Chilmark selectman says cleanup should not wait on fire investigation


One month after the fire that left the core of Menemsha Harbor charred and ruined, Chilmark is moving forward to repair the damage and salvage what is left of the boating season.

Yesterday, AGM Marine Contractors of Mashpee began installing the first sections of floating concrete docks purchased last month at a cost of $112,000 to replace sections of the wooden dock destroyed in the fire.

AGM is expected to install 80 feet of dock this week. An additional 220 feet of dock is expected to arrive next week. The town has also begun demolishing the old floats, carway and dock.

Selectmen at their meeting last week also discussed with engineer Kent Healy the replacement of the causeway that provided vehicle and pedestrian access to the docks.

The replacement cost is expected to exceed $1 million Warren Doty, chairman of the board of selectmen told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday.

A special town meeting is scheduled for Monday, September 27 at which time voters will be asked to approve money articles related to the July 12 fire.

Even as those costs continue to rise there was some encouraging news Friday during a visit to Menemsha from officials of three state agencies representing environmental law enforcement, the division of waterways, and the seaport council.

The state officials said they would not be able to help fund the reconstruction immediately because they have no money available, but there are programs under which the agencies could reimburse the town for costs associated with the construction of the pier pending funding next year.

The big question remains the cause of the fire. Mr. Doty said that in a meeting with selectman Frank Fenner, the Coast Guard said it would not provide a report on the investigation until the end of August.

Coast Guard critic

Mr. Doty expressed frustration with the Coast Guard’s refusal to begin cleanup operations until the investigation is complete. “We are hoping that they would not just sit back and do nothing for the rest of the month,” he said. “We are trying to encourage them to do cleanup right away and not necessarily wait for the end of the investigation.”

Mr. Doty said that at the very least the Coast Guard could pick up the
four charred hulls removed from the water and left on their beach adjacent to the remains of the boathouse. The explanation he has received is that Coast Guard procedures require the investigation be complete.

“The facility just has a derelict look and 
we would like it to be cleaned up as soon as possible,” Mr. Doty said.

Mr. Doty said protocols and procedures is not enough of an explanation for why no cleanup can be started until the investigation is complete. He suggested that
photos could be taken of the four boats resting on the beach and once the boats were inspected they could be removed.

“If they have some rational explanation for that, they should come forward and offer us an explanation. Just don’t say, I can’t help you the investigation is not complete,” Mr. Doty said. “I think the Coast Guard should be doing a better job at public relations on the waterfront in Menemsha. If there is a good reason why 
they cannot clean up they should show up and talk about it.”

Need to get it right

In a telephone conversation yesterday, Captain Verne Gifford, commander, Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England, said the investigation must proceed in a careful and deliberate manner so that the findings are not called into question later. The notion that the cleanup is being delayed due to bureaucratic inefficiency is not correct, he said.

He said the Coast Guard conducted an administrative investigation as part of the examination into the cause of the fire and found “some things” that it referred to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the principle fire investigator, and the State Fire Marshall.

Captain Gifford said initially it was thought a final report would be available by the beginning of August. “We are still looking at weeks away but it is not from any bureaucratic inefficiency,” he said. “It is more just desire to be thorough.”

Mr. Gifford said that, immediately after the fire, official statements indicated the source of the fire was the boathouse. These same official statements would likely not be made today he said. “Given how critical the investigation is in determining whether the boathouse was the source of the fire or was part of the pass-through damage from a fire that started elsewhere, we cannot remove the boathouse yet,” Mr. Gifford said. “The independent investigation is being done by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, and local officials. Until all agree that the investigation is done, we must preserve potential evidence.”

Mr. Gifford said the Coast Guard is trying as diligently as possible to make the process as easy on other folks as it can, but at the same time the view that the Coast Guard should remove the charred boats bypasses the fact that the Coast Guard does not own the boats, and the source of the fire is still not deteremined, he said.

The Coast Guard removed the burned and sunken vessels from the harbor so that they would not pollute the harbor or impede navigation. However, while the Coast Guard is actively examining the legal options available to remove these vessels from the shore, the vessels remain the legal property and responsibility of the owners, according to a Coast Guard press release.

Mr. Gifford said he understands the community’s concern that the boathouse retain its historical look.

“Our historic boathouse is an integral part of the harbor’s appeal and we want to do our part as good neighbors by restoring it quickly,” said a Coast Guard press release. “We are committed to removing the damaged and unsightly wreckage and rebuilding this historic boathouse as quickly and efficiently as possible.”