Waquoit Bay

Dramatic skies over Waquoit Bay viewed from the Waquoit town landing.

On Wednesday, March 3, the Falmouth Waterways Committee discussed options for dredge spoils within Waquoit Bay.

In order to dredge the Waquoit Bay and its entrance channel, the town needs to find a place to place the dredge spoils. A preliminary survey conducted by the Woods Hole Group shows that while there is no hazardous materials in the bay, the spoils would not be suitable for beach nourishment. The spoils could potentially be used for marsh restoration.

“There are a couple of marsh areas within piping distance that might be used as a location for some spoils, and to regenerate those marsh areas,” committee member Joseph Voci said. “It is probably the most cost-effective way of dealing with the spoils, if we can work out all the details. Jim Rassman is going to work with WBNERR to see how receptive they are to the marsh renourishment.” Mr. Rassman is the stewardship coordinator at WBNERR (the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve) in Waquoit.

Additional steps need to be taken before the spoils could be used as marsh nourishment, including establishment of the scope of work for the project.

“Some very specific soundings have to be taken to make sure the material is worthy to be used as marsh renourishment,” Mr. Voci said.

He used the Bass River dredging project in Beverly to illustrate the importance of properly identifying dredge spoils. Working with the consulting firm GEI, the city received approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the river and place the spoils in the ocean. When contractor Burnham Associates of Salem mobilized for the project and sought permits to dump the dredged material in the ocean, the Army Corps of Engineers determined the spoils were carcinogenic and did not allow it.

“The dredging company sued the town, and the town is suing the consulting firm because they didn’t get the accurate information,” Mr. Voci said. “This is the kind of stuff you can run into when you get a permit today. There are some questions that need to be answered to make sure we know exactly what the material is that is going to come out of there, and make sure WBNERR is agreeable to putting it on their marshlands. Jim seemed very positive about that.”

Committee member Michael Kinney asked if dredge spoils have been used for marsh renourishment in Massachusetts before. Mr. Voci said he was not aware of any.

“There are some states doing this, and have been doing this successful, so I’m wondering if we could figure out who those people are and see if we could tap into some of the research they did in order to justify permits in those states,” Mr. Kinney said. “I know states have different thresholds for permitting, but it might be one way to try to pull something together.”

Harbormaster Gregg Fraser said WBNERR is looking at this as a research project, in addition to a dredging project.

“WBNERR seemed to be very interested in a portion of this project being deemed research, so that they have the ability to put the materials on their marshes, so that they can further prove to the regulatory authorities that it is an effective and beneficial way to remove some this material and use it to repurpose the marsh, build up the marsh and protect it from storm surge,” Mr. Fraser said.

Washburn Island is also a potential option for dredge spoils.

“The other issue that WBNERR talked about that we also will be exploring is building a dewatering structure on the front of Washburn, on the beach side, pumping the material into the structure, so that the water goes into the hole, basically dewaters, and we use sand to cover up the material,” Mr. Fraser said.

Noting the area is heavily eroded and not a public beach, he said this would also be a cost-effective option for dredge spoils, if the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is amenable to the proposal.

There is also the matter of funding. Mr. Fraser said he is looking at adding a new line item to the town’s capital budget. With dredging projects proposed for Waquoit Bay, Megansett Harbor and Rand’s Canal, money needs to be available for engineering and permitting before dredging can occur.

“We can’t deplete our dredging funds and divert them to engineering funds, because then we won’t be able to pay for the dredging of the inlets on the east side,” he said. “I really think we need a separate line item for engineering and permitting, moving forward, that can pay for some of this work, which we have to do.”

In addition to the town’s capital budget, the Waquoit Bay dredging project could be eligible for a MassWorks grant, which would cover 50 percent of the dredging cost.

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