To call Monument Beach a busy place right now would be an understatement. Heavy equipment and a steady flow of sand and water, disgorged onto the beach from an underground/underwater pipe, are testament to the work underway to dredge Little Bay.
A large pipe jutting from beneath the sand spews a continuous gusher of sand and water into a large pit dug into the beach. At the same time, an excavator works nonstop piling up all the material expelled by the pipe, loading it onto a truck that dumps it into yet another pit. That is just what is happening on land.
Out in the waters of Little Bay, crews work from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, painstakingly clearing the bottom of the channel. The vessel they work on sends out the start of a long pipe that holds a cutterhead at its front end. The cutterhead digs and cuts through accumulated sediment, and the loosened material is then pumped through 6,000 feet of remaining pipe to the beach.
First, it goes to a booster station situated halfway between the shore and the dredge. The booster station, a 25-year-old dredge that has been retrofitted to serve solely as a pump, prods the material along to its final destination, Monument Beach. There, it is, ultimately, belched into the dewatering basin.
The Little Bay dredge project will cover from the outside of the Pocasset River through the channel to inside Tobey Island. The dewatering basin for the spoils is to the right of the administrative building as one faces the water. Three stockpile areas have been created for the dewatered spoils.
Bourne Department of Natural Resources director Christopher M. Southwood estimated that approximately 18,000 cubic yards of dredge material will be removed from the channel. He anticipated the cost of the project to be about $425,000. The town was on target to dredge the bay from late October to mid-November but then agreed to swap time frames with Yarmouth.
The work is being done by the county dredge program, which is under the direction of program administrator Kenneth J. Cirillo. Mr. Cirillo said town officials told him that the last time Little Bay had been dredged was in the 1950s.
“There’s two sections here: There’s a maintenance [section] which they said was done in ‘58, and then there’s another section that we started that’s new that was never dredged,” he said.
Mr. Cirillo only recently joined the county dredge program. He said he went to work with the program this past August. Before that, he worked for C-MAP USA, a Mashpee company that created electronic charts for boaters. He also worked for Garmin for a couple of years, took some time off and then went to work with the county dredge program, he said.
“I get to be on boats and help to organize the operation,” he said. “A lot of great people, a lot of challenges.”
Mr. Cirillo said the dredging season on the Cape is a relatively short one. Typically, he said, it begins on October 1. It can go as short as mid-January or in some places into April, given what he called TOY, or Time of Year, extensions. Dredging does not go into the summer tourist season, he said.
“The reality is nobody wants to be doing it in summertime and having people laying on the beach and having this stuff being poured out,” he said.
Mr. Cirillo cited multiple benefits to dredging a waterway such as Little Bay. Doing so makes navigation easier for commercial and recreational users. Dredging is also instrumental in decreasing the abundance of nitrogen in the water, he said.
“You are creating more surface area for water,” Mr. Cirillo said. “Water helps flushing of the nitrogen in and out of a system.”
Mr. Southwood concurred on both benefits. Removal of sediment, he said, maintains an appropriate width and depth “for enabling the safe and unobstructed recreational/commercial vessel passage.” From a conservation perspective, dredging the channel is essential, he said.
“Dredging will also allow mooring fields to remain usable and provide adequate waterflow and flushing of nearby harbors and bays,” he said. “Dredging can produce a healthier aquatic ecosystem, and good waterflow is crucial to the survival and propagation of shellfish as well.”
The seven-man crew on the county dredge starts each day around 6:30 AM and finishes around 4 PM. Most of that time is problem-free, but occasionally the entire operation has to shut down when the pipe picks up a rock too big for the cutterhead to break down.
On Tuesday, December 29, the crew displayed two large piles of rocks, each stone 6 to 8 inches in diameter that had forced two sudden work stoppages. The collection was of rocks that were brought up during dredging just that morning, crew members noted.
Dredge program foreman Tanner Dailey said that 99 percent of the work done at Little Bay has been rocks. Mr. Dailey said that, in many instances, crew members use a hammer to break down the rock because it is so large and so wedged into the cutterhead.
“It puts a lot of wear and tear on the cutterhead, the pipes, the pump internally,” Mr. Dailey said.
Mr. Cirillo explained that before the start of dredging, the entire channel was plotted and mapped. The accumulated information is displayed on a computer screen inside the dredge’s cockpit. Like a vintage video game, a crew member in the cockpit manipulates a pair of hand controls while following the lines on the computer screen as a guide for where to dredge next in the channel.
As of Tuesday, the project had entered its 11th day. Estimates are for roughly 18,000 cubic yards of dredge material to be removed from the channel. Mr. Dailey declined to say how much longer the Little Bay project might take.
“It’s really hard to determine a true timeline,” he said, “with weather and different variants that we have to deal with, so it’s not as cut-and-dried as being on land. We have the waves, the current, the tide, all factor into what we’re able to do at certain times.”
Mr. Cirillo noted that 95 percent of dredge operations are for the purpose of beach nourishment. Mr. Southwood said that the dredged material from Little Bay will be used for just such a purpose in both Bourne and Sandwich.
“The Town of Bourne will be using a portion of the dredged sediment (sand) for local beach renourishment projects,” Mr. Southwood said. “The Town of Sandwich will be trucking the excess portion to their local beaches for similar renourishment projects.”
A similar arrangement between Bourne and Sandwich was agreed upon two years ago when Barlows Landing Beach was dredged, and the spoils were deposited in the vacant lot opposite Pocasset River Marina on Shore Road.
Mr. Cirillo said that once Little Bay is done, the dredge will move on to Chatham for dredging of Stage Harbor. The dredge moves quite slowly, he noted, as it will take two whole days to travel from Bourne to Chatham, with a stopover in Barnstable.
He added that, to the relief of people looking forward to warm summer days spent at the beach, restoration of Monument Beach will not take long. Once the dredging is completed and the spoils carted to the collection pits, the beach can be restored in as little as one afternoon, he said.
“It will look like nothing was ever done here,” he said.