EASTHAM — One of the reasons my husband and I decided to move back to Eastham from Orleans was its scenic beauty. When I lived in Orleans, I was a couple of blocks from Rock Harbor. I love the Rock Harbor area, but with the amount of activity on the Orleans side from boats and the restaurant and fish market, I increasingly found myself driving to the Eastham side to more deeply appreciate the serenity of the area.
This is an environmentally sensitive area that includes designations as a habitat for rare species and as a Priority Heritage Landscape; it is also within the FEMA flood zone.
Article 16, approved by Eastham voters at the May 2018 annual town meeting, allocated $1.3 million for the replacement and expansion of boat dockage at Rock Harbor and construction of a small harbormaster building. My understanding is that the harbormaster’s building was to be just over 200 square feet.
I attended, via Zoom, the Eastham Select Board meeting of Sept. 14, where Kuth Ranieri Architects presented their design for this building. I was shocked to hear that it included a building of over 600 square feet of enclosed area, plus over 1,300 square feet of decks and ramps, totaling just under 2,000 square feet.
There is an additional 1,300 square feet of open storage, 30 parking spaces, a viewing platform, rinse stations, picnic tables, and a demountable bandshell pavilion. This is evidently phase one of a three-phase project. Town officials talked about making this “a destination,” with things such as food trucks.
I am in favor of a harbormaster office of just over 200 square feet, as approved. But have environmental impact, traffic, and carrying capacity studies been conducted and reviewed in the context of not only phase one, but also phases two and three? Have climate change issues, such as municipal vulnerability preparedness and emergency management, been considered with the proposed site and development plan?
Have Orleans, the boating community, and other applicable state agencies been consulted for their input? Has the planning board been involved early in the proposal and vetted the other sites that were mentioned but eliminated? Since this is a substantial deviation from what was approved by the voters in May 2018, will voters be able to vote on this dismaying expansion?
Time and time again, I have witnessed the detrimental impact that increased usage has caused to environmentally sensitive areas. Unfortunately, when it is gone, it is gone.
I worry that we will lose the scenic beauty and fragile nature of the Eastham side of Rock Harbor. Those who want to get involved should email [email protected].
Donelle Denery is a former member of the Orleans Conservation Commission and currently a Barnstable County master gardener.