In letter, Edgartown dredge chairman admits mistake

— File photo by Ralph Stewart

Former Edgartown dredge advisory committee chairman Norman Rankow said he approved the use of the town dredge and crew to perform “minor dock dredging” work around his client’s private pier, without the required federal, state, and town permits.

In conversations with The Times this week, members of the dredge committee refused to specifically identify Mr. Rankow as the man responsible for ordering the work.

In a letter dated February 3, 2011, addressed to Karen Adams, chief of permits and enforcement for the Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Rankow apologized for his actions. Mr. Rankow resigned on February 2.

“As is often the case in a small town, one must be careful of any conflict of interest issues,” Mr. Rankow said. “In this case, I am afraid I have crossed over that line and caused these problems I hope to help resolve.”

Mr. Rankow said that he took the action without the knowledge of the property owners, Stephen and Deborah Barnes, or their engineer, Dick Barbini, although he said he is familiar with the permitting process.

“I never intended to do this minor dock dredging without seeking all local, state and federal permits,” Mr. Rankow wrote. “Any of my personal actions were without the knowledge of Mr. Barbini, who had certainly made me aware of the overall process. I, too, as head of the department, was aware of the process.”

The conservation commission had scheduled a public hearing on January 18. In his letter, Mr. Rankow said that he ordered the dredging on January 13, to meet an approaching deadline.

“Immediately following the conservation commission hearing, we were going to file the requisite notifications to both agencies for a minor project,” Mr. Rankow wrote. “This is in fact a very permissible and minor application on face. Notwithstanding this, my actions were clearly wrong but well intended. Our dredge season ends on January 15, as a rule, due to time of year restrictions, as I am sure you are aware. Since I did not want to violate this technical timeline, I gave the approval to let the dredge crew do the actual work on Friday the 13th to avoid that issue. This, knowing that our local conservation commission hearing was five days away.

“In closing, I want to say that I deeply regret having jumped the gun here on this process. The Barnes family had no role in my actions in beginning the work ahead of final permitting. Dredging is a very challenging and tough business, and my actions fell outside accepted practices.”

Mr. Rankow signed the letter as the former chairman of the Edgartown Dredge Department.

On February 15, conservation agent Jane Varkonda sent a strongly worded letter to Dave Nash, newly elected chairman of the dredge advisory committee.

Ms. Varkonda also sits on the dredge advisory committee as an appointee of the conservation commission.

She noted that a post-dredge survey ordered by the conservation commission showed the dredging exceeded what the application proposed.

“The proposed dredge footprint exceeded what had been applied for,” Ms. Varkonda wrote, on behalf of the conservation commission. “In addition, dredging depths exceeded what had been proposed. Lastly, the sand was not placed on the beach, but instead discharged into the harbor.

“In addition to proceeding without permits, the over dredging and disposal of the sand into the harbor are serious matters. Even if the work had been approved, it is apparent that the dredge crew did not have a copy of the dredge plan and did not know where to dredge. The commission recommends that the dredge committee turn the matter of the dredge crews’ involvement in this matter to town counsel.”

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection are considering how they will enforce their regulations.

Edgartown’s town counsel has asked for a complete record of the dredging, in order to make a recommendation to the town about what action it should take.