Old Harbor At Town Neck Beach In Sandwich

A view of Old Harbor from Town Neck Beach

A plan to dredge the sand currently choking Sandwich’s Old Harbor is “feasible and permittable,” even though such a project would disturb environmentally sensitive wildlife habitats, the town’s beach consultant has determined.

But the project will require permits from more than 30 state and federal regulatory agencies and it will not happen quickly, Woods Hole Group told the board of selectmen last week. In addition, the consultant said, it will cost the town more than $95,000 for research and permits.

The selectmen agreed on June 6 to allow Woods Hole Group to proceed with the planning and permitting, but not before peppering Leslie Fields—the consultant’s representative—with questions and terse comments about the slowness of the process.

“Time’s up. We need to put a shovel in the sand,” said Selectman Shane T. Hoctor, summing up the board’s frustration. “We keep asking and asking for permission.”

Ms. Fields kept her cool.

“I understand your frustration, but there are certain criteria you have to meet,” she said.

Specifically, the selectmen agreed to allow Woods Hole Group to proceed to Phase III of a lengthy process to research and analyze the situation and pursue the permitting.

The consultant has split Phase III into several subcategories that involve data collection, determining the probability of acquiring permits from various state and federal agencies, and coming up with engineering plans to dredge less than 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the harbor while causing minimal disruption to endangered species and sensitive ocean floor geology.

A recent conference call with state and federal environmental officials was positive, Ms. Fields said.

“While the regulatory agencies identified a limited set of additional data that will be required, they indicated that the project was feasible and likely permittable,” the consultant said.

The additional data will include such things as sand sampling and analysis, a shellfish survey of Mill Creek, a consultation with state environmental agencies about shorebird habitat and the impact on the ocean floor, Ms. Fields said.

Permitting, engineering and design would follow.

The total cost of Phase III is estimated at about $95,000, Woods Hole Group has estimated. There would be additional costs if the matter must go to the Cape Cod Commission for review, Ms. Fields said.

The town wants to dredge Old Harbor to clear excess sand that has drifted there over the years, and to use that sand to help shore up Town Neck Beach.

The sand drift in Mill Creek has caused a huge change to the ecosystem, suffocating mollusks and rerouting the birds that feed off them.

In a related matter, Ms. Fields said the US Army Corps of Engineers is expected to have a preliminary draft, in September, of its research into whether the Cape Cod Canal jetties have impeded the natural flow of sand to Town Neck Beach.

That report, known as the 111 Study, is expected to show that the large jetty on the Scusset Beach side of the east entrance of the Canal, which is federally owned, has contributed to Town Neck Beach’s erosion problem.

Town officials are hoping the 111 Study will result in regular replenishment of sand from dredging at Scusset Beach and the Cape Cod Canal.

Woods Hole Group has presented several possible fixes for the jetty problem, and ongoing sand nourishment measures, to the Army Corps. These include adjusting the jetty, creating a sand bypass, and adding coir envelopes to the dune, Ms. Fields said.

She also briefly discussed the town’s proposal to take sand from Scusset Beach to renourish Town Neck Beach. This project, too, is awaiting approval from the Army Corps, which is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Ms. Fields said.

David J. DeConto, Sandwich’s director of natural resources, said recently that all the necessary state regulatory and environmental agencies have verbally agreed to allow sand to be “borrowed” periodically from the abundance that accumulates at Scusset Beach.

Specifically, the town had been awaiting permits to take about 220,000 cubic yards of sand from a 23-acre site offshore at Scusset Beach.

Although the environmental regulators have agreed in principle, the town is still waiting for written permissions, Mr. DeConto said, adding that the Scusset dredging can only take place in October, November and December, so right whales and other endangered species will not be affected.

The price tag, however, will be hefty—$8 million to $10 million, Mr. DeConto said.

“If the 111 Study comes through, there will be some money available,” he added.

Woods Hole Group has said in a previous report that town beach needs about 400,000 cubic yards of sand to become fully re-nourished from the many years of storm damage and erosion.

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