Town hit with complaint about Round Hill Beach raking

Mar 27, 2018

The town's Parks Board is reeling after an apparently anonymous citizens action group complained to the state that the heavy equipment the town uses to rake Round Hill Beach has destroyed vegetation and a habitat for endangered birds.

At its March 26 meeting, board members explained that the group, which was identified only as the "Advocates for Coastal Resource Protection," wrote to the state Department of Environmental Protection, alleging the town doesn't have permission to rake the sand and, furthermore, has negatively impacted the Round Hill Beach environment and upset a nesting area used by piping plovers.

The group argued that any effort to alter the area needed be approved through the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. The group also said the town did not have the appropriate permit to rake the beach below the high water line.

The situation has left officials befuddled.

Parks Director Tim Lancaster explained that the Department of Environmental Protection knew the town had been raking the beach with the equipment -- which the state now says is considered "construction machinery" -- for 18 years.

Further confusing the situation, state officials did not express any concern last year as the town was considering restoring a salt marsh at the beach that was filled in during the 1920s. The project was heavily supported by the DEP, as well as various other state and federal environmental agencies.

“Members, quite frankly, of the DEP team that were part of the salt marsh project were all well aware of the practices of the Town of Dartmouth regarding the maintenance of Round Hill Beach,” Lancaster said.

The salt marsh project was controversial because it would have potentially eliminated residents-only parking at the beach. Residents were also concerned about potential safety issues of a culvert that would have been installed, and also worried about environmental issues relating to a septic system.

In September, town officials pulled the proposal from the fall Town Meeting agenda amid the objections. Then, the department was hit with the complaint by the citizens group.

Lancaster said he asked the Department of Environmental Protection why raking the beach with the equipment was suddenly a problem. He did not receive an answer, but representatives said the state would be willing to work with the town if it signed an "official beach management plan." It is unclear what such a plan would entail.

Now, the Parks Board is considering using prisoners to manually rake the beach until the problem is resolved. However, board member James A. Vieira said hand-raking doesn’t go as deep as the machine does, which can leave glass and other hazards in the sand.

As for the piping plovers, the Parks Board said it has regularly met with Mass Audubon officials to ensure Round Hill Beach meets conservation standards and will do so again before the imminent spring nesting season.

Board member Joseph Vieira said he doesn’t believe there are any of the birds left in the area.

“Quite honestly, I don’t even think they’re there,” he said. “I think it’s a lot of nothing. These reports, pure harassment. The marsh project, obviously, it was a very emotional thing for a lot of people, but the board felt strongly, and that’s why we voted the way we voted.”

Board members also plan to contact state Senator Mark Montigny's (D-New Bedford) office for legal help in finding a solution. They said state Representative Chris Markey (D-Dartmouth) has also expressed concern about the issue.

Also during the meeting, the board addressed complaints raised by Meadow Shores residents about construction being done on the beach, holes being dug and rocks being removed, as well as children, dogs and vehicles being on the beach when it’s closed.

The Parks Department investigated each complaint. Officials noted that the construction was properly permitted.