heard 32 minutes of arguments last Thursday morning from town counsel and an attorney for Oyster Creek Preservation, Inc. It is likely to take several months before a decision is rendered in the more than four-year battle by 13 residents along the creek inside Allen Harbor to get the channel dredged. The town has taken the position the protection of recreational shellfishing and aquaculture in the creek outweighs the benefits to property owners and boaters, who say the channel should be dredged to provide better access and improve the water quality. The local conservation commission ruled on the side of shellfishing, deny the applicant the right to dredge the channel. A superseding order of conditions was later issued by the state department of environmental protection on a modified and reduced scope of work. Both Barnstable Superior Court and the state Appeals Court sided with the neighborhood group and DEP in allowing the superseding order of conditions to prevail. The town’s position is the local bylaw and not the state Wetlands Protection Act has jurisdiction in this matter.

Town Counsel Mary J. Giorgio of Kopelman & Paige, P.C., and James H. Quirk, Jr. of Yarmouth Port, attorney for Oyster Creek Preservation, Inc., argued opposite sides of three issues before the panel. Giorgio addressed three claims raised by “the Oyster Creek boat owners.” The first was issuance of a constructive grant of the permit based on a late filing of the decision by the commission. The second was issuance based on violations of the state Open Meeting Law, and the third was an issuance based on DEP’s superseding order of conditions pre-empting the local bylaw.

Quirk argued the local wetlands bylaw provides 21 days for the commission to issue its decision, and in this case it should have been issued no later than Oct. 7, 2003. That was the date the commission made the decision, Giorgio said. But Quirk said it was not mailed until Oct. 9, arguing there is Appeals Court case law supporting the mailing date as the date of issuance. Thus a constructive grant should be approved for non-compliance with the bylaw. Town counsel said the town bylaw is silent on a remedy for a constructive grant. She argued it would be “Draconian,” even if it was a mandatory provision, to issue the permit for being two days late in the mailing.

The second issue addressing compliance with the Open Meeting Law related to a decision by the commission to close the public comment period for the hearing and later agreeing to schedule another meeting on Sept. 30, 2003 to allow additional information from an attorney representing property owners on the south side of the channel who opposed the dredge project. Quirk charged this violated the Open Meeting Law because project proponents were not notified of the additional meeting. He contended they should have been notified and further would have had to assent to allowing the additional testimony. There was no record of the additional meeting being posted, Quirk said, and the commission filed an affidavit stating they had posted it. Quirk said the commission took a document in as evidence and said it was not considered as part of the decision, yet there is reference to that document in the decision.

Chief Justice Margaret Marshall urged the counsels’ to move past the Open Meeting Law issue. In objecting to the findings of Barnstable Superior Court and the state Appeals Court in earlier decisions accepting DEP’s superseding order of conditions as the prevailing order, Giorgio argued both courts failed to recognize the local bylaw as having jurisdiction. She cited the greater stringency of that bylaw in areas of recreational shellfishing and aquaculture. Quirk said the commission had not made reference to those provisions in its decision. He said the denial makes reference to state regulations regarding land subject to shellfish. He concurred the local bylaw refers to “recreational shellfishing and aquaculture,” but added they were not cited in the commission’s decision; rather they were included in the town’s legal brief. “It is an inartful decision,” agreed Giorgio of its crafting, but she argued the commission’s record of the hearings is replete with references focusing on recreational shellfishing and aquaculture. She said the Appeals Court failed to look at the record.

The panel inquired as to how this case is different from Rodgers v. Conservation Commission of Barnstable handed down just days before this one and similar in content, yet the court ruled in favor of the commission. “There were 13 different provisions and findings so the court had something to look at,” Quirk responded. He said this commission entertained a motion to deny the request from member Charles Palmer and it was seconded by member William Zoino, and there was no discussion. Quirk said the problem with the case is there are basic issues nobody got to such as altered wetlands, previous dredging and the creek no longer being a natural shellfish ground. He said the shellfish in the creek is not natural but from the natural resources department’s seeding program. Quirk said they had five shellfish studies done showing the shellfish there is “artificially placed.”

In 1993, Quirk said, a bulkhead was built on the north side of the creek changing the dynamics and bringing sand in from the south side. That has caused the channel to fill in and the natural shellfish habitat was lost. Quirk said if his clients are allowed to dredge the creek, the habitat would return to the way it was in 1993. “It’s not a question of us destroying it,” Quirk added, but without the dredging it will become an area of heavy metals, smelling and yielding no shellfishing.

With that the panel of six justices closed the hearing. A ruling by the panel is not expected for several months. 9/13/07

Harwich asked to relent on dredging fight

HARWICH — (8/13/07) Members of the Oyster Creek Preservation Inc. have asked the town to drop its suit against their dredging proposal in Allen Harbor.

Legal costs for the four-year-old case exceed $100,000 to date, said Peter Smyth, one of the association's waterfront property owners who are willing to pay for the dredging. "Why are we spending legal fees when Allen Harbor needs to be dredged?" he asked selectmen during the annual nonresident taxpayers meeting last week.

Selectmen declined to comment due to the ongoing litigation.

But harbor master Tom Leach defended the town's decision to fight the dredging.

"This creek is just an amazing place. It's probably one of the most prolific shellfish areas that this town has. There are two sides to this story and the public needs to know that."

The case dates back to 2003, when the conservation commission denied the property owners' plans for a 4-foot deep channel from their docks in the creek to the harbor. At the time, the channel was only about 18 inches in some places at low tide.

In their subsequent appeal to the state, the property owners won state approval of a reduced dredging plan. The town appealed, but a Barnstable Superior Court judge ruled that the dredging project met state standards under the Wetlands Protection Act. The town appealed again, but the Massachusetts Appeals Court last fall said the town had failed to prove that its bylaws are more protective than state laws.

The town then filed another appeal and the case is going to the state Supreme Judicial Court for oral arguments in the week of Sept. 6, Smyth said.

State Puts Brakes On Saquatucket Dredging, Too Late

HARWICH — (8/2/07) Citing concerns about shorebird protection, state officials are putting the brakes on the town’s emergency dredging of Saquatucket Harbor. Trouble is, the dredging already took place. On July 18, long after the county dredge Codfish had finished clearing a shoal from the Saquatucket Harbor channel, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) notified the town that it had appealed the order of conditions issued by the Harwich Conservation Commission.

Elizabeth Kouloheras of DEP’s Bureau of Resource Protection sent a letter to Harbormaster Thomas Leach saying the department was appealing the local commission’s ruling because it did not address concerns raised by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP). “Specifically, NHESP indicated that ‘No beach nourishment work, including placement or removal of pipes or other equipment, and placement, dewatering and grading of dredged materials, shall occur between April 1 and Aug. 31’ in order to avoid adverse effects on the Resource Area Habitats of state-listed shorebirds,” Kouloheras wrote. The NHESP letter in question was written on June 21. “That was after we had already dredged,” Harwich Conservation Agent John Chatham said this week. The DEP letter advises the town to ask the conservation commission to include the five-month dredging ban in its order of conditions for the permit, which would affect any additional dredging projects under the permit for the next two years. If the town doesn’t act to implement the restriction, DEP will issue a superseding order of conditions to force the change, Kouloheras wrote.

Though the requirements vary by location and the type of equipment used, state and federal agencies routinely limit the times dredging can take place to protect animals. A common closure is from Jan. 15 to May 30 to protect juvenile winter flounder. Taken together with the shorebird closure, such a restriction would allow dredging only between September and December. As more species are identified for protection, the window for dredge projects continues to close. Chatham Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said other restrictions include closures for horseshoe crabs, typically between May and July, and in the case of Aunt Lydia’s Cove, a ban on dredging between June and November to protect sea turtles. The narrow time frame also puts high demand on the single dredge operated by the county, upon which Chatham and Harwich rely heavily.

Towns often avoid dredging in the winter because of bad weather, and prefer not to dredge in the summer when the operation would disrupt boaters and beachgoers. The best time to dredge is often the spring or the fall, Leach said. When a town dredges a harbor in the fall, “it leaves the entire winter for it to refill itself,” Leach noted. That’s why the springtime is prime time for harbor dredging, he said. “We want to make sure we are buttoned up and out of there by the Fourth of July,” Leach said. John Chatham said he believes part of the reason the state is chafing at the dredge project is because it was done under an emergency order issued by the town. Shortly after DEP notified the town of its appeal, Chatham had a conversation with DEP official Christine Odiaga, who was concerned that the town had wrongly viewed the need for dredging as an emergency. “She said she didn’t consider it one,” Chatham said. “We considered that a safety issue. We needed that hump dredged.” The sand bar was causing the Freedom Ferry, various party boats and other commercial vessels to hit bottom at low tide, when there was less than four-and-a-half feet of water in the Saquatucket channel, Leach said. “It was an emergency, and it’s not difficult to see why,” he said. “The draggers were running aground out there.”

The NHESP letter cites concerns about two state-listed shorebird species, the common tern and the roseate tern, saying the birds would be harmed by the shoreline disruption associated with dredging. It also indicates that when dredged sand is used to nourish a beach, it must be placed at a very shallow slope ratio of 10:1. Leach said it is virtually impossible to create such a gradual slope on most beaches. The letter also raises questions about the longstanding practice of dredge crews storing pipes on the beach. The NHESP letter also requires towns to have a shorebird monitor in place to safeguard nesting birds in the area, and to report that information to the state. Chatham said the Massachusetts Audubon Society already provides monitors to check protected shorebirds on beaches near the Saquatucket dredge project, but there were no nesting shorebirds on town land at the time of the project.

Given the implications of the NHESP letter, Chatham said he is reluctant to recommend that the conservation commission automatically include the restrictions without input from Leach, and Leach said the matter deserves more study. “I think we need to fight this,” he said. “We can’t afford not to fight this.”

Harwich Gets A Lesson In Offshore Beach Nourishment

HARWICH – (7/25/07) It is no surprise that the beaches along Nantucket Sound are losing ground to erosion and selectmen would like to put a plan in place to reverse that trend.But is the town ready to spend more than $4 million to improve conditions over a 10- to 15-year period? “We need to develop a coordinated approach to deal with the issue long term,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Robin Wilkins told a group of about 40 people in a workshop last Tuesday. “Up to now we have been reacting.” Beachfront residents and officials from surrounding towns attended the workshop put on by Coastal Planning and Engineering, Inc. of Palm Beach, Fla. The firm is presently working on the Sconset Beach Nourishment Project on Nantucket that would pump 2.5 million cubic yards of sand to the beach from shoals 2.5 miles offshore.

Wilkins said the coastal waters are a part of the town’s infrastructure much like the roads. Selectman David Marsland agreed the town needs a plan in place to replace sand. But is offshore pumping the answer for Harwich? The larger question is, is offshore pumping the answer in Massachusetts? Cheryl Bartlett, a former Nantucket selectman and president of the Sconset Beach Association, said no less than 11 federal, state and local permits are required to put in place a nourishment plan involving offshore pumping. Bartlett said the town of Winthrop has been working for 13 years on the regulatory process and has yet to win permission. They’ve been working for 2.5 years on Nantucket and have reached the same plateau as Winthrop, Bartlett said. “When the wetlands protection act was approved it allowed us to do virtually nothing,” Bartlett said. The hope is as more communities see the need for beach nourishment programs and more pressure is applied, legislators will start the regulatory pendulum swinging, she said. Coastal Planning and Engineering has done 60 beach restoration projects and inlet channel relocation project, and another 30 coastal structure projects. Many of those projects have been in Florida where regulations are less restrictive.

Across the nation there are 370 beach management programs in place for nourishing beaches on a regular basis, said company president Tom Campbell. In California, he added, virtually all the beaches are nourished. Improved beaches are good for the quality of life and the economy, Campbell said. He cited a project on Miami Beach in the early 1980s that increased the number of visitors from 8 million to 21 million a year.

A team from Coastal Planning and Engineering spent the better part of a week assessing the Harwich shoreline and determined annual erosion fluctuates from three to seven feet along most of the south side beaches. Bank Street Beach is a major exception, showing accretions of close to four feet a year. With storms beaches come and go, and change happen from winter to summer masking long-term change, Campbell said. There is a river of sand called the littoral drift that picks up sand and moves it from west to east. Sometimes that flow is interrupted by jetties, which catch sand on one side and starve beaches on the other side. He cited the Allen Harbor entrance as a perfect example. Beaches to the east of the jetty erode from three to seven feet a year, he said. The same conditions exist at the Wychmere Harbor jetty, he said. Groins which extend perpendicular to the shoreline catch the littoral drift and slow erosion, but can cause localized erosion and accretion, he said. Coastal structures define Harwich, senior coastal engineer Gordon Thomson said. There are 56 groins along Harwich’s south side averaging 140 feet in length. Those groins are about 240 feet apart, which is close. He said the distance between groins is usually are three times their length.

There are eight jetties along the shoreline at the entrance to inlets. He said they are beefy and in very good condition. But 50 percent of the town’s 4.2-mile shoreline is armored with seawalls and revetments. Those structures prevent sand from coming off the bank to nourish the beach. Thomson said 2.4 miles of the shoreline would benefit from beach nourishment. He estimated it would require 500,000 cubic yards to construct a shoreline with that extends out 50 to 70 feet. That volume would provide a shoreline lasting 10 to 15 years, Thomson said. The cost would be in the $4 million range based on a $5 per cubic yard delivery rate if a nearshore source is located. He estimated $1.5 million would be for equipment mobilization, but that cost could be reduced by working together with neighboring communities. There would be another 10 to 15 percent in engineering and permitting costs, Campbell said.

There are some benefits to having beach nourishment plans in place, said Sandi Tate, a coastal planner with the company. Regularly managed beaches sustained no damage in recent Florida hurricanes. In Pensacola when Ivan hit, she said they had an engineered beach that did sustain damage. FEMA considered it part of the infrastructure and reimbursed the community for 90 percent of the cost of restoring the beach. “The possibility for replacement through FEMA for the infrastructure is an interesting question to look at,” Marsland said.

Harbormaster Thomas Leach said he has just put together a channel and harbor dredging time line for beach nourishment over a 10-year period. That plan calls for $1.6 million in dredge funds and would generate 210,000 cubic yards, he said. Questions remain. Can permitting be put in place for offshore pumping to nourish Harwich’s beaches, and would voters appropriate that kind of money to do it? “We can solve all our problems with $5 million,” Leach said after the meeting. “Everybody in town understands that.”

Red River, Earle Road, Grey Neck and Wah Wah Taysee public beaches have been re-nourished

County Dredge Begins Emergency Dredging Of Saquatucket

HARWICH – (6/14/07) Like the coastline itself the boundaries of town dredging have been changing from week to week. But by all accounts progress has been made. Red River, Earle Road, Grey Neck and Wah Wah Taysee public beaches have been re-nourished. The Allen Harbor channel has new depth to satisfy boaters and residents and members of he Wyndemere Beach Association have enough beach to stretch towels and blankets this summer. But the private beach association did not get the 4,000 cubic yards it sought. Town Administrator James Merriam said Wyndemere Beach Association could only raise $15,000 over the short period of time and not the $25,600 it has committed to last week.

Harbormaster Thomas Leach said this week the beach association received 2,222 cubic yards of sand and the public beach at Wah Wah Taysee Road received 1,600 cubic yards. The dredge work was completed on Monday and the county dredge “Codfish” was relocated to the outer Saquatucket Harbor channel for an emergency dredge project. Leach said in all, 12,600 cubic yards of sand was removed from the Allen Harbor channel. The harbormaster said that channel is now in good shape with the main blockage inside the two jetties removed and the outer channel greatly improved. “The big problem with the big bar near number two marker was remedied,” Leach said. There remains a little bottleneck by the entrance buoy, he added, and they will be able to address that by moving the marker by 150 feet to bring the boaters in at a little different angle. “I think there are going to be a lot of happy beachgoers this summer and happy boaters who will be able to get in and out of the channel,” Leach said.

On Monday night, selectmen heard from one beachfront resident, Douglas Kreeger of Wah Wah Taysse Road, who told selectmen his concern was the cove that has been created in front of his house. Kreeger owns the property to the east of the town beach at Wah Wah Taysse Road and his land abuts the west side of the Wyndemere Beach Association property. Both of those properties received beach nourishment from the dredge project. The property owner said he has always treated his private beach as public, allowing people to pass. With the sand being placed to the east and west of his property, Kreeger said they have a cove in front of their home and he expressed concerns conditions would be exacerbated by what’s happening on either side. He said the water now comes up to his seawall and will block passage.

As a taxpayer who pays a lot of money, Kreeger said he is concerned the changes will have a negative impact on his property. When the sand was being placed to the east it started to back the water up on his property, Kreeger said. And he has a breakwater along the front of his property that makes sand by-pass. Selectman Larry Cole said he was on site that afternoon with the harbormaster and, added when the pipe was transporting sand and wash it was washing over a groin there. Cole said Leach told him the sand to either side would fill in front of Kreeger’s property. “Doug Kreeger made out big being between the two projects with what spilled over from the east and west property owners,” Leach said on Tuesday. “He made out.” Leach said he looked at a photo from 1961 and it showed the sand at the same location along the breakwater. The harbormaster also said over the next several weeks the sand from the nourishment projects to either side will marry it together.

The emergency dredging at Saquatucket Harbor will take place this week in the outer channel and it will remove the “speed bump” out by the number two can. That shoal has hampered movement of larger commercial fishing vessels, the Freedom ferry and deep keel sailboats. Funds from private property owners to the east of the channel will cover the cost of removing 5,400 cubic yards and the town will place another 1,000 cubic yards on the public beach at Neel Road. “It doesn’t get it all,” Leach said. “There are issues inside the breakwater near number six.” But, the harbormaster added, that material cannot go to the beaches and that channel is not getting federal dredge project funding anymore. Leach estimated the county dredge should be finished with the outer channel project by Monday.

Harwich Volunteer Pond Testing Enters Seventh Year

HARWICH - (6/14/07) Volunteers with the water quality task force are set to start a seventh year of water sampling in 12 of the town’s ponds and several salt water sites. “Other towns are amazed that we have such a large number of volunteers and ponds tested,” said Heinz Proft at the season’s introductory training session last Thursday. Proft, an assistant natural resources officer, started testing some of the ponds back in 1988, and is the task force’s project manager. “We still have a need for a few more volunteers this season for Andrews and Hawksnest Ponds. We need a boat and a volunteer for Sand Pond. We can use some volunteer drivers to transport our samples to the SMAST Lab in Dartmouth. And we’d like to add a testing site at Bank Street Bogs.” Water samples are taken in the morning, before the sunlight gets the photosynthesis going in the ponds’ plants. Dissolved oxygen is lowest at that point of the day. Oxygen levels, pH, temperature and water clarity are some of the things recorded at each testing. The lab’s tests yield even more data. “Comparing a pond to itself over a number of years can give important information about the health trends of that pond,” Proft said. The task force has measured the decline of several ponds, and in a preliminary report has prioritized ponds with the most impairment. This report will be shared with the public at a date to be scheduled later this summer. “We need to do some more mining of data, especially with some of our ponds, like John Joseph and Bucks, to get a clearer picture of what is happening,” says Frank Sampson, WQTF Chairman. “We plan to do select testing of sediments this year.” Of all the ponds tested, Skinequit is the most impaired. Every measure taken there has been “off the charts” compared to the other ponds’ data, with numbers in the eutrophic stage. This information, gathered over the last six years of testing, was what inspired the neighborhood around Skinequit to take direct action. “The state standard for safe swimming is a visibility of four feet,” says Joe Seidel, an active member of the Watershed Association of South Harwich (WASH). “We first tested water clarity below that level in 2003. By last year, four out of the seven testing days were below this standard.” This spring the Skinequit neighbors donated $45,000 to buy and install a SolarBee circulator pump, which runs on solar power to oxygenize the water. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” says Seidel. “We can already see some improvement in water quality, but, of course we’ll know better how it works after the summer’s heat.” “Do we test forever?” asked Sampson. “As long as there is an interest in water quality in this town we will keep testing. And we’ll look at simple but significant fixes, like adding catch basins, grading to prevent road run-off, and urging residents to go lightly on the fertilizers.” Testing will take place in the ponds on six different occasions from June 21 to September 18. An optional wet training date for new and old volunteers is set for Thursday (today) at 3 pm at Wychmere Harbor dock. Interested volunteers may also contact Heinz Proft at hproft@town.harwich.ma.us or 508-430-7532.6/14/07

Harwich Beach Nourishment To Become Board Priority

HARWICH – (4/26/06) Sand is a valuable commodity along the Nantucket Sound shoreline, and as the town prepares to dredge channels there have been several offers from private property owners to purchase the spoils to nourish beaches and protect homes. Coastal Dune erosion was pronounced along the Nantucket Sound shoreline in Harwich resulting from last week’s nor’easter as evidenced by this shoreline east of Allen Harbor. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTOS The interest may even be a bit greater in the wake of last week’s three-day Northeaster, carved erosive gouges from the receding dune line. The erosion may not be as dramatic to observe as the impacts along Nauset and North Beach where the barrier spit withers and rebuilds at the whim of Mother Nature. Small amounts of erosion along sand-starved beaches of Nantucket Sound, where multimillion homes perch, can have major impacts upon properties. Those property owners and neighborhood associations are becoming more aware of how precious those narrow stretches of sand can be in protecting their investment.

On Friday, Harbormaster Thomas Leach and Selectman David Marsland navigated the shoreline conducting an assessment of the latest storm. Erosion was evident from Red River Beach on the east end of town to Herring River on the west side. There were erosion cuts four feet high in small coastal dunes and an absence of beach at the base of many revetments. “It’s obvious on Nantucket Sound there was cutting and a lot of moving of sand,” Marsland said after the tour. “It wasn’t as severe as the exposed area of the Atlantic, but it points out we’re in a tough situation along this coastline. We need a plan in place to replace the sand.”

Selectmen have been discussing ways to establish an equitable beach nourishment program for public and private beaches over the past couple of years. The town for years has used dredge material from its channels to rebuild public beaches, and more recently has sold dredge spoils to private property owners seeking to nourish beaches in front of their homes. The town sold 6,000 cubic yards of dredge material for $40,500 to Saquatucket Bluffs private property owner Stephen Seymour last year, and earlier this year accepted $14,000 in payment from Wequassett Inn to dredge 2,000 cubic yards more in Round Cove Channel and place it on the Inn’s Pleasant Bay beach. The town is planning to dredge up to 12,000 cubic yards of sand from the Allen Harbor outer channel staring in the middle of May. Leach said residents in the Cottage Avenue area east of Allen Harbor expressed an interest in purchasing some of that sand for beach nourishment. Leach said he has recently been told they have changed their mind because of concerns for setting a precedent for paying for the material. The town is planning to place the dredge material at Earle Road and Grey Neck, both public beaches, and to transport 5,000 yards over the road from Earle Road to Red River Beach.

Over the past 20 years, the town had put in place a practice of nourishing private shoreline if neighbors signed a release allowing the public to pass over beaches. Recent boards of selectmen have realized the value of sand, especially with private sale of sand from the Provincelands in Provincetown no longer available. The town has now established the practice of placing materials from town-funded dredging on public beaches. However, the town has also used private contributions to offset costs for dredge operations with the agreement the spoil be placed on private beaches. There is no actual policy in place.

The recreation and youth commission put forward a beach management plan this winter which was approved by selectmen, but it did not fully address beach nourishment. That policy recommended the creation of a beach nourishment advisory committee to develop a comprehensive plan. “Until a comprehensive beach nourishment plan is adopted, all spoils from public dredging projects will be directed to town managed properties for the good of the general public,” the commission stated in its plan. “Public or private sand. It’s not resolved,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Robin Wilkins said on Monday. “Who gets the sand, the wealthy? We can’t put in a beach management plan to serve the highest bidder. We need a beach management plan that is equitable to all.” Selectman Larry Cole said the town has “enunciated some of the principles” by allowing private parties to pay for additional town dredging, with the sand placed on private beaches. “If private funds are made available to help dredge channels more efficiently and keep the channel open, I’d advocate using those funds to get the sand out,” Marsland said. “But town-funded dredging should be for public beaches.” Marsland said there may be an enterprise available to the town here. He said the town has been selling sand to beachfront property owners at the dredge price, $7 per cubic yard, and that is a bargain. Marsland said the town might consider selling the sand at $10 to $11 a yard. Wilkins said as part of a beach nourishment plan, the town has to look at its beaches and channels as infrastructure and consider bonding the funds to accomplish projects. “We can’t keep delaying and delaying it and losing a source of revenue from tourism,” Wilkins said. “Government has a responsibility, in some cases along with homeowners living along the shoreline, to take care of its beaches. But a partnership model has to be fair to all people involved.”

Selectmen on Monday night discussed the need for emergency dredging in the outer Saquatucket Harbor Channel. Town Administrator James Merriam spoke with Freedom Cruise Lines owner Alan McMullen about the need to dredge so he can run his ferry through the channel at low tide. Merriam said a county survey was done in the channel showing five feet of water at low tide. The town needs permits in place to dredge the channel, and Leach said they may be able to obtain an emergency permit because the shoaling impedes the ferry, which is public transportation. Leach also said he has been approached by two residents to the east of the channel, including Seymour, to purchase dredge materials. Last week’s storm has heightened the town’s interest in establishing a beach nourishment policy. Marsland recommended the town do a video of the coastline to establish a baseline from which to measure future erosion. Merriam said the commonwealth has now hired an engineering firm to conduct that baseline study along the state coastline. Locally, Wilkins said a beach nourishment plan “has to go to the top of our list of priorities.”

Inner Allen Harbor Dredging Costs More Than $1 Million

HARWICH - (3/22/07) The outer Allen Harbor channel will be dredged in May, but hopes of getting the inner harbor and boat basin cleared are mired in the depth of expenses. While the town is planning to move forward with dredging the outer channel, including the bar that has built up between the two jetties at the mouth of Allen Harbor, Harbormaster Thomas Leach said the $1 million-plus cost associated with dredging the inner harbor makes it unlikely in the immediate future.

Last May, voters approved a petitioned article for $50,000 to develop an engineering plan to dredge the inner basin, which includes waterways in and around the town docks and those of the Allen Harbor Yacht Club. In November, the town’s consultant, Coastal Engineering, Inc. of Orleans, brought together local, state and federal officials involved in dredge permitting to discuss the issuance of a master dredge permit for all town waterways and spoil deposit locations. It was recommended at that time the town move forward with the inner Allen Harbor basin project separate from the master plan request. While most town channels have suitable sand material to nourish nearby beaches, the contents of the inner basin would require de-watering and removal from the site. There was talk of using confined aquatic disposal cells to bury material in the harbor, then covering it with a three-foot layer of sand, but the assessment by Coastal Engineering presented to the town last month recommends dredged materials be removed after a de-watering process.“The most cost effective way to do the job would be bucket dredging and utilizing trucks to haul the material away, or hydraulically pumping the material to a site that has the room to de-water it utilizing a standard sedimentation basin,” the assessment states.

The project description identified the need to remove between 20,000 to 42,000 cubic yards of material composed of organic sludge that is the byproduct of the marshes and river to the north. The organic material limits disposal of the dredge spoil to off-site locations, the report states.The assessment identifies six inch to one foot-thick organic mat on top of more than six feet of consolidated organic material. This material also has no structural qualities, so that upon dredging it would continue to slip into the dredge area, requiring more material to be removed, the report states.“The only conclusion is that the material will have to be de-watered and disposed of off-site, either in a landfill, as composting material, or as non-structural fill,” the assessment states.

An analysis of four dredge options for 30,000 cubic yards runs from $1,424,900 to $2,924,900. The bucket dredging estimate is $1,725,000. The town does not have that kind of money available for dredge projects. Leach said it might require a bond to fund such a project.For the first time in recent memory, Selectmen discussed on Monday night the potential for issuing a general obligation bond for waterways maintenance projects, much the same way some highway department and municipal golf course projects are now funded.

At present, Town Administrator James Merriam said the town has enough money in the dredge account to remove 9,000 cubic yards from the outer channel in Allen Harbor.Fresh from a staff meeting on dredging on Monday, Merriam said they are looking at beginning dredging in the outer channel on May 15. The plan is to place 3,000 cubic yards of material at Grey Neck Beach, 1,000 yards at Earle Road Beach and to use the highway department to truck 5,000 yards to Red River Beach. The plan is to use Earle Road parking lot as the holding area for material being trucked to Red River Beach.

Merriam said Leach has also been discussing a private contribution of $20,000 from a neighborhood association for the removal of another 3,100 yards from the outer channel to be placed off Cottage Avenue to the east of the harbor.Voters will be asked this May to place another $100,000 in the dredging reserve fund to keep channels clear. Leach said Saquatucket Harbor channel needs to be done, and conditions there may require changes in scheduling for the Nantucket ferry to navigate at low tide.

Merriam told selectmen Monday night Leach has written a draft letter to the Massachusetts congressional delegation seeking funding for dredging Saquatucket Harbor, a federal channel which until recently had been dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers dredge Currituck.With federal dollars being redirected to the Iraq War, the federal agency has stopped dredging the channel. Merriam said the letter not only requests funding be made available for dredging the channel, but it requests a change in the practice of deep-water disposal so the material can be used to nourish local beaches. Selectmen will be asked to sign the letter, he said.

With the Saquatucket channel not anticipated to be dredged until next fall, Leach said he has asked the Coast Guard to map out the deepest water for passage and mark a channel. He said there may be a dog-leg in the channel this summer.

Boatyards Blasts Chatham Harbormaster’s Department

CHATHAM — (03/21/07) A letter signed by the owners of six boatyards in town, submitted to The Cape Cod Chronicle for publication, makes a number of serious allegations about the harbormaster’s department and the way it manages moorings in town. Entitled “People In Glass Houses,” the letter voices support for the reforms suggested by the waterways advisory committee, namely that boatyards be allowed to assign moorings under their control using a transparent system with “fair and equitable” criteria and a local appeals process. The discussion was spurred by last year’s investigation of local boatyards by the Massachusetts Inspector General’s office, which found a lack of public accountability when private boatyards assign moorings.

The letter laments that the inspector general focused on boatyards, which control around 8 percent of the town’s moorings, instead of the harbormaster, who controls the rest. “Someone did Chatham a major disservice by seeking the IG’s attention on Chatham boatyards only—not the harbormaster’s department also—despite the crystal clear state law and the fact that the state department of environmental protection, not the inspector general, implements waterways policy for the Commonwealth,” the letter reads.

Smith said he was not prepared to respond to all of the allegations at this time. He called the statement a “distortion of the truth.” By relying on nine-year-old allegations from “hearsay conversations”, the inspector general failed to conduct a true investigation, the boatyard owners allege. The letter criticizes the harbormaster for not having a “written procedure for a ‘fair and equitable’ mooring assignment system, at least not one any of us can decipher.” It also criticized the department for removing the mooring waiting list from its website shortly after the wastewater advisory committee’s vote supporting the boatyards.

The letter charges the harbormaster with working to exert his own control over all of the moorings in town, along with the mooring inspection process. It also criticizes the department’s practice of retaining a number of moorings in the Stage Harbor area for temporary assignment, instead of permanently assigning them to people on the waiting list.

The boatyard owners make a number of other serious allegations about the department, including that “a local waterways volunteer who has been very vocal defending the harbormaster’s desired authority [received] a mooring in Stage Harbor for a 55-foot boat” when others have been on the waiting list longer. The letter also alleges that the harbormaster has repeatedly hired friends and family with debatable job qualifications as assistant harbormasters. The letter also alleges that a boatyard owner was physically assaulted by one of the harbormaster’s staff and that the harbormaster apparently took no official action. The harbormaster also allegedly threatened to hold up one boatyard’s federal mooring permits if the boatyard did not give up management control of four moorings, the letter reads.

The boatyard owners conclude the letter by challenging the department for having a large staff and budget, and for seeking to build an unnecessary mooring barge at great taxpayer expense. The letter was submitted by the owners of Oyster River Boatyard, Ryder’s Cove Boatyard, Outermost Harbor Marine, Stage Harbor Marine, the Chatham Yacht Basin and Pease Boat Works.

On Monday, The Chronicle provided a copy of the letter to Harbormaster Stuart Smith, who said it was the first he had seen it. On Tuesday, Smith indicated he is not yet ready to respond to each allegation. “The whole letter is a complete distortion of the truth,” he said. Within the next two weeks, Smith said he will prepare a written response addressing “each and every one” of the allegations. The letter brings a formerly civil discussion “into the gutter,” Smith added. “They want to drive a wedge between me and the waterways [advisory committee] and selectmen as much as possible,” the harbormaster said.

The letter was not a planned item for discussion at the waterways advisory committee meeting scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m., but there was speculation that it might be a topic of interest to the group.

Harwich Approves Alum Application While Brewster Holds Out

BREWSTER - (2/22/07) The Harwich Conservation Commission voted to move forward with a chemical application to Long Pond this spring, while its counterpart in Brewster withheld its support while more information is provided. The two commissions held a joint meeting last week on the proposed application of 82,000 pounds of alum, designed to bind phosphorus and reduce the anoxic conditions that cause algae blooms and fish kills in the 750-acre pond divided by the two political jurisdictions. The towns have award a $418,000 contract to ENSR International, Inc. with the intention of having the alum applied over a 15-day period in May. But that timeframe could be pushed back to next fall if the Brewster Conservation Commission does not approve the project at its March 6 meeting.

There has been opposition to the alum treatment to the pond. A 211-signature petition was filed by Karen Malkus, of President of the Friends of Long Pond, citing the need to keep the pond healthy opposing the use of alum. “Current water quality trends do not suggest a problem worthy of alum. Animal toxicity studies suggest that the impact to invertebrates and amphibians would be devastating. The extreme cost of alum to life forms and taxpayers is an unwarranted over-reaction to water quality issues,” the petition stated.

The state Division of Marine Fisheries recommended the commission put off the application until October, based on concerns for spring alewife spawning in the pond. There are additional concerns yet to be addressed by the Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program, which is administered through the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Newly developed maps through the NHESP show areas adjacent to the pond as priority locations for rare and endangered plant species. The agency has stated its intention to use the 30-day timeframe commencing with commission notification of the planned application to respond. That period expires on March 2. Jurisdiction is extended to NHSEP for activities taking place within 1,000 feet of such plant species.

Harwich Conservation Administrator John Chatham said the commission does not anticipate Natural Heritage to come back with a negative report because the alum is being applied in the deeper 370 acres of the pond, and it is not anticipated to drift toward the shallower shoreline.

DMF Director Paul Diodati notified the conservation commissions that Long Pond is considered to be the headwaters of one of the largest and oldest river herring runs on Cape Cod. Fish use the pond for passage, spawning, nursery and forage habitat. Diodati said there is concern about possible adverse impacts of aluminum sulfate on the herring population because the compound will form a floc which can irritate the gills of fish and may result in fish kills. “The spring is considered to be the worst time of the year by Marine Fisheries to apply alum to the pond. During the spring, herring runs are at their peak and the fish are stressed by the spawning activities. The application of alum should be delayed until late fall (October) to give the adult and young-of-the-year river herring time to leave the pond,” Diodati stated.

While the Brewster commission decided to hold off until they got a response from NHESP, Chatham said Harwich went ahead and approved it. “Obviously, they’re not going to execute a permit if Natural Heritage wants something further,” Chatham said of the commission. Chatham also said Kenneth Wagner of ENSR, Inc. stated that a spring alum application would not impact the fish. He put forth the argument the spring was a better time based on stability of water temperature. Chatham said 40-degree waters are the outer limit for application and in the spring temperatures will warm up during the day while in the fall they could dip at night. “Basically what Harwich is saying is we want to get it done, move forward with it,” Chatham said. “But if we do it in the fall, instead of the spring, that’s all right.”

Overview of Long Pond Water Quality Assessment


EAST HARWICH — When safety officials say "Buckle up — it's the law," they aren't just talking about seat belts.

The importance of always strapping on a life jacket was just one of the many safety tips kayakers received from Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 11-01 on Saturday at the Paddle Smart Safety Symposium.

Kayakers often go out without making safety preparations, which "is kind of like going out and driving a car without ever taking driver's ed," explained Dick Hilmer, the flotilla's paddle sports specialist, to the crowd of about 65 kayaking enthusiasts.

Hosted in conjunction with the American Canoe Association, the workshop advised kayakers on basic skills, equipment, preparation, rules, navigation, weather and medical emergencies. The backdrop of Jackknife Cove on Pleasant Bay in East Harwich, a popular boating area, allowed new learners to practice their techniques on the water under the watchful eye of several ACA-certified instructors.

"When I see people out on the water like this, that's what it's all about," Hilmer said as he gestured toward kayakers practicing recovering from capsizing with instructors in the bay. "We really wanted this to be hands-on and we wanted this interaction."

Nantucket held a couple similar workshops indoors, but this was the first outdoor kayak safety event offered on the Cape, Hilmer said. Having kayakers performing new skills could make the difference in saving their lives, he said.

"The sport of kayaking moves so fast," Hilmer said. "This is going to save a life. If we can save just one person, that's the mission."

The symposium was held in large part as a response to the tragic deaths of two college-age women in 2003 who disappeared while kayaking in Harwich Port. The women were not wearing life jackets and were inexperienced kayakers who were unprepared for emergencies.

"We're holding this under the shadow of the ghosts of the two kayakers who were lost four years ago," said Jan Schneider, a flotilla officer.

"Most people out here are pretty safe, but you're always going to get some who aren't," said Richard King, flotilla commander, who always wears a life jacket to inspire his 6-year-old grandson Nicholas to don one as well. "I don't think you can give people enough education."

The statistics on boating fatalities are proof of that. About 700 people die in boating incidents in the nation every year, and about 50 of them around New England, according to Al Johnson, recreational boating specialist for the Coast Guard 1st District. There have already been 24 boating fatalities in the New England area this year, and only three of the boaters involved in those incidents were wearing life jackets.

Many kayakers were grateful for the opportunity to brush up on their safety knowledge.

"We've taken lessons but never talked specifically about safety," said Dorothy Coombes of Harwich, who often kayaks with her husband but has no experience on the ocean..

Coombes isn't the only one on the water without formal safety training. Tom Gloria and Andrea Roman of Newton brought their three children to the workshop to pick up some kayaking tips.

"It's good for them to hear these things not just from me, but from professionals," said Gloria, whose in-laws, Paul and Jan Roman, live in Harwich.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at stephanieswang@gmail.com.

Five important kayaking safety tips

Source: U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary