Coast Guard tells unhappy Chilmark boathouse plans are final

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

U.S. Coast Guard officials told unhappy Chilmark selectmen that the Coast Guard will move forward with construction of a new Station Menemsha boathouse, designed to meet its mission requirements for the next 50 years. The target date for completion is November 2013.

The Coast Guard gave Chilmark the news at a meeting on Wednesday, January 11, and presented the latest boathouse plan. Members of the town historical commission and other town officials learned that the design is essentially unchanged from the one presented to town leaders on December 6. And once again it generated sharp criticism from the three selectmen who said the building is too large and out of character with Menemsha.

Chilmark selectmen have pressed the Coast Guard to design a boathouse approximately the same size as the landmark red-roofed structure that was destroyed by fire on July 12, 2010.

“This was the most commanding building in our harbor, and now it will be more commanding,” chairman Frank Fenner said. “It really doesn’t seem like anything has been done here since December, when we voiced our concerns for the second time over height.”

“We have worked really hard at keeping the buildings in our town low – and we have been pretty successful at it. That’s why everyone at this table is very reluctant to have a building this big,” selectman Warren Doty said.

Selectman Jonathan Mayhew, a commercial fisherman, once again questioned the need for a building capable of accommodating Coast Guard boats. He asked why the boats couldn’t be stored at the main Coast Guard station up the hill off Edy’s Island Way. “I can’t see going any longer, or any higher, than what we had before,” he said. “To me, the original was a very large boathouse in our basin, but we dealt with it because there was a legitimate reason for it. And I don’t see that now. I am sorry.”

Foot or two

Coast Guard officials first presented plans for the new boathouse at a public hearing on October 25. Those draft plans called for a boathouse with two floors, 34 feet, 11 inches at its highest point and 78 feet long.

By comparison, the old boathouse was 28 feet high and 63 feet long. In response to the concerns of town officials over height, length, and design elements that included the style of windows and dormers, the Coast Guard modified the design.

In a conference call with selectmen on December 6, Coast Guard officials described revised plans that showed a boathouse 6 feet, 6 inches longer and two feet, 11 inches taller, and one foot narrower than the original boathouse, which was built in 1939.

Those revised plans did not satisfy selectmen, who said the new structure was still too large and did not comply with town zoning bylaws that set a maximum building height of 24 feet and 18 feet in the coastal zone.

Last Wednesday, Coast Guard officials conceded that they were basically the same as those presented to selectmen in December. Although planners made small modifications to the windows and lighting of the new boathouse, the height and length of the building remain unchanged.

Competing agendas

Architect C. Daniel Bass, of Baker/Whole Associates of Boston, began with a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted the overall changes that have been made since the first plans were presented in October. The height and length have been reduced from the original plans so that it is closer to the massing of the original structure, he said.

Planners have also changed to a more historical style of window, replicating the old double-hung six over six windows, Mr. Bass said. The roof dormer windows and louvers now have arched tops to match the original building. The exterior lights will be minimal and several underground tanks will be removed, he added.

“The new boathouse takes into consideration and incorporates the expressed concerns by the town and historic commission, while still meeting the mission requirements of the Coast Guard of Menemsha,” Mr. Bass said.

The height is still subject to modification. “The Coast Guard recognizes the height of the building remains the issue of highest concern by the town. Going forward it will remain a Coast Guard objective to further reduce the height, while still meeting operational requirements.”

Francis Brito, a civilian engineer and supervisor of the Seattle Facilities Design and Construction Center detachment, said that planners tried to minimize the size of the new boathouse as much as possible. “But unfortunately we have competing agendas,” he said. “We could give you everything you ask for, but it would not allow the Coast Guard to meet operational requirements moving forward.”

Mr. Brito said the Coast Guard had done its best to listen to the concerns of town officials. He said the height might still be decreased.

“As we indicated at our meeting in December, the intent of the Coast Guard is to look for the opportunity to reduce the height by incentivizing the contractor… It will depend on the structural systems they choose,” Mr. Brito said.

But Mr. Brito also said the plans presented at the Wednesday meeting are essentially final, and there would not be any more changes during the design phase. He said the Coast Guard has adopted a construction schedule calling for the contract to be awarded in August, the design to be completed in November, and construction to be completed by November of 2013.

“We would, at this stage, like to keep moving,” Mr. Brito said. “That is why we have a schedule. But we would like to keep the lines of communication open.”

Mr. Brito said the congressional budget approved at the end of 2011 contains an item for $10 million for the new boathouse. In the end, he said, the cost of the new boathouse could cost less than that amount.

Mr. Fenner said the draft construction schedule did not attempt to minimize the effects during the busy summer. “It’s a little difficult for any of us to intelligently discuss this, because we didn’t see the final plans until right now. There was not time for any of us to look over plans and make any meaningful comments,” he said.

Mr. Brito said the contractor will be doing most of the piling and other work on the water, between November and the end of January, and would use a barge to try to minimize the effects on the harbor. He said barriers will be erected around the construction site, and deliveries will be staggered as much as possible to reduce traffic to the site.

Selectmen made a final plea for planners to reduce the size of the boathouse. “We know as the federal government you don’t need permission from us.., but we have zoning that does not permit anyone else to put up a building this height,” Mr. Doty said. “No private or town building could be at this height.”

“We are doing our best to listen to you,” Mr. Brito concluded. “We are doing our best to accommodate you. But we have to take care of the Coast Guard’s needs for the next 50 years.”

Not the old days

In comments emailed to The Times following the meeting, Senior Chief Jason Olsen, Station Menemsha officer in charge, said, “Our people come first, and we need to provide a boathouse that can support them and our mission with the highest standards of quality to continue to be successful with supporting not just Chilmark, but the rest of our maritime community.”

Mr. Olsen said the Coast Guard’s missions and platforms have changed over the years. There is more extensive training, and maintenance requirements are more rigorous than when the old boathouse was built. “After working so closely with our town, I’m excited about the way forward,” Mr. Olsen said. “For me, all of the discussions and meetings and plans have always been about one thing: keeping this maritime community safe.”