New boat ramp has old issues

Jul 25, 2020

The newly rebuilt Rogers Street boat ramp is already causing problems due to issues with the way it was constructed, according to the Harbormaster and members of the town’s Waterways Management Commission.

Last year, a grant from oil spill recovery money was used to build the ramp, which provides access for boats into Clark’s Cove from Rogers Street. It replaced a rudimentary access point that was covered in sand and rocks.

But Harbormaster Steve Melo said at a July 21 Waterways Management Commission meeting that there is already an issue with the new ramp: it, too, is covered with sand and rocks.

The problem is the ramp is now the low point in that area, so every time the tide comes in, it gets covered with sand,” he told commission members.

Years ago, Melo said, he had planned to build a simple concrete slab ramp on the spot.

He told commission members that he had applied for a $25,000 grant from the New Bedford Harbor Trustees Council, which oversees funds from a 2003 Bouchard Transportation Company oil spill in Buzzards Bay. 

But the Conservation Commission took over the ramp’s construction to tie it into a Department of Public Works stormwater project in the area. The DPW later found a different solution to the stormwater problem.

Environmental Affairs Coordinator Michael O’Reilly said before construction on the ramp began last year that the Conservation Commission was granted additional funding — $136,500 in grant money plus $40,000 from the town — and permits for “a more proper design.”

But the design relied on a cofferdam — a structure allowing construction to take place under water — to build part of the ramp below the sea.

Melo said that the cofferdam had to be scrapped after workers hit a ledge, so they changed the plans and went ahead without it — with the result that the ramp “is now lower than intended.”

Commission member Andy Herlihy, who runs the Community Boating Center right beside the ramp, said that the town has made the beach “a lot more dangerous in the ramp area than it was before.”

“The Dartmouth taxpayer in me is absolutely infuriated with what has gone on down there,” he said.

Herlihy described the concrete ramp hidden under rocks and sand, with more rocks to either side — called rip rap — put there to guard against erosion. 

But when launching their small boats from hand trailers, he said, all the rocks end up forming obstacles. 

“We have a whole team with shovels shoveling the sand out from the ramp to be able to put boats in the water,” he said. “It was a lot easier before.”

Herlihy added that the town has already sent equipment to scrape all the sand off the ramp. “But the next day it just gets filled in again,” he said.

Melo noted that town officials at one point asked him to come up with a plan to maintain the ramp, “which I likened to making a maintenance plan for the painting of the Titanic at this point,” he said. “I politely declined.”

“To see this much time and effort and money go into a project that I think has made the area a lot less useful and added a fair amount of danger, it’s pretty disheartening, to be honest,” Herlihy finished.

The Waterways Management Commission voted to bring the issue to the attention of the Select Board and the Town Administrator, and will invite them to the next commission meeting on August 18.