Sampsons Island Channel Dredging Reviewed

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By: James Kinsella and Laura M. Reckford
Published: 12/21/12

Plans to remove 800 feet of the western end of Sampsons Island in Cotuit have gotten people talking in Cotuit.

Richard G. Barry of Cotuit, former town councilor, said, the project has people's attention in the village.

The plans were presented Tuesday evening to members of the Barnstable Waterways Committee.

The committee did not move ahead with its officially scheduled meeting due to a lack of a quorum, but committee chairman John F. Meade decided to hold an informational meeting in its place.

John O’Dea of Sullivan Engineering of Osterville and Lindsey B. Counsell, executive director of Three Bays Preservation Inc. of Osterville, discussed the project to remove about 800 feet at the western end of Sampsons Island and transfer most of the spoils east onto adjoining Dead Neck to create more bird habitat on the neck and island.

Data from studies of the site indicate that wave and tide action would then redistribute the sand back along the shore, east to west, thus supporting the structural integrity of the entire barrier beach and creating a wider beach for nesting shorebirds, Mr. Counsell explained.

Three Bays and the Massachusetts Audubon Society have proposed the project, which goes before the Barnstable Conservation Commission January 8.

The island, which was deeded to Mass Audubon and Three Bays Preservation as wildlife conservation land, supports important habitat for piping plovers and least terns, and the organizations are committed to improving nesting habitat for these protected species, according to Mr. Counsell.

Mr. Counsell said over decades, tides have moved sand from Dead Neck to the western end of Sampsons Island, effectively extending the island 800 feet into the existing 1967 channel linking Cotuit Bay with Nantucket Sound.

At present, Mr. Counsell said, the channel between Sampsons Island and the Cotuit village shoreline has shrunk to about 200 feet.

Mr. Counsell noted the Cotuit entrance channel has not been properly dredged since 1967, “and that channel is closing off at a rate of more than 10 feet per year.”“We have made some small improvements in this area in the recent past,” Counsell added, “but to restore the navigation channel, improve safety, re-create nesting shorebird habitat, and enhance the storm damage protection of the island, this project is long overdue.”

The project would widen the channel between Cotuit Bay and Nantucket Sound by removing about 160,000 cubic yards of spoils.

Mr. Counsell said Massachusetts Audubon, which owns Sampsons Island, and Three Bays Preservation, which owns Dead Neck, would use some of the spoils to encourage the creation of nesting bird habitat along the beach.

Should Three Bays and Massachusetts Audubon obtain the necessary permitting, the project could start next year, but Mr. Counsell said the project more likely will not begin until 2014.

This week the Barnstable Shellfish Committee also listened to, but took no vote on, the proposal.

Mr. Counsell said very few shellfish have been found in the waters near the proposed dredging project.

But committee members held off on a vote until the town could conduct a shellfish survey of the area.

Mr. Counsell said Three Bays and Massachusetts Audubon would be open to relaying whatever shellfish are found to other areas.Following Mr. Counsell’s presentation, Shellfish Committee member Les Hemmila said dredging will stir up organic detritus that can smother shellfish.

“This should be looked at very carefully,” he said.

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