To the Editor:
The proposed fishing pier in Oak Bluffs is getting some unjustified bad press lately, due to some misinformation swimming around out there.
One of the claims is that this is a bad location due to lack of fish. Countless fishermen, tackle shop owners, long-time residents with fish stories to tell, even newspaper columnists — ask any fisherman who learned to fish on this Island and you’ll learn that the location proposed for the Oak Bluffs fishing pier has been and continues to be a great location for a fishing pier.
Good fishing is possible wherever there is bait, structure, and current. This pier would be located between two existing structures — the harbor breakwater and the SSA pier. Fish congregate in those locations. The pier would extend just over 300 feet out (with a 60-foot “L” shaped platform at the end) only a cast away from eel grass beds as well as the docking area for SSA vessels, more baitfish habitat. Other nearby locations simply don’t offer the same opportunities.
Although not funded with local property tax revenues, it is still taxpayer-funded, so placing the pier in other than an optimal location would be fiscally foolish. (Cost, including design, permitting, and construction is $500,000, and the state is responsible for all significant maintenance of the pier. The project represents our tax dollars coming back to the Island) The one alternate location most often discussed, on the opposite side of the SSA pier, would need to be far from that side due to the fast ferry docking that occurs on that portion of the SSA pier and would then end up infringing on a true swimming beach. It would also be in shallower water and would be much shorter in length due to eel grass beds closer to shore.
The debate shouldn’t be about fish, and there are other reasons that it should be located where proposed. I am a member of an advisory group which has been a part of this project for almost three years. It was formed shortly after the board of selectmen signed an agreement with the state Office of Fishing and Boating Access, to give that agency access to the shoreline for a fishing pier. This is the agency that builds boat launch ramps and fishing piers statewide.
The current design is minimalist with no lighting, no water, no seating, no filet stations, and no overhead structures. The pier would be nicely tucked alongside and protected by the SSA pier only 200 feet away. That will also provide protection from storms. What then remains along the North Bluff area is still a huge area for swimming. The pier will have no conceivable impact on the small swimming beach at the far end of this area. The rehabilitation of the bath house will not only provide restrooms for those using the pier but will help facilitate access for people with mobility issues who have virtually nowhere on this island to wet a line. Locating this pier elsewhere will result in a lack of such amenities. However, the pier is not dependent on the North Bluff reconstruction project for its handicap access. The ramps necessary to accommodate this have already been designed.
There are certainly other jetties and piers available on M.V. that are dangerous for kids, impossible to access for the handicapped, or commercial or private and not accessible to anyone. Multi-use piers are in Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, Menemsha, and Edgartown, but all crowded with non-fishing uses and not fisherman friendly. This pier would be designated for fishing only. State law would prohibit non-fishing uses, including boating. Even strolling along the pier could be prohibited by local police.
When fishermen venture out onto these structures, they are there to fish. Teaching kids to fish makes little noise. The neighborhood is concerned that there will be noise, but it certainly won’t come from fishermen, and anyone else shouldn’t be there. The fears expressed by the neighborhood, while certainly perceived by them as real, will, in all likelihood, just not materialize. The pier will see much of its use early or late in the day and not conflict with available parking needs. Daytime users will require parking access but in numbers that don’t come anywhere near impacting local bars, restaurants, and other businesses.
From a planning perspective, even if availability of fish were not the issue, it makes more sense to site such structures near others of similar use or where existing services already exist, not spread everything out.
But I think one of the biggest issues to consider here is that the SSA pier, for many, many years, provided this kind of access. Like so many other locations all over the Island, this access has been systematically taken away, lost forever. This pier is proposed for the right location and needs only the willingness of our decision makers to make it happen, and of course the willingness of the neighborhood to share the resource that really does belong to all of us.
If you support this proposal, please make your opinions known to both the Oak Bluffs selectmen and the M.V. Commission for the hearing they will hold on October 7.
David NashFishing Pier Advisory Committee