Oak Bluffs is one step closer to receiving disaster aid to dredge a channel to Sengekontacket Pond, following informal approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The town has received verbal determination from FEMA that the dredging project meets the threshold for public benefit, town administrator Robert L. Whritenour told the selectmen this week.
The project to dredge under the Little Bridge went out to bid in May, securing bids between $325,000 and $390,000. But FEMA has yet to commit the funds to this project or the other four projects for which the town has applied for aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“The delay has really taken an environmental toll on our community,” Mr. Whritenour said at the meeting Tuesday.
The previous proposal called for the depositing dredge spoils on Inkwell and Pay Beaches, but FEMA is now recommending that the spoils be deposited nearby at Joseph Sylvia State Beach. The channel was once dredged annually, but Sandy and subsequent storms have accelerated the closing of the inlet. A beach has now formed under the bridge, impeding the exchange of water between the sea and the saltwater pond.
“The pond is compromised, but it’s incremental,” said shellfish constable David Grunden.
In another ongoing issue before the board, Eastville residents have written 15 letters against a proposal for a commercial aquaculture operation off Eastville Beach.
Abutters inquired about their letters and reiterated their concerns with the project, proposed by brothers Greg and Dan Martino, and still awaiting state approval.
Richard Aughenbaugh of Beach Road and others have expressed concerns that the harbor is not an appropriate spot for an oyster farm, because it is exposed to severe weather and poses a potential boating and fishing hazard.
Selectmen said they had heard the concerns, and would take up the issue this fall. They granted preliminary approval to the oyster farm in March, after the town shellfish committee gave its endorsement, but the board will vote again after the state Division of Marine Fisheries makes its decision.
Marjory Aronson said the neighborhood was unsure of how to keep track of the issue at the town level. Selectmen said agendas are posted in advance on the town website.