Summer is here. Company is arriving. It’s time to face the music.
Not only won’t we have a full boardwalk this summer, it also appears that we won’t have one next summer, either. It is clear that we need a temporary fix—a bridge between now and when construction begins in the fall of 2023.
Town officials continue to publicly float a “Hail Mary” scenario that expedites the federal and state permit process and gets the project back on schedule for completion before next summer. But that isn’t very likely.
First, there’s the matter of the comprehensive US Army Corps of Engineers review, called a Section 106. The town is hiring a consultant to shepherd that process and the proposed contract has an end date of April 2023. An official with the regional USACE office confirmed that it has more than 1,000 reviews pending. It’s hard to imagine that the Sandwich application—when it comes—will move to the head of the line.
Second, the town’s longtime boardwalk consultant, GEI, has a timeline that shows the start date pushed back until fall 2023.
Third, the window is closing to bid this project for a start date this fall, if it hasn’t closed already. Given manpower shortages everywhere, finding a marine contractor now would be difficult—and likely very costly.
And if the town tries the risky strategy of bidding the project without all permits (a possibility raised by both the town manager and assistant town manager), what reputable contractor would go for that when there’s so many legitimate shovel-ready projects out there?
We are now four years removed from the Town Meeting vote that authorized a new Sandwich Boardwalk. And as selectman Patrick Ellis recently pointed out, the project is seriously over budget and is eating through the $500,000 siphoned from the DPW portion of the 2018 warrant article.
The new town hall and the center for active living, both approved the year after the boardwalk project, will be open for business long before the boardwalk breaks ground.
It is time to stop pretending that all is well and face the fact that we need a short-term fix—a bridge to the new boardwalk. That means patching a 220-foot gap between the portions the town has deemed safe and useable.
Here’s a suggestion: earmark parking fees from the Boardwalk Road, Town Neck and First Beach lots. In 2020, the town collected more than $172,000 in parking fees from them. If necessary, pump in some of that “free cash” the selectmen seem to have lying around for pet projects, like the $750,000 diverted last year into finishing the new town hall.
Let’s be clear: town department heads don’t want to fuss with temporary repairs, so they’ve made that prospect as unattractive as possible.
Townspeople should make it equally clear that two years without a boardwalk—or maybe longer, given the Army Corps backlog—is an even more unattractive proposition. Who runs this town, anyway?
Candus S. Thomson