Tisbury mooring transfer policy raises concerns

Winter sticks and mooring balls mark mooring locations in Lake Tashmoo, most of them off the town landing on the eastern shore. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

A snag in the transfer of a Lake Tashmoo mooring is provoking town officials to review and perhaps alter one of the Tisbury harbormaster’s procedures.

Harbormaster John “Jay” Wilbur is in charge of maintaining the town’s waterways and monitoring their use by the public. A procedure he put in place about five years ago asks new mooring permit holders to write a check for $500 to the previous permittee, in payment for the mooring gear. This request, along with information about the fees that must be paid the town and the need for the mooring gear to be inspected, is part of a form letter sent to new permittees.

“We have been doing this for over five years without a single complaint, until very recently.” Mr. Wilbur said. “It’s an administrative action that we take. When we reassign mooring permits, if it’s appropriate given the situation, we help make the old tackle, that has gone with that mooring permit previously, available to the new permittee. We recommend that the new permit holder pay the old permit holder $500 for what exists.”

How was that figure determined? “It is an average of what it might cost to buy a new block and tackle and have it installed by a qualified mooring inspector,” Mr. Wilbur said.

The Tashmoo management committee met Tuesday evening, March 13, and considered the current transfer policy and possible changes to it. At least one participant, a long-time boatowner operating in Tashmoo, suggested a change that would allow town-approved mooring inspectors to recommend the selling prices of the old moorings after inspecting them. Mr. Wilbur told the committee that the existing policy has worked well for five years. The committee will report its recommendations to the selectmen.

The law of the marketplace

According to Ken Bailey of West Tisbury, the Tisbury harbormaster’s office called for the third time in as many years last spring and asked if he was considering giving up the mooring he has had for 15 years. Mr. Bailey said he has not often used the mooring in the last few years. Mr. Bailey said he might be interested, and when told he could be paid $500 for the mooring, he decided to give it up. The mooring permit was then transferred to a new boater.

The new permittee had the mooring inspected and did not think it was worth the $500. He replaced the gear and made a much smaller offer, $150, for the concrete block mooring. Mr. Bailey has to date not accepted that offer. The new permittee has used the mooring since spring of last year. Both parties have requested meetings with the selectmen to resolve the issue, but their requests have not been agreed to.

The issue became public in a Letter to the Editor of The Times several weeks ago from Lynn Fraker, a charter sailboat owner and operator, a former member of both the Tisbury harbor management committee, and the Tashmoo management committee.

Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee says he hopes the complaint will be resolved through a face-to-face meeting between the mooring owners, former and current, and the harbormaster. Both Mr. Bugbee and Mr. Wilbur think the long-term solution may be to change the regulations.

“It’s going to run through the harbor management committee again,” Mr. Wilbur said. “Five years ago, it went to the harbor management committee, and they thought it was just fine and didn’t think it required a regulation, because we are not doing anything but trying to aid the process.”

“When you look at the big picture and how this is run overall, it is run fairly well. Not to say there haven’t been issues, but nothing that we haven’t been able to work out with the mooring owners,” Mr. Bugbee said in an interview with The Times. “At the same time, I do think it makes sense to put these actions into policy, so that it is not so discretionary, so that people know exactly what to expect.

“I think the board of selectmen will rely fairly heavily on the harbor management committee, hold a public hearing, and in the end the selectmen will decide what the regulations would look like. We have asked the harbor management committee to take a look at this and as soon as we get their recommendations back we will decide what to do next.”

At the Tashmoo management committee’s March 13 meeting, Ms. Fraker urged a new policy, allowing the mooring inspectors, after an inspection, to recommend the selling prices of the old moorings. Mr. Wilbur said that getting the inspectors involved will lengthen the process, but that he is not totally opposed to a change. The committee plans to invite the inspectors to a future meeting to discuss the issue before sending a recommendation to the harbor management committee.

Tisbury moorings

Waterway rules differ among Island towns. Tisbury rules are set by the town selectmen after reviewing recommendations made by the town’s harbor management committee and the harbormaster. The rules include the mooring regulations.

Private boat moorings are prized in Tisbury. One new mooring owner said they are like gold. It can take several years on the waiting list to get one.

The towns, which have control of the public waterways, set the rules and regulate moorings through a permitting process. Once a mooring permit is issued for a specific location, there are ongoing costs and responsibilities in addition to the initial permit fees and an annual fee. The tackle, including the mooring itself, must be of sufficient size and condition for the boat tied to it. Paid for by the owner, inspections by approved mooring inspectors are required every three years. Mooring owners more often than not have their mooring balls, which keep the mooring line accessible at the water line, replaced by a winter stake to protect the ball from the ravages of winter.

There are three classes of moorings in Tisbury: private moorings, commercial moorings, and town moorings. Commercial mooring permits cost $300 a year. The commercial lessee is responsible for the maintenance of the mooring and may sublease the mooring. Tisbury maintains some moorings which are leased seasonally for prices determined by boat size and whether the lessee is a town resident. The cost of these leases in Tisbury ranges from $750 to $1,400 for the summer season, with lower rates for the off season. Tisbury also rents moorings in the inner harbor for $50 per night.

Private moorings, which cannot be sub-leased, cost a total of $225 in initial fees. The annual fees for residents range from $75 to $525, depending on boat size, and from $125 to $1,025 for non-residents. The permit holder must provide the mooring. When a private mooring is vacant, the town may rent out the mooring.

The current prices for concrete mooring blocks from Goodale Construction Co. is $120 for a 2,000-pound block, $178 for a 4,000 pounder, and $250 for a 6,000-pound block. Goodale’s charges $120/hour to deliver. This does not include the cost of placing the mooring in the water, which can be $200 or more and is usually done by one of the mooring inspectors.

Edgartown Harbor

Edgartown has a different process in place, according to harbormaster Charlie Blair. The Edgartown mooring regulations state require that “…unless the former permit holder wishes to remove his ground tackle, including the mooring block, himself at his expense, the ground tackle will be offered for sale through the harbormaster’s department to the new assignee. The sale price…shall not exceed 100 percent of the replacement costs of such tackle.”

In fact, Mr. Blair said that he stays away from the mooring sales by leaving the transactions to the mooring providers or inspectors. He said that the providers, who are hired by the mooring owners, inspect the moorings at least every three years, and it is the providers who suggest the selling price.

“They know the value of the moorings.” Mr. Blair said. He does not know of a sale that has been problematic. He also said the waiting list for people wanting moorings in the Edgartown inner harbor is about 20 years. “When people finally get a mooring, the cost is seldom an issue. There are about 480 people on the list.” He also said the $500 Tisbury mooring price “seems pretty cheap.”

Each town has the authority to set its own policies within the wider bounds of federal and state law, and environmental restrictions. Mr. Blair said, “I think if you read the regulations of 30 New England coastal towns you would find 30 different sets of regulations. No town is the same.”