Menemsha moves forward, new docks purchased

Chilmark selectmen have approved a plan to buy new floating docks to enable boat owners access to slips cut off by the July 12 fire that destroyed the Coast Guard’s Menemsha Boathouse, adjoining docks, and private boats.

And selectmen, meeting Tuesday, heard from Coast Guard Menemsha station chief Scott Olsen, who urged patience as the investigation of the cause of the blaze continues.

“We are making progress, and we’re doing the best job we can to find out what happened,” Chief Olson said. He would not comment on the investigation. “They are still following leads and talking to people. They are definitely doing a thorough job.”

The station chief said he has received approval from the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to begin removing boats that pose a pollution threat to the harbor.

On Wednesday, a Coast Guard contractor removed seven boats from the water and drained fuel from them. The boats were stacked on the beach next to where the boathouse was. That contract will be paid from a federal oil spill liability fund.

Mr. Olsen said he has scheduled removal of the gasoline and diesel fuel left in storage tanks next to the boathouse site. He noted that safety systems designed to prevent the fuel from igniting worked as designed.

He said Station Menemsha is operational, ready for rescue and enforcement actions. The Coast Guard’s 25-foot rescue boat remains in Menemsha Harbor ready for duty, but the station’s 47-foot motor lifeboat has been redeployed to Woods Hole, and his enlisted personnel are working toward returning her to Menemsha. “They understand how important that boat is to our station and the community,” Chief Olsen said. “We understand the urgency to get that boat back.”

Selectman Frank Fenner asked whether it is the Coast Guard’s responsibility to deploy a containment boom around the fire scene. The town deployed a boom soon after the fire. Chief Olsen said the boom deployed by the town is in good shape and doing its job. He said he would address the issue with his superiors.

Mr. Olsen said he is confident the Coast Guard intends to rebuild the boathouse, and he is mindful of community concerns about how a new building would fit into the historic fishing village.

“I would love to see the red roof, white siding, maybe a newer material,” Mr. Olsen said.

Selectman Jonathan Mayhew praised the cooperation betwen the Coast Guard and the town, though he expressed concern about future decisions without citing any specific issues that had to do with the Coast Guard.

Damage assessment

Tim Carroll, Chilmark executive secretary, reported that 300 feet of the wooden ramp out to the West or Fill Dock was destroyed, along with 108 feet of timber pier. Of the 190 feet of floating dock, half was damaged, and half was destroyed. He said six boats were damaged beyond repair, 24 had some level of heat damage, and one shack was scorched.

Selectmen authorized the purchase of new concrete floating docks intended to span a 190-foot section of the burned pier and provide access to undamaged slips at the end of the West Dock. Conduits built into the docks will carry power and water.

The docks, supplied by Bellingham Marine of York, Pennsylvania, will cost $111,600, delivered to New Bedford. Town officials must arrange to transport the docks to Menemsha Harbor. There is no estimate of that cost.

Selectmen must first arrange to demolish the burned section of pier, and rebuild the necessary pilings and support structure. State finance officials have authorized Chilmark to spend up to $200,000 for emergency repairs.

Delivery of the first of the floating dock sections will take at least a month, Mr. Carroll told selectmen. Two of the 40-foot sections are available now, three others will come later.

The town is also working to design and build a limited access pedestrian walkway along the damaged pier to allow boat owners to get to the 40 slips that are now inaccessible.

“In order to have summer use, it’s probably better to go with that temporary solution,” selectman Frank Fenner said.

The initial cost estimate of the pedestrian walkway is $10,000 to $15,000, according to Kent Healey, an engineer who is assisting the town. “We have contractors lined up, ready to go, as soon as we have plans,” Mr. Carroll said.

Mr. Mayhew said he was concerned about a state emergency closure of Menemsha and Quitsa ponds to shellfishing. “I want to make sure this doesn’t become a lasting problem as far as our shellfishing beds go,” Mr. Mayhew said. “Obviously the scallop season is a big thing for us in the fall. I want to make sure nothing gets ahead of us. We have a summertime problem and a very large fall problem.”

In a phone conversation with The Times Wednesday, shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer said Menemsha and Quitsa waters remain closed to shellfishing, by order of the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF). Mr. Scheffer said he is awaiting a decision from state officials about when they can be reopened.

This week, representatives of DMF and the Department of Environmental Protection toured Menemsha Pond. “During the survey, we found no sign of any contamination up there at all,” Mr. Scheffer said.

Selectman also voted to support the efforts of fire Chief David Norton to improve portable radio communications in his department. He said communication problems hindered the department’s ability to fight the fire.

“Our portables, we might just as well have chucked them into the harbor,” Chief Norton said. “I had to keep running back and forth to my truck. It seems like portable use is good for most departments except the fire department.”