In the aftermath of the discovery of the unpermitted dredging of a private dock in Katama Bay, the Edgartown dredge committee met last week to draft and review a new set of protocols to ensure that future dredge projects are properly approved and permitted. The new protocols were requested by the selectmen and recommended by town counsel, but the foreman of the town owned dredge objected to the new rules.
At a testy meeting of the dredge committee, attended by members of the dredge crew on February 23, dredge foreman Ed Handy repeatedly and forcefully objected to new reporting measures included in the draft proposal.
Norman Rankow, former committee chairman, has admitted that he was solely responsible for ordering dredging to clear a private dock at a construction site where he is the general contractor for seasonal residents Stephen and Deborah Barnes. He resigned from the committee on February 2.
At a meeting on February 21, selectmen asked the State Ethics Commission to investigate whether Mr. Rankow violated conflict of interest laws. They also adopted several recommendations made by town counsel Ron Rappaport, following his preliminary investigation of the event.
Counsel’s recommendations would require selectmen, the conservation commission, the dredge advisory committee, and the shellfish constable to sign off on any future dredge projects. The new procedures would regulate how the town-owned dredge may be used for private dredging projects.
Tension at the table
At the dredge advisory committee’s regular Thursday meeting, newly elected chairman David Nash said the committee’s business for the next several weeks should focus on reviewing and modifying the new, recommended protocols. When discussion turned to a draft Mr. Nash proposed, the session got contentious.
The two-page document outlined guidelines for future projects and a communications checklist that would provide contact information for all parties with responsibility for the dredge project.
“Copies of all applicable permits for each site are to be available on the dredge,” Mr. Nash wrote, “at all times the dredge is on the water, as well as with the dredge crew foreman at a land-based location. Permits must be dated copies of an original or otherwise provide indication that dredging is approved and include any applicable conditions applied to the project.”
Mr. Handy said he is willing to comply with the new protocols, but said he didn’t want the new procedures to become “a monster,” with unnecessary duplication.
Harbormaster and committee member Charlie Blair said the draft is a workable plan, and simple to implement. In five minutes, he sketched in the information for the town’s next scheduled dredge project.
The draft document called for a dredge plan prepared by the foreman and reviewed by the dredge crew.
The first item in the plan called for the specific identification of the dredge location.
“It has to be wherever it’s on the permit, and the permit has to be on the dredge,” Mr. Handy said. “Why duplicate it again?”
Conservation agent and committee member Jane Varkonda pointed out that in the recent unpermitted project, the dredge was not at a permitted location, and there were no permits or a dredge plan on the vessel.
In that instance, according to the conservation commission, more material was removed than planned, and the dredge spoils were dumped farther out in Katama Bay, both violations that would have been apparent under the new draft protocols.
The proposed dredge plan would also include a safety equipment check. As an example, Mr. Nash listed standard safety equipment that should on the job site.
“It’s already there,” Mr. Handy said.
“I think for each job, we should make note that it’s still there,” Mr. Nash said.
“And if the paper is right, it must be right, right?” Mr. Handy said. “Come out in the field sometime, Dave.”
“I have been out in the field,” Mr. Nash said.
“Not enough, apparently,” Mr. Handy said.
Mr. Handy also objected repeatedly to the proposed communications checklist, which would include contact information for each approving authority, dredge crew, and dredge advisory committee members, and others, such as contractors and property owners.
“So we’re changing the policy, which has always been the chairman of the committee speaks for the dredge department,” Mr. Handy asked.
“You better believe we are,” Mr. Nash said.
Committee member Mort Fearey spoke against that change.
“If you go to eight different guys, you’re going to get eight different answers,” Mr. Fearey said.
Ms. Varkonda said every committee member, all appointed as representatives of various town boards, should be accountable.
“I never understood why the chairman would be the person that would answer any question,” Ms. Varkonda said. “If you don’t feel comfortable answering a question, refer it to the chairman. But a gag order?”
The news that the dredge had operated without permits raised questions about the responsibility of Mr. Handy, as foreman of the crew. Mr. Handy is experienced at dredge projects and familiar with the permitting process.
What made the Barnes case unusual is that the dredge spoils were pumped out into the bay. In all previous projects, dredge spoils were distributed on nearby beaches.
Last week, Mr. Rappaport reported to selectmen on the results of his investigation into the operation of the dredge. As part of his report, Mr. Rappaport said Mr. Handy and the dredge crew were unaware there were no permits for the dredging at the Barnes property.
Following the Thursday meeting, a Times reporter asked Mr. Handy if he were required to have a copy of the dredge permit on the vessel for the Barnes property dredging.
He turned and walked away. Asked if that meant he had no comment, he offered a terse reply.
“I’m not going to play a lot of these games with you,” Mr. Handy said. “You write whatever you need to.”