Captain Verne Gifford, commander, Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England, traveled by motor lifeboat from Woods Hole west in Vineyard Sound to Menemsha, in a screaming northwest wind and high seas Friday. His trip was to give town officials, state Rep. Tim Madden and representatives of outgoing Congressman William Delahunt an update on the investigation into the July 12 fire that destroyed the Station Menemsha boathouse.
Captain Gifford did not have much new information to share. “Unfortunately, the investigation is still not done,” he said.
Captain Gifford said ATF continues to be the lead agency, working closely with the state Fire Marshall’s office, and he acknowledged the long time without a conclusion. On the positive side, he said, investigators had interviewed all the people selectman and commercial fisherman Jonathan Mayhew provided on a list following Mr. Mayhew’s complaints that the Coast Guard had failed to contact people who might be able to provide useful information.
Mr. Gifford said investigators Thursday received the results from a laboratory analysis of wiring removed from the intersection of the town and Coast Guard piers. He said that information needed to be shared among the multiple investigating agencies, one of the reasons the investigation was taking so much time.
A determination of the cause of the July fire, Mr. Gifford estimated, was now only weeks away.
In a followup conversation, Mr. Gifford told The Times that the investigation is in the final stages, and all involved agencies — ATF, state Fire Marshal, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Chilmark police and fire departments — would meet to discuss the results. He said significant attention was paid to the junction of the piers.
Following Mr. Gifford’s briefing on the investigation, selectman Warren Doty thanked the Coast Guard for allowing the town to clean up the area prior to the completion of the investigation. “It looks cleaned up and it is better, so we appreciate that,” he said.
Following the devastating fire, the Coast Guard moved Station Menemsha’s displaced 47-foot motor lifeboat to Woods Hole. Last month, with selectman Mayhew opposed, selectmen agreed to provide space on the harbor bulkhead for the boat that is the workhorse of the service’s lifesaving fleet.
Station Menemsha Chief Jason Olsen said the 47-footer had returned to Menemsha one week earlier. “It’s been a real big morale booster for the crew, and I hope the community sees that our heavy weather platform is back,” Chief Olsen said. “We’re definitely ready for whatever comes at us.”
The Coast Guard expects to have a floating pier in place by May to allow the 47-foot motor lifeboat to be moved from Dutcher dock prior to the start of the busy recreational boating season.
Chief Olsen said that Station Menemsha, designated a heavy weather unit, is scheduled to receive a second 47-footer in fiscal 2014.
“Two 47-footers, that would be impressive,” Mr. Doty said.
“We’re very excited about that, too” Chief Olsen said.
The discussion also focused on the future of the harbor and changes that would provide some improvements. The Coast Guard agreed to consider shortening the length of its pier in the redesign by about 50 feet. “That would really help out our moorings in the center of the harbor and the ability to move about,” Mr. Doty said. “Fifty feet would be very nice.”
Mr. Doty asked if the new boathouse needed to be as large as the old one. He said if it could be 20 percent smaller that would be good.
“Is it the sense of the town that smaller may be better at this point, now that you’ve seen what it looks like without the boathouse there,” Chris Adams, a member of Mr. Delahunt’s staff, asked?
“Yes, I think that’s the sense of the town,” said selectman Doty. “Let’s have a building that functions well, that does just what we need it do, but is as compact as it can be and still has white sides and a red roof.”
The construction of a new Station Menemsha boathouse is not likely to begin until the summer of 2012. The Coast Guard has said it would follow exactly the process set out by the Boston-based Massachusetts Historical Commission in the reconstruction process.
Mark Forest, Mr. Delahunt’s chief of staff, cautioned against the disconnect that sometimes occurs when plans agreed to at the local level are sent to agencies less involved. Mr. Forest assured those present that Mr. Delahunt would remain engaged and help until his last day in office.