EASTHAM — The select board voted on May 17 to sign the second memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Orleans on the Nauset Estuary Dredging Project, agreeing to continued coordination between the two towns. But the members made it clear that they were signing on for a fact-finding mission only, and that the question of whether and how to dredge had not been decided.
“We need everybody to understand there’s no final decisions,” said board member Art Autorino at the May 13 joint meeting with the Orleans Select Board. “That, in the end, the select boards may say no, we’re not going to do it, or the select boards may say yes, or we may split.”
The proposed $3.1-million project would dredge 155,560 cubic yards of material from a 5.6-mile channel from Town Cove to the inlet via the channel behind the Nauset barrier beach. The inlet would not be dredged.
Shoaling in the channels and mooring areas has prevented commercial fishing vessels from accessing town landings, leaving them moored in the navigation channel south of the inlet.
The Eastham board had appeared to be leaning away from signing the document at its May 3 meeting after reviewing the draft Expanded Environmental Notification Form (EENF) prepared by the Woods Hole Group and paid for by Orleans.
Select board vice chair Aimee Eckman said on May 13 that board members had been mistaken at that May 3 meeting in their impression that the second MOU was their last chance to back out of the project. Town counsel had advised that was not the case, she noted.
The board’s concerns, noted on May 3 and seconded by Eastham’s Projects and Procurements Director Shana Brogan on May 13, included the width of the dredged channel behind the barrier beach. It had been expanded from a previously discussed 50-foot width to 100 feet. Other concerns were that the channel would be within 100 feet of the back of the barrier beach, that side cast dredging was proposed for that channel, that the ongoing Center for Coastal Studies study of the area would not be completed until 2022, and what effects the project would have on nearly 60 acres of shellfish flats.
Board chair Jamie Demetri noted a proposal in the draft EENF to relocate the shellfish. “Some shellfish are easy to relocate,” said Demetri on May 13, but she cautioned that other species, such as soft-shell clams and mussels, did not like to be moved. “They really set up shop where they are. They like their habitat,” Demetri said. “I would hate to see us decimate one form of livelihood for folks to encourage another.”
Eckman said there seemed to be different priorities between the two towns and noted that, while Eastham has a few commercial fishermen, the dredging project had more support in Orleans with its larger number of commercial fisherman and businesses advocating for the project to move forward.
“We definitely have more people concerned about the environmental impacts on the estuary, and it’s very important that we protect that resource,” said Eckman.
Woods Hole Group coastal geologist Leslie Fields explained at the May 13 meeting that the EENF was the first “in a long line of regulatory reviews that the project will have to undergo.”
Fields said meetings to receive comments on the draft EENF would be scheduled in May with the Nauset Estuary Stakeholders group and a public meeting would be held in June for residents of Eastham and Orleans.
The draft EENF is posted on Eastham’s town website.