Chilmark tosses mooring ball in state's waters
Chilmark selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday to seek the guidance of the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in the ongoing dispute over two private businesses that control 20 percent of the town's boat moorings. DEP sets the rules for public waterways, including regulations about fair and equitable access of moorings and dock space.
The action comes in response to a legal opinion from town counsel Ron Rappaport.
"There is not a clarity in the regulations," said selectmen chair Frank Fenner Jr. "I personally would like to see it remain the way it is, but I also don't want to do anything illegal. Until they (DEP) give us direction, I personally see no reason to change."
Selectmen J.B. Riggs Parker, who initiated the request for a legal opinion, said the commercial mooring operations provide a good, effective service. "But that creates a conflict between the existing system, which has helped a lot of people, and the people on the waiting list, who feel that they should be getting those permits rather than having permits issued to commercial people who then hand them out to their customers," he said. "We should go to them (DEP) and ask the question. If they say no, you can't do this, then we know where we are."
Two individuals hold blocks of moorings in Chilmark waters. Jonathan Mayhew holds 25 mooring permits, in the Clam Point Cove area, and Lynn Murphy holds 15 permits near Menemsha channel.
Mr. Mayhew and Mr. Murphy operate mooring businesses that were established long before Chilmark's current waterways regulations, and even prior to the state laws on which local regulations are based.
Susan Murphy said her family business is little different than other long established businesses that use public resources, including lots leased by the town to business owners around Menemsha Harbor.
"Explain how our use of this town asset (in this case, a mooring permit) is somehow different from the town's granting leases to private individuals for lots of town real estate," said Ms. Murphy in a statement she read at Tuesday's meeting. "The town charges $900 annually to both the gas station and the fish markets. We actually pay the town more in fees than does the gas station or either fish market."
Mr. Rappaport's review found that several points are clear under state laws and DEP regulations, among them, that multiple mooring permits may be issued to an individual and utilized by the permit holder or immediate family members for personal use, but new or vacant moorings permits cannot be assigned by anyone except the harbormaster (or other assigned agent of the town) under a fair and equitable waiting list procedure.
"What remains unclear," wrote Mr. Rappaport in his opinion, "is whether the moorings which have historically been utilized by persons other than the Mayhew and Murphy immediate family members must be assigned by the harbormaster under the town's waiting list procedure."
The town counsel wrote that there is some ambiguity in the regulations governing private boatyards, called private recreational boating facilities, which hold multiple mooring permits. He said state law does not "address whether multiple mooring permits may be issued to a single person or entity," and does not "mandate procedures to be followed by a harbormaster (or any other town officials) in issuing mooring permits."