State fines Edgartown for unpermitted dredging project

The Edgartown dredge has been the source of recent controversy. — File photo by Steve Myrick

Edgartown selectmen agreed Monday to pay a fine of $8,160 to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, for the unauthorized and unpermitted dredging in January around a private dock with the town-owned dredge.

The fine was part of a consent agreement that also calls for Stephen and Susan Barnes, who own the property, to pay for reseeding the area with shellfish and make a minor amendment to the already completed post-dredging survey. Town officials say that survey revealed no environmental damage.

“We hope, as far as the town is concerned, this is the end of it,” town counsel Ron Rappaport told selectmen at their Monday meeting. “I recommend that you vote to accept this agreement. This is in the public interest. There was unlawful activity, and I think this is a fair resolution.”

Mr. Rappaport said the state originally calculated the fine at $16,320, but reduced the amount by half because of the town’s cooperation and the measures taken to prevent any other unauthorized dredging. Norman Rankow, a contractor building a house for the Barneses, resigned as chairman of the dredge advisory committee after admitting he authorized the dredging without the knowledge of selectmen or other members of the dredge committee.

In a letter to selectmen earlier this year, Mr. Rankow agreed to pay all legal costs and fines.

The fine must be paid by the town, so selectmen will ask the financial advisory committee to authorize the funds from its emergency reserve fund. Town officials expect Mr. Rankow to reimburse the town at a later date.

Selectmen referred the illegal dredging to the State Ethics Commission. While that commission will not acknowledge or deny that any investigation is underway, town administrator Pam Dolby said that ethics investigators are actively pursuing a probe. They asked for information from the town as late as last week.

In the wake of the controversy, selectmen reorganized the dredge committee and approved new protocols that require copies of all permits to be carried aboard the dredge vessel. Selectmen and the conservation commission will also sign off on every project, under the new procedures.

“We’ve restructured the committee, and we’ve adopted new protocols: just make sure they do it,” Mr. Rapport told selectmen. “We want this to be the end of it.”