Dead Neck/Sampson’s Dredging Hearing Tonight

The Barnstable Conservation Commission will return to the application by Massachusetts Audubon and Three Bays Preservation to dredge 800 feet off of the west end of Sampson’s tonight at the hearing room at town hall beginning at 6:30 pm.

I’ve heard some interesting rumors about the project over the past few weeks, so tonight’s meeting is probably going to be as lively as the last one was in terms of participation by foes and proponents. I’m planning on attending and may speak my mind on the project. I’ll post any remarks if I make them.

To that end I’ve been asked to post the following statements from a proponent and opponent to the project:

In favor is Andrew “Oggie” Pesek,  an officer of Three Bays and director of the Wianno Yacht Club, who forwarded this letter asking the membership of the Wianno Yacht Club in Osterville  for their support for the project. (disclosure: my family were briefly members of the WYC in the 1970s): DNSI_WYC_Letter

Opposed is Brad Wheelwright, a Cotuit resident, member of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club (more disclosure, I am a lifelong member of the CMYC and former president of its association), and ace Cotuit Skiff racer. Brad sent the following:

“I am writing to express my views on the proposed Sampson’s Island dredging project.

I am strongly opposed to the project, mainly because I’m convinced that it would constitute inappropriate use of public funds and resources. An undertaking of this magnitude and expense should be easily justified from every perspective, not widely controversial and based upon questionable assumptions, as this proposal is proving to be.

However, even if dislodging, moving, and placing 11 acres of land wasn’t going to cost a great deal of money and require great quantities of labor, fuel, and machinery, I would still be firmly opposed to this project. First of all, moving that much sediment will cause dirty, disrupted water conditions for quite some time, undoubtedly harming the ecosystem of Cotuit Bay and West Bay. Shellfishing is a longstanding source of recreation, subsistence, and commerce for the residents of the count and should not be compromised without clear justification.

Secondly, I do not think there is a valid boating safety concern, as some proponents have indicated. I use those waters frequently and there is plenty of room for safe navigation as the geography stands. I believe my point of view on this matter is supported by a lack of any alarming history of accidents at the site. In fact the only fatality (or injury, for that matter) that I know of occurred nearly thirty years ago, when the distance from Reilly’s Beach to Sampson’s Island was much greater.

In addition, careful study (conducted by those in the hire of the project’s proponents) has demonstrated that widening the entrance will not in any significant way increase the Bay system’s tidal flushing or lead to cleaner water in the more inland connected waterways. The root of that problem clearly lies with septic inputs and fertilizer pressure, and it is of some concern to me that members of the public seem not to know how thoroughly the coastal engineering studies prove that dredging will not begin to address the issue.
The part of Sampson’s Island that is proposed to be removed is a heavily used recreational resource. Crowding is already a problem, and the destruction of many hundreds of yards of beach will only compound it (and perhaps also lead to unanticipated and unwelcome water safety concerns).

While it has been pointed out that several vacation houses on Grand Island and the navigability of the Seapuit River are at risk without the addition of sediment at the eastern end of Dead Neck, I do not think this justifies the proposed dredging project. Neither protection for the private residences or the easy availability of a Seapuit channel are publicly necessary; private funding could and should secure the former, and there are two very reliable alternative water routes between West Bay and Cotuit Bay, one of which is entirely protected.

Finally, I would like to bring attention to the worst case scenario associated with such intensive dredging of a protective barrier island. Typically, the failure of a coastal engineering project is marked by a return to the status quo (witness the Rushy Marsh Pond debacle). However, the dynamics of a bay entrance are beyond complex, and I believe there is potential for catastrophe here that very few people have considered. It is possible that this project could lead to dramatic, unanticipated changes to the area. Bluff Point, without protection, could be destroyed. The Cotuit entrance channel could become too shallow for conventional navigation. The balance that has allowed for a viable Bay entrance could be upset beyond all hope of repair.

Why do I think this could happen? Strikingly, the sea level has risen approximately four inches in the last sixty years, and according to some science, may rise twelve inches or more in the next sixty. There is reason to think that coastal storms will become stronger and more frequent. In so many ways, our climate is not the climate of the mid 20th century.

Some proponents believe that because the dredging will return the outline of Sampson’s to a former state, it is inherently a good thing. First of all, with the sea level four inches higher, and a catastrophic worst-case scenario accordingly possible, there is absolutely no reason to think that such an outline is sustainable now. Furthermore, this argument represents a flawed method of consideration; the historical proportions of Cotuit Bay once included a shipping channel where Cupid’s Cove now exists. Should we engineer THIS alteration, simply because it once was? (It’s really no more outlandish than the present proposal, in terms of scope and the amount of sediment that would need to be moved.)

Finally, I would like to point out that Three Bays Preservation has continually implied that dredging projects in the system improve water quality significantly, something that is not backed up by any of the data. Just as one example, their website mentions improvement and prospects for improvement, but on the very same website one can find evidence that eel grass existed within the three bays in 1995 but not in 2002, a timeframe that spans their first two dredging projects. Furthermore, the anticipated improvement in water quality (as estimated by their own engineers) is minimal enough that it doesn’t even appear within proposal documents as part of the list of expected benefits.”

I am “cautiously” in favor of the project with some modifications. I’ll post my points for and against later.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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