What has happened to the Rogers Street boat ramp?

By Angie Hilsman | Jun 21, 2017
The "Works of Clark's Cove Guano Company," created by Joseph L. Jones and George H. Walker & Co., is found in Town Hall.

A lack of funding has stalled a 12-year effort to improve access to Clarks Cove at Rogers Street.

The town's Waterways Committee aimed to improve quahogging opportunities and ease boat traffic at Dias Landing by improving access near the Dartmouth-New Bedford line, but the project will have to wait, officials said at the June 20 Waterways Committee meeting.

The beautification of the landing started in 2005, when the Waterways Department opted to turn the then brownfields into a parking lot, said Harbormaster Steve Melo. Brownfields are defined as developable properties that host environmental contaminants.

The department capped what was then two oil tanks — which incoming barges filled with fuel that was then transferred to homes and businesses via trucks — with a parking lot. The approximately $250,000 project was funded with $196,700 in Community Preservation funds — raised through a 1½ percent property tax surcharge that was approved by 2009 Town Meeting members — and federal funding, Melo said.

The project also included the $240,000 purchase of 12 Roger Street, the abutting property, which allowed access to the brownfields. The department is still paying off that expense, said Melo.

The Waterways Department also secured a $17,500 grant from the Bouchard Transportation Co., Inc. Trustee Council ("Trustee Council") to install a temporary boat ramp that would improve the quahogging industry. In 2003, the Bouchard Barge 120 discharged about 98,000 gallons of oil into Buzzards Bay, affecting 90 miles of shoreline, according to the Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs. The Trustee Council awards funding to compensate for the damage to natural resources and industry.

Installing the ramp would allow Dartmouth residents direct access to quahogs in New Bedford, due to an agreement between the municipalities, said Melo. Quahogging is open conditionally on the New Bedford side of Clarks Cove, and anyone with a Dartmouth license has access to that area. Reversely, licensed New Bedford residents can quahog near the Dartmouth entrance to Clarks Cove. Clarks Cove stretches from Fort Taber in New Bedford to Anthony’s Beach by William Street.

The Waterways Department matched the grant with $7,500 in funding for the total $25,000 installation project, which consists of 12-by-18-foot concrete planks that would be bolted together to form a temporary boat ramp, explained Melo. That ramp was never installed.

“The [old] ramp is still there. It’s covered with sand and all broken up from storms,” said Melo. He estimated that the current asphalt boat ramp dates to the 1960s.

Funding for the ramp installation was funnelled away from Waterways and toward the Conservation Commission, which was already working in the area to install storm drain scrubbers, officials said. Storm drain scrubbers are concrete barrels that take advantage of the natural water flow to filter out contaminants — such as sediments, oils, and trash — from the bay, explained Melo.

“It’s the old catchbasin with a little more pizazz,” he explained. They’re necessary, he explained, because sewage drains catch runoff from as far away as the Dartmouth Street Rite Aid, Cushman School, and Rockland Street and funnel it straight into the bay — without being filtered — through the two pipes that empty by William Street and Rogers Street.

“That’s why we don’t have shellfishing on that side of [Clarks Cove],” explained Melo.

According to Town Administrator David Cressman, the ramp installation is in the permitting phase. Cressman said he hopes to have the project completed by the end of the year.

The Waterways Department also planned to use $9,721 leftover from Community Preservation funding to connect the parking lot and boat ramp, Melo said. At its May 2 meeting, the Community Preservation Committee voted to recapture these leftover funds due to the lack of activity at the landing, according to a letter addressed to the Waterways Commission from the CPC.

Prior to the brownfields, the Bliss Corner area has a strong industrial history, said Melo. Not only would barges deliver fuel to the transfer station, but there was also a small boat yard at one point, he said.

“Clarks Cove had a history of a lot of quahogging activity, until it was closed because of the sewage problem,” said Melo. In the early 1800s, the area even boasted a guano factory.

The town had originally taken over the fuel transfer station property in the 1980s due to nonpayment of taxes, said Melo. The state Department of Environmental Protection then charged the town a fee for an unresolved brownfield, he said.

“In essence, we took on a turd because it was nice waterfront property, but it was contaminated,” said Melo. The Waterways Committee decided to table any further action with the property, concluding that it had accomplished its original goal of converting the brownfield into a waterfront access facility.

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