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Herring River restoration may begin in 2021 10-5-17

Herring River restoration may begin in 2021

Provincetown Banner
By Teresa Parker / Banner Correspondent
Posted at 11:27 AM

WELLFLEET — The Herring River Restoration Committee will soon apply for permits for the first phase of the estuary's restoration, planners told the Herring River Executive Council on Sept. 25. They expect to go before the Cape Cod Commission this fall seeking the first regulatory approval for the project, which has been in the works for more than 10 years.

The executive council, which directs the project, consists of representatives from the towns of Truro and Wellfleet and the Cape Cod National Seashore. The restoration committee makes recommendations to the council on engineering, scientific and operational plans.

"Phasing" the project, according to restoration ecologist Tim Smith, who presented the committee's update at the meeting, is a way of being "deliberately conservative," so that changes caused by the increased tidal flow in the estuary can be managed incrementally.

Phase one involves 566 of the proposed total of 890 acres to be restored, Smith said, while holding back on areas where issues relating to the effects on private property are still being addressed.

Improvements in the quality of what is now severely oxygen-deprived water and in herring counts are expected benefits in this first phase.

Engineering-wise, phase one means building three dikes in Wellfleet. The largest, on Chequessett Neck Road, would replace the existing dike, expanding the opening from its current 18-foot width and rusted-shut sluice gates to span 165 feet, with operable gates. Mill Creek would get its own smaller dike, as would Upper Pole Dike Creek — although there, only the seaward flow of fresh water would be allowed.

Truro Selectman Bob Weinstein, a member of the executive council, asked whether Wellfleet had any engineering studies detailing problems with the existing dike and how they should be remedied.

"Yes, we do have a sense of what kind of shape it is in now," said Wellfleet Selectman Helen Miranda Wilson, also a council member. The Mass. Dept. of Transportation does routine reports on these kinds of things, she said, and they show "that dike is funky."

"I hope to god this project happens before the dike breaks," Wilson added.

According to Smith, of the 566 acres to be restored in phase one, 535 are within the National Seashore. That leaves 31 privately owned acres. Ten of those belong to the Chequessett Yacht and Country Club, which has signed an agreement with the restoration committee on mitigation measures. The Wellfleet Conservation Trust owns 8.7 acres, acquired to support the restoration. The remaining 12.3 acres are residential properties, ranging over 17 lots.

Speaking from the audience, Wellfleet resident Susan Baumgarten asked if project leaders planned to move forward without consulting the owners of those 17 properties by relying on Chapter 91, the Mass. Public Waterfront Act. That law protects public-purpose uses of waterfronts, including traditional maritime activities such as shellfishing.

Don Palladino, president of the Friends of Herring River, explained that the project is working out solutions with each affected property owner. "We have had more than 100 meetings with property owners over the last 10 years," he said.

Steve Spear, a conservation planner who is on the restoration committee as a representative of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, added, "I don't want anybody to think we don't know what is going to happen on individual properties. We do."

"These are properties that are already regulated as wetlands," Palladino added. "Although some of what might now be fresh water will go back to being salt water."

Smith reported that there are five structures in the phase one project area. Mitigation measures for those properties, including one land transfer, three driveway reconstructions, one well relocation and one protective wall, will need to be dealt with by the project.

The land transfer involves a house owned by Becky Rosenberg, which the project plans to acquire by trading it for a house in the National Seashore at 235 Buttry Way, on Long Pond.

Baumgarten also questioned whether the project would be eligible for approval under the Wetlands Protection Act. She said she had discussed the issue privately with Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection official Lealdon Langley, who told her the DEP did not know how the law would apply.

Carole Ridley, an environmental consultant who is working for the Friends of Herring River, said that "based on the project's clear restoration goals, the severely degraded condition of the Herring River estuary, and the project design's compliance with applicable regulatory requirements, we are confident the project is eligible" for approval under the wetlands act.

"This is well mapped out," said executive council member Paul Wisotzky of Truro. "What are the obstacles and what is the timeframe for putting a shovel in the ground?"

Permitting is the next hurdle, Smith said, estimating another year and a half would be needed for wetland permitting following a Cape Cod Commission go-ahead. With the need for fundraising, 2021 would be a realistic estimate for a start date, he said.

From Forum

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