Why We Oppose the New Dock

On February 25, 2021, the applicant withdrew the special permit request without prejudice. This means that they can submit an application for a similar project at any time. Please consider subscribing below to receive updates on any future applications as well as other issues of interest to the Cotuit community

A rendering of the proposed modifications to the waterfront at 33 Oyster Place, including the construction of a 95′ pier with 60′ of floats. The applicant proposes mooring four power boats to the floats.

Prohibition Against New Docks in Cotuit Bay

As you likely know, there is a prohibition of new docks in Cotuit Bay, in order to preserve public access to the beautiful shoreline and protect our local quahog and oyster beds—see Town of Barnstable’s Dock and Pier Overlay District for more information. According to the regulation, the purposes of the Dock and Pier Overlay District include:

  1. Maintaining public access along the shore and to shellfish and shellfish beds, whether existing or potential, for the purposes allowed by law;
  2. Maintaining safe, open waters for recreational pursuits, including swimming, power boating, rowing, rowing instruction, sailing, sailing instruction, sailboat racing, and kayaking; and
  3. Protecting and retaining the natural open character and scenic vistas of the seacoast and water.

The Dock and Pier Overlay District prohibits the construction of new piers along the western and northerly shores of Cotuit Bay from Loop Beach to Handy Point. It also significantly restricts what can be done to piers that existed prior to the regulation. Specifically, it only allows for modifications to correct damage caused by a natural catastrophe (Section 240-37(E)), so long as a permit is requested within two years of the damage and work is continuously pursued till completion (Section 240-95(B)).

Aerial image taken in November 1938, showing Congressman Charles F. Gifford’s house and the Town Dock to the right (Courtesy: U.S. Geological Survey).

The applicant is requesting a special permit under the claim that the site is an existing pier, referencing an 1874 license to construct a solid-fill pier/wharf, used by the Cotuit Oyster Company. However, the site has not been used as a pier since the early 1900s and any vestiges of the former pier were destroyed in the 1942 hurricane. In 1952, then property owner, Florence Claussen—daughter of Charles F. Gifford and mother of Frederic Claussen, Barnstable’s long-serving Register of Probate—installed a concrete barrier (a revetment) and a slope of large rocks (“rip rap”) around the site. Since 1952, the site has consisted only of undergrowth and has not changed with the exception of plant growth. The only comings-and-goings are of animals that live on the land and children who climb the rocks looking for crabs. It is clear to residents who have lived in Cotuit for 50+ years, that the site is in no way a pier or wharf, nor has it been for nearly a century. It is an area of solid-fill that, according to one of the applicant’s experts has “been in equilibrium for the last 80 years or more.”

A Sept. 25, 2018 photo from the Cotuit Fire District website that shows the fire department’s 29′ Metal Shark Marine boat moored to the dock at 916 Main St. with the bow facing away from shore.

In an attempt to earn support from the Town to get a private dock, which other residents are forbidden from building, the applicant is offering several concessions to, in the words of a town commissioner, “sweeten the deal”. Among them is the removal of a portion of the existing solid-fill, the creation of a small marsh, and an offer that will allow the Cotuit Fire Department and the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition to moor their 29′ and 19′ power boats, respectfully, to the floats on the side adjacent to the Town Dock. The fire boat is currently moored at the adjacent dock at 916 Main St. and it, along with the previous fire boat have been moored there or at the 932 Main St. dock for many years. The applicant claims that this will allow the fire boat to be moored with the bow facing away from shore and falsely states that this is not possible at the two other piers. However, this is factually untrue, as evidenced by numerous pictures taken over the past decade, including as part of a 2018 post on the Cotuit Fire District website, that show both fire boats moored to these docks facing bow-out.

A large number of Cotuit residents as well as others who use the Town Dock and the nearby coast are in strong objection to the proposed plan. Many of these residents only recently learned of the plan, despite it being in the works for more than a year, and the number of people in objection is likely much higher. Their reasons for opposing the proposed plans are exactly those for which the moratorium was created:

It would make navigation around the town dock difficult

The dock would limit navigation around the Town Dock, Cotuit’s only public pier. If built, the proposed dock would allow for only 13′ of navigatable water between the power boats that would be moored to the floats and the dozens of dinghies on the south-west side of the Town Dock, and would make it difficult for boats to access that side of the Town Dock.

It would pose a significant risk to public safety

The dock would pose a significant safety risk. The dock and floats would occupy a body of water that is highly trafficked by people in motor boats, sail boats, kayaks, and dinghies, as well as swimmers and people shellfishing. The idea of putting a 29′, 500 HP fire boat that, as the applicant states needs to quickly depart the dock, within a few feet of an active body of water is a risk to public safety.

It would have significant cumulative adverse environmental impacts

The dock would have significant adverse environmental impact. As noted by the Town’s official shellfish biologist, the site is an “excellent shellfish habitat” and that the construction of another pier “can severely degrade and alter shellfish habitat by changing the movement of water in the area and creating these deposition zones where no shellfish can live”. Decades of scientific research confirms the harmful effects of building, maintaining, and using docks. These include shading that stunts the growth of vegetation above and below water, depleting the food web and thereby diminishing the abundance and diversity of marine life. Docks alter the flow of water in the local environment, causing erosion or deposition that affect shellfish and wildlife habitats. Power boats further damage underwater vegetation and shellfish habitats, which is particularly concerning given the plan to pack four large power boats (a 34′ center console with twin 300 HP outboards, the 29′ Metal Shark Marine fire boat with twin 250 HP outboards, a 20′ power boat, and a 17′ center console with a 115 HP outboard) in an area that is already very busy. The environmental damage that docks cause is magnified when they are located in close proximity. In this case, the proposed dock would be less than 50 feet from the existing pier at 916 Main St. and only 36 feet from the Town Dock. This is more than three times closer than the 150 feet that scientists consider to be in close proximity.

Granting the permit would undermine the Dock and Pier Overlay District

Cotuit residents recognized the importance of protecting shellfish beds, the local habitat, and preserving public access. They have long fought to oppose the construction of new piers in order to preserve public access to the waterfront (see this post for an historical perspective on these efforts). This is despite a concerted effort on the part of waterfront property owners seeking their own private dock.

Granting a special permit would subvert the intentions of the Dock and Pier Overlay District and, in turn, the taxpayers of Cotuit. It would establish a precedent that would open the floodgates for the many other locations where a pier could be constructed if not for the Dock and Pier Overlay District. Awarding the requested special permit would create precedent for the many other waterfront property owners with the vestiges of a century-old structure to claim rights to build private docks of their own.

Categorized as dock