Oak Bluffs strikes deal with Edgartown to dredge Sengekontacket Pond
File photo by Steve Myrick
Oak Bluffs and the Edgartown dredge committee have agreed in principle on a price for the use of Edgartown's town-owned dredge. The Oak Bluffs project to dredge Sengekontacket Pond will cost $1.2 million, more than twice the amount voters authorized for the job.
Town officials expect to finance the difference with the sale of a suddenly hot commodity: sand dredged from the bottom of the popular salt pond the town shares with Edgartown.
Financing for the project is complex, and the timing still depends on the vagaries of winter weather and equipment failure. An inter-municipal contract between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown is expected to cost $355,500 less than the lowest bid received from a private dredge operator.
The long awaited project, delayed more than one year in a permitting quaqmire, calls for the dredge to deepen the channel between little bridge and big bridge, the only openings to Nantucket Sound. Town officials and local shell-fishermen hope that will lead to increased tidal circulation and address water quality problems that have closed the pond to shellfishing in recent summers.
Not everyone is convinced that dredging is the answer to the pond's problems. Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) water resource planner Bill Wilcox, a respected biologist who has studied Island water bodies, doubts whether tidal flow would increase to the extent that there would be significant changes. "I would not expect dramatic improvements in water quality as a result of the project," Mr. Wilcox said.
At a meeting on Sept. 17 the two towns agreed on a price of $11 per cubic yard of sand dredged from Sengekontacket Pond. That price means that, based on a dredge permit the Army Corps of Engineers issued that allows 57,000 cubic yards of sand to be removed, the cost to get the sand out of the pond and over to a dewatering trough on nearby Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach amounts to $627,000.
Other expenses will add to the cost. Oak Bluffs has agreed to pay $25,000 to mobilize and demobilize the dredge barge. Those costs cover putting the barge into the water, transporting the vessel to the dredge site, as well as transporting and assembling the pipes to pump sand to the dewatering site.
The negotiations that led to a final price were marked by public rancor and sharp criticism between the two municipal neighbors.
At a September 14 meeting of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, chairman Duncan Ross leveled criticism at the Edgartown officials.
"Working with the (Edgartown) dredge committee is very frustrating," said Mr. Ross, who is also chairman of the Joint Oak Bluffs-Edgartown Sengekontacket Restoration Committee. "The idea was cooperation, and I don't see as much cooperation as I think there should be. They started out at $50,000 for mobilization, which is outrageous. They now said okay, $25,000, which, I submit to you, is still outrageous."
At a joint meeting on September 17, Edgartown dredge committee chairman Norman Rankow countered.
"The $50,000 is a real number, we didn't pick it out of the air," Mr. Rankow said, addressing Mr. Ross directly. "You guys have got to know that it was well below the lowest bid you got. To say it's a ridiculous number is a ridiculous statement itself. This is not 'put a boat in the water, turn the key, and start dredging.' It's about as fair as we can do, if we can agree on 25 grand."
"Agreed," Mr. Ross said.
Added to the expense of dredging is the cost of dewatering, trucking, and spreading sand on beaches. Last Thursday, John Keene Excavation of West Tisbury submitted a price of $470,250 for that work.
Other costs include $32,500 for engineering surveys.
Those costs are in addition to the $24,999 cost of an underwater archaeological survey of the dredge area, which Oak Bluffs agreed to complete to satisfy Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) concerns.
Last year, the Tribe expressed concerns that historic artifacts could be displaced. Tribal representatives based those concerns on reports that a 2008 Edgartown dredge project brought up items said to be historic in nature. Those items were never examined by Oak Bluffs officials or authenticated by any scientific analysis, according to tribal historical preservation officer Bettina Washington, who spoke to The Times last summer.
However, federal law obligates the Army Corps to take the Tribe's concerns into account during the permitting process and to consider conditions that prevent or mitigate disturbance of historical material.
The pre-dredge archaeological survey was completed this past summer. No archaeological artifacts were found in the dredge area. A post-dredge survey must also be completed.
The final expense of the dredging project will be restoring the dewatering sites, at an estimated cost of $15,000.
It all adds up to $1,194,749.
Though Oak Bluffs always intended to strike a deal with Edgartown, working cooperatively on the pond that lies within both towns, state law requires the town put the dredging job out to bid. Three bids were opened on July 8.
The bids covered dredging, engineering, and mobilization only. Dewatering and trucking was not included.
Jay Cashman, Inc. of Quincy offered a price of $595,000, for a total bid of $1,535,500.
AGM Marine Contractors, Inc. of Mashpee submitted a bid of $1,057,000.
Synagro Northeast LLC of Naugatuck, Conn., was the lowest of the three bidders, offering a total bid of $1,040,000.
In the agreement with Edgartown, the cost of dredging and mobilization plus the cost of engineering, is $684,500. That price is $355,500 lower than the lowest bid submitted by private contractors.
At a town meeting in April 2009, Oak Bluffs voters agreed to borrow $500,000 for the dredging project.
Originally, the town planned to keep 27,000 cubic yards of sand, to renourish town beaches along Sea View Avenue, and a small area of State Beach maintained by Dukes County. In order to finance the added costs, Oak Bluffs intends to sell more than half of the sand.
The town has a ready buyer. The Cow Bay Homeowners Association has offered to pay the entire cost of dredging, dewatering, and trucking the sand to spread on their private beach. Estimated total cost for that is $579,300. Subtracting the expected revenue from the association, and the $500,000 to be borrowed in a bond issue, leaves the project with a deficit of $115,449. That amount will be made up by the sale of more sand, leaving less to renourish the beaches, according to town manager Michael Dutton.
The Edgartown dredge is currently working in Cape Pogue Bay, and should be finished with that project next week. The dredge must be moved over to Sengekontacket Pond, and equipment assembled, a process that could take a week or more. That will leave a tight window to finish the project by the January 15 deadline cited in the dredging permit.
Mr. Dutton estimates the optimum rate of dredging is 800 cubic yards per day. At that rate, it would take 71 days to dredge the 57,000 cubic yards allowed by permit. Allowing for holidays and weekends puts completion of the project very close to the permit deadline. Weather or equipment failure could cause delays. Mr. Dutton said a permit extension might be necessary. "If we're underway and close to the finish, I'm confident we could get permission to continue," Mr. Dutton said. "I'm not going to count on it, but I'm confident we could get permission."
For the past three years, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries classified Sengekontacket Pond as a "conditionally approved area." Because of sustained high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, the pond was closed to shellfishing during the summer months.
A University of New Hampshire study attributes much of the bacterial pollution to waterfowl. A large colony of double-crested cormorants has taken up residence on Sarsen's Island in the middle of the pond. The cormorants are a federally protected migratory bird.
David Grunden, Oak Bluffs shellfish constable, said it is important to understand that the study measured only bacterial contamination. It did not address nutrient loading from residential septic systems, which he and others believe is also harmful.
Bacteria counts are normally lower in the winter, so an empirical analysis of water quality after the current dredging project will not be possible until test results from next summer are available.
"It will change, it will improve," Mr. Grunden said. "How soon we'll be able to document the change in water quality might not be for a few months. In the meantime we may see improvement in other parameters."
MVC water resource planner Bill Wilcox is less certain of water quality improvement.
Mr. Wilcox said current circulation studies indicate 95 percent of the water in the shallow salt pond is exchanged through tidal flow approximately every three days. He noted that while dredging may increase circulation, it will also increase the volume of water in the pond. Those factors could offset each other, to some extent.
"It's hard to know without a computer model whether there will be improvements in circulation or not. I'm a little bit doubtful that it's going to cause significant improvement in circulation," Mr. Wilcox said.