Harbor Management Plan Task Force Mulls Public Forum Input While Eelgrass Beds Expand off Tuck's Point


The Manchester Harbor Management Plan Task Force met Monday to deliberate key issues arising from feedback at a public forum the group hosted last month at the ME Regional High School, including the historically contentious matter of recreational boaters anchoring off Sand Dollar Cove.

The task force was formed last year by the Select Board to draft a comprehensive plan to balance coastal environmental issues with commercial use, recreational boating, mooring management and public access after a neighborhood group from Norton's Point formally requested a plan for moorings off of Tuck's Point.  The Select Board opted to expand the planning to address a wider spectrum of coastal issues.

The group has been working with consultants from the University of Massachusetts Urban Harbors Institute, a group highly experienced with developing master harbor plans for coastal communities that was recommended by MBTS Harbormaster Bion Pike.

Monday was primarily about collecting feedback on the task force’s public forum.  

A recurring theme was the need for balance in addressing various issues such as public access, mooring management, and environmental concerns.  Task Force members Sarah Creighton and Jim Elder emphasized the importance of striking the right balance in providing adequate access while ensuring the preservation of coastal resources.

Harbormaster Pike raised concerns about access for different user groups, highlighting the challenges faced by residents with small sailboats who lack suitable mooring options.  The discussion underscored the need for nuanced solutions that cater to diverse recreational needs.

Then, an issue with a long history emerged: recreational boat anchoring off Sand Dollar Cove and Long Beach.  In the past several years, the increasing popularity of day-boat anchoring has surged there, albeit for just 8 to 10 days per year, triggering animated debate in print and in public forums dedicated to issues like public safety and the vulnerability of eelgrass beds, which can be powerful mitigators of greenhouse gases.  

Creighton said coastal homeowners at the forum had decried the trash left behind by boaters that wash up on the beach.  Others suggested a noise ordinance to cap the impact on neighbors.  She also said attendees cited eelgrass bed protection as an important issue.  

Four years ago, homeowners on Smith’s Point pushed hard for eelgrass protections.  They said anchors from day boaters were wiping out eelgrass beds, and harming the environment.

But a look at the latest Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection maps tells a powerful story, showing a dramatic expansion of eelgrass beds.  Four years ago, eelgrass beds were mainly relegated to the outer edges of the harbor beyond Tuck’s Point and tucked along the coast along Boardman Avenue toward Beverly Farms.  Today, these beds span the mouth of the outer harbor, across from Tuck’s Point to just outside of Sand Dollar Cove and Long Beach.

Pike said this expansion of eelgrass in Manchester is due largely to new, costly “helix” moorings that offer a dramatically lower impact to the sea floor than traditional moorings. 

Manchester received a supply of helical moorings from the Massachusetts Port Authority ten years ago, said Pike, after Massport had wiped out 14 acres of eelgrass habitat due to a runway expansion project.  The agency donated the moorings to many coastal communities, including Manchester, to mitigate the loss.

“Well, it looks like, now, it’s pretty darned good,” said Pike, adding that communities like Bourne and even Sag Harbor, New York, have reached out to learn about what Manchester is doing.

“These environmentally friendly moorings really do work,” he said.

The task force will continue its work.  Creighton underscored the urgency of addressing climate resilience and adapting management strategies to evolving environmental conditions. 

Members agreed on the need for a comprehensive approach that balances the demands of recreation with the imperative of environmental stewardship.