Government does some things well and there are some things best left to private contractors. The East Hampton Town Trustees are thinking about buying and operating a dredge to keep East Hampton’s harbor entrances navigable. This is one job better left to the professionals.
We sympathize with the notion that crops up from time to time for the town to go it alone. Dredging is necessary and access to some waterways has been limited over the years as officials and boaters have waited for a contractor hired by the county to get around to jobs on the South Fork. In the meantime, shoals build up. The trustees and town have occasionally hired an excavating company to work from shore, but this is not the kind of large-scale approach needed, especially at the mouths of our larger harbors.
In our experience, government entities that have taken a function performed by contract with qualified outsiders and assigning it to in-house employees have often come to regret it. Added salaries, staff discipline, even finding sites for a new government division have proven difficult. There are plenty of good reasons why everything from roads to NASA spacecraft are built by industry, not government hands. Dredging, though less complex than sending a probe to the edge of the solar system, nevertheless requires specific skills not in wide supply. Also, maintaining a town dredge during inevitable periods when there is no call for sand removal would be a problem and a financial drain. A promising alternative has emerged.
At a recent trustee meeting, consideration was given to creating a consortium of sorts among East End towns and incorporated waterfront villages, which would be able collectively to amass enough work to attract bids from contractors. This would likely avoid the cost of having a dredge stationed locally. Work could make the rounds on a prearranged schedule, keeping mobilization expenses from adding big money to the bill if a dredging barge had to be brought from far away each time it was needed.
The trustees are right in having a sense of urgency: The harbors need attention now. Using the power of an inter-municipal market to get the job done could be the most expedient approach of all.
Separately, the town trustees deserve credit for agreeing to expand the areas where noncommercial oyster-growers will be invited to place their gear. The prodigious filter power of oysters can help keep marine waters clean. Engaging residents more closely with the environment and food production counts as a good thing, too. More areas for oyster cultivation should be opened soon.