$50M Herring River plan likely to face voter review 3-16-16

$50M Herring River plan likely to face voter review

2 articles on draft warrant deal with $50M Herring River project

By Mary Ann Bragg

Posted Mar. 16, 2016 at 7:26 PM

WELLFLEET — Voters will likely have a chance this spring to discuss the $50 million plan to revive 1,100 acres of dried out salt marshes on the Herring River.
The possible public discussion of the project, at the April 25 town meeting, will come at about the same time the project's final environmental impact statement is released. The document is expected out in April or early May, said Chris Rein, executive director of the Friends of Herring River.
An article on a draft version of the town meeting warrant released last week asks voters to allow the appointment of two selectmen to an executive council that would oversee implementation of the project, as recommended by the Board of Selectmen. Another article, a petition article by resident Stephen Curley, proposes to instruct selectmen to keep open a remote dirt road leading to Griffin Island that may otherwise be removed as part of the project.
Keeping the dirt lane, part of High Toss Road, open for recreational use has drawn strong support at recent public meetings, according to meeting notes kept by the nonprofit Friends of Herring River, which handles contracts for the project. The dirt lane leads to Griffin Island and Duck Harbor, a wooded section of town within the Cape Cod National Seashore, although the area can also be reached by vehicle via the paved Chequessett Neck Road.
Supporters of the salt marsh restoration say the dirt lane's existing 5-foot-high culvert and 3-foot-high embankment would seriously impede the return of full tidal flow to the marshes.
"I don't have anything personally to gain," said Curley, who has lived in Wellfleet since 1978. While he now lives in another part of town, Curley said he and his sons bicycle on the dirt road, which is one-fifth of a mile long.
"I hate to lose another asset of the town," he said. Curley proposes a redesign of the dirt lane with enough fill and adequate-sized culverts, just as is planned for sections of three other public roads.
"The road itself could be protected by just putting stone on the banks of it to keep it from washing away," he said. "I don't see it as an expensive thing."
The cost of the redesign would be rolled into the other construction costs of the project, which he doesn't think will be paid for by the town, he said.
The town Finance Committee and the Open Space Committee oppose Curley's article, according to the draft warrant.
"The majority of us felt it would be too expensive for the town to maintain, and that truthfully it's time to give Mother Nature back what's rightfully hers," said Stephen Polowczyk, Finance Committee chairman. The committee did not have estimated future maintenance costs when they voted because there were too many variables to determine such costs, Polowczyk said.
The Seashore owns the dirt lane but the town of Wellfleet has some rights to it, Seashore Superintendent George Price said. If a new, larger culvert is installed, the Seashore would both own and maintain the culvert, he said. But, overall, the Seashore does not need that section of road and would not maintain any other upgrades that might be requested by the town of Wellfleet, Price said. that
Who ultimately pays for any future maintenance costs is still to be determined, said Wellfleet Town Administrator Harry Terkanian.
Wellfleet selectmen are expected to make a decision March 22 about their recommendation for the westernmost section of High Toss Road, said Paul Pilcher, chairman of the board. The selectmen decided Feb. 23 to speak with more residents before making a recommendation about whether to abandon that section or ask for a redesign to allow continued use.
The restoration project, sponsored by the Seashore and the towns of Wellfleet and Truro, is currently in the design and engineering phase, largely paid for by federal and state grants. It is meant to correct more than a century of ecological degradation that has occurred upstream of a dike built in 1909 at the mouth of the river, according to a draft environmental impact statement.
But, in a petition first filed in November by 12 families along the river, the scope of the project was described as "too broad," including the threat to recreational use of High Toss Road.
— Follow Mary Ann Bragg on Twitter: @maryannbraggCCT.

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