EASTHAM — A group called Saving Nauset Dunes, represented by Mackie Shea Durning PC, a Boston-based boutique law firm focused on environmental and land use law, has fired a shot across the bow of the proposed Nauset Estuary dredging project.
What they’re challenging at this stage is the plan to pump 26,080 cubic yards of material from the Priscilla and Mill Pond channels to a dewatering basin covering nearly seven acres of the coastal dune north of Nauset Beach.
“They are committed to the long fight,” wrote the group’s attorney, John F. Shea, in a July 1 letter to the Orleans Select Board. He also warned that the group “will expend whatever resources are necessary to prevent the desecration of the dunes and natural environment, and the devaluation of their properties and lives.
“Rather than embark on a costly war for all parties, our clients are hopeful Orleans and Eastham will reconsider,” Shea wrote. The group wants both towns to abandon the current dredge spoils disposal plan. They are asking for an alternative to what is planned.
Shea stated that Saving Nauset Dunes was a large and growing group of residents and homeowners in the area of East Orleans known as Nauset Heights and beyond. He wrote that the group intended to participate in public forums to voice their opposition to the project as proposed. And they won’t go it alone: “They will participate with experts and lawyers,” he wrote, adding that his clients are prepared to appeal any decisions that allow the use of the coastal dunes for dewatering and disposal of dredged materials.
The current proposal is to construct a dewatering basin covering 6.8 acres of coastal dune on town land north of Nauset Beach. The plan is to use 28,000 cubic yards of excavated sand to construct 13.7-foot-high berms and to stockpile another 22,000 cubic yards of excavated sand.
The dredged material would be pumped through 3,185 linear feet of 16-inch-diameter pipe that would cross property owned by the Cape Cod National Seashore, the town of Orleans, and two private land owners.
Under the current proposal the dredge spoils would remain as the core of the dune, which would be restored to pre-existing grades. Plans include building a secondary dune on the landward side of the basin site. The area would be revegetated with beach grass.
In the three-page letter, Shea listed 14 of his clients’ concerns and wrote that more detailed engineering, environmental, and legal comments would be provided later. Included in the list were concerns about adverse effects on wildlife habitat and species, property damage, and personal injury from disposal of dredge spoils, air quality issues and odors from the dewatering process, and damage to the excavated dune.
In the letter, Shea calls the proposed changes to the dunes a “mutant landform,” and argues it will not provide effective storm damage prevention or flood control in the same way the existing natural dune does.
Another problem opponents have raised is the possibility that the dredged material will contain red tide cysts. According to a pilot study done as part of the project, those would no longer be viable six months after being buried in a dune. But residents at the project’s June 29 public forum questioned the reliability of that study.
“The importation and disposal of dredge spoils bearing red tide cysts will present ecological hazards and health risks to residents, property owners, and users of Nauset Public Beach,” Shea’s letter stated.
Shea referenced an exchange that occurred at the June 29 public forum where Woods Hole Group scientist Leslie Fields was asked if she could guarantee the dredging project would not be undone after one major storm, and she replied she could not.
“This exchange raised the specter of wasting the estimated $3.1 million for the initial Project, and future additional or ‘maintenance’ dredging, with more dune destruction to repair and excavate a larger disposal area, with the attendant environmental and property damages,” wrote Shea.
The project’s Expanded Environmental Notification Form being prepared by the Woods Hole Group could be submitted to the Mass. Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) office as early as July 30. MEPA approval would be the first of at least eight permits required for the project.