Options for Maintaining Safe Boating in Sand Dollar Cove
By Bion Pike and Gregory T. Federspiel
As the summer boating season starts to wind down, an assessment of the season will begin. A re-occurring concern, highlighted by record crowds on hot and sunny weekends this summer, is the use of Sand Dollar Cove (SDC), a protected, shallow-water area at the entrance to Manchester’s harbor. No decisions regarding any new regulations of the use of the Cove have been made nor will any be considered until after the Harbormaster, the Police Department and the Harbor Advisory Committee (HAC) have had a chance to consider options for the Select Board to consider come early winter.
Currently there is a petition circulating in and around the North Shore advocating for no new restrictions regarding SDC. The petition incorrectly states that wealthy landowners along the shore are pushing to block access to the Cove. The concerns about boater safety are coming from the Harbormaster and Police Department staff as they struggle to ensure safe use when some 300 boats or more converge on the area. Nor are the landowners making claims about eelgrass damage though some boaters and the Manchester Conservation Commission have raised this concern in the past. Eelgrass degradation is a concern along the coast with restoration efforts taking place in various locations. Manchester received a grant to replace conventional tackle with alternative tackle that does not continuously sweep along the ocean floor.
Other harbor concerns – the placement of moorings within the harbor proper, the possible expansion of public floats and the proposed expansion of our two local marinas, has prompted a call by a group of residents for a Harbor Master Plan. This group has been invited to attend the Select Board’s meeting on September 19th to discuss the possibility of developing a Harbor Master Plan. The concerns about SDC are not on the agenda for the 19th as the Select Board does not have recommendations yet from the public safety departments or the HAC. As stated above, this will likely occur in the early winter months.
Ultimately it is the US Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers who make the decisions about the installation of day use moorings or elimination of open anchoring in SDC. Thus, even if the local recommendation is to move in this direction it will not be a local decision to turn away potential users of the Cove.
Sand Dollar Cove use has evolved over many decades. Up until about 2014 the area was used for water skiing, tubing and small sailboat regattas. There is still on the books an official FAA approved float plane landing zone. None of these traditional activities are possible today at least on weekends. Indeed, the large numbers of boats visiting now is a significant change from years ago – not necessarily a bad change as the number of boaters increases but none-the-less a change that necessitates a discussion on how this new level of use can remain safe for all.
As the popularity of SDC has grown, discussions need to take place on how best to maintain a safe boating environment. We have been fortunate that a major accident has not happened though incidents have occurred just outside the Cove area. With people swimming around boats and boats moving in and out, coupled with alcohol consumption, it is not hard to imagine a tragic incident occurring. SDC falls within the Town’s policing jurisdiction. It is incumbent on us to pro-actively work on measures that ensure the area remains a fun and safe environment for all who want to use the Cove.
Solutions might range from more active patrolling on weekends to a more coordinated anchoring alignment that makes navigation safer. There is a balance to be achieved here – people want unrestricted access, but we also want to maintain a safe environment. Use regulations of a popular natural resource are something any state or national park user has had to come to terms with. We may need to consider new measures for SDC as well.