Chilmark selectmen unhappy with new Coast Guard boathouse plan

An aerial view of the Coast Guard Boathouse taken August 22, 2006, shows the Coast Guard dock and the town drive-on dock. — File photo by Chuck Stevens/ Phil Cox

Chilmark selectmen reacted with shock and dismay Tuesday when they got their first look at plans for the new Coast Guard boathouse that will replace the landmark red roofed boathouse a fire destroyed on July 12, 2010.

The U.S. Coast Guard has reached the 15 percent design threshold, and sent the preliminary plans to the selectmen last week. As part of the process, the Coast Guard must hold a public hearing at the 25 percent design mark.

Selectmen on Tuesday said the proposed new boathouse was too tall, too wide and just plain too much. “I know this is their first draft, but when I saw it I almost fell over,” chairman Frank Fenner said.

“It’s a two-story looking structure, and it’s mammoth. And it’s in place of a building that was the largest structure in the harbor, and this is just increasing it. It was very disturbing to me when I saw it,” he added.

Mr. Fenner said the last time he discussed the project with Coast Guard officials he asked if they could build the boathouse smaller.

“We were talking about how it would be nice if they built it smaller to [fit] exactly what their needs are. Then this one came in and its 15 feet longer and I believe 6.5 feet higher,” he added.

“I’m just flabbergasted,” selectman Jonathan Mayhew said.

Selectman Warren Doty said little during the brief discussion. He said it would be important to meet with Coast Guard officials soon.

According to the plans from the Boston-based firm of Baker/Wohl Architects, the new boathouse will have two floors and be 34 feet, 11 inches tall at its highest point and 78 feet long.

The first floor will have a bank of five large windows; five smaller windows on the second story and a gable roof with three dormers. By comparison, the old boathouse was 28 feet, one inch at its tallest, and 63 feet long.

The floor plans show room for a boat bay, equipment, parts and tool storage, men’s and women’s restrooms and lockers, and office space.

Jane Slater, chairman of the town historic commission, said the new structure had the wrong windows and agreed the building was too large. “This is terrible. I don’t know anyone who can get behind this,” she said.

Ms. Slater said her commission would discuss the plans at their next scheduled meeting on Oct. 19.

Executive secretary Tim Carroll suggested that selectmen, as well as other town officials and residents, submit their comments about the design to the historic commission prior to their next meeting.

He also said there is still time for the Coast Guard to make changes.

“I don’t think they are trying to shove this down our throats, from what they are saying right now . . . we can tell them we have specific thoughts, like it’s too big or too tall,” he said.

The fire last July destroyed the Coast Guard Station Menemsha boathouse, docks, and boats, and might have spread to the surrounding village, but for a fortuitous wind direction and quick, heroic action by numerous individuals.

On February 15, 2011, the Coast Guard released the results of an investigation begun by federal, state, and local authorities right after the fire was extinguished. The fire may have been the result of a discarded cigarette on the pier, faulty electrical wiring to the boathouse, or faulty electrical wiring to the town’s pier. There was insufficient evidence to determine a more precise ignition source.

There is a $10 million line item in the president’s budget for the rebuilding of the Menemsha boathouse. The best case is the boathouse would be completed in late 2013. The outside date would be mid-2014, Coast Guard officials said this spring.