The feasibility study for a project that would take sand from Old Harbor to bolster the Town Neck and Spring Hill beaches has been completed, and the town will now be seeking the permits required to complete the project.
Town manager George H. (Bud) Dunham said the feasibility study to dredge Old Harbor began in 2017 and a unanimous vote from the Sandwich Board of Selectmen at its meeting on Thursday last week, September 16, will allow the project to move forward.
Mr. Dunham said the process has taken a while because in order for the project to be approved, a number of permitting authorities have to sign off on the work that will be done.
“We try to strike this balance about trying to push the envelope a little bit, but also be respectful of what the concerns are,” he said.
Those concerns largely involve wildlife that might be impacted by the dredging. For example, concerns have been raised about shellfish beds in the harbor, as well as piping plover nests in the surrounding areas.
The plan that the town will be moving forward with is expected to net about 66,000 cubic yards of sand that will be used to replenish parts of the Town Neck and Spring Hill beaches. As proposed, the project would also minimize the impacts to the harbor’s complex hard bottom—the harbor floor which is composed of sand, rocks and clays, and is vital to the survival of certain aquatic species.
Coastal geologist Leslie Fields, of the Woods Hole Group, cautioned the board that the final amount of sand could vary in either direction. For example, the town could end up with 50,000 cubic yards, but it could also yield 75,000 cubic yards.
She said it is also possible that the town will have spent the money for the feasibility study only to be told that the project will not be approved.
Mr. Dunham said the most-difficult permits to get will be from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Heritage and Endangered Species Program. Both organizations are at the federal level.
To date, the project has been broken into three phases and has cost almost $136,375. The next phase will cost at least an additional $81,600. Funding for the project is coming from previously appropriated community preservation funds that were earmarked for erosion prevention efforts.
Prior to voting to move on to the permitting phase of the project, several members of the board expressed concerns about the amount of sand the town is able to get from Old Harbor.
Chairman Michael Miller said he was concerned with the idea of the town investing money into the dredge only to find that the amount of sand it can get is cut in half. Board member Charles Holden acknowledged that concern, but added that the town could end up with more sand, too.
Board member Shane Hoctor asked if the dredge was a one-shot deal or if the permits would be renewable. Ms. Fields said that the permits, while not issued in perpetuity, would be renewable.
The vote to move forward was unanimous.
Mr. Dunham said he is hopeful that all permits necessary will be obtained by next year. It could take up to two more years for the project to be completed.
In addition to the Old Harbor dredge, the town is working with the Army Corps of Engineers on a dredging project that would potentially bring 400,000 cubic yards of sand from Scusset Beach to shore up Town Neck Beach.