Tisbury selectmen review shellfish dispute, mooring fees, again

The Tisbury selectmen (from left) Jeff Kristal, chairman Tristan Israel, and Jon Snyder, welcomed Jay Grande, right, as the new town administrator Tuesday night. They also thanked assistant town administrator Aase Jones, second from right, for serving as the interim town administrator. — Photo by Janet Hefler

At a public hearing Tuesday, Tisbury selectmen denied shellfish constable Danielle Ewart’s strongly worded request that town officials revoke the commercial shellfishing license issued to Thomas Searle. In making the request, Ms. Ewart cited Mr. Searle’s refusal to allow her to inspect his catch.

Ms. Ewart appealed to selectmen to take disciplinary action, after Edgartown District Court Clerk Magistrate Liza Williamson dismissed citations issued to Mr. Searle in January.

The hearing was held at the selectmen’s regular meeting, the first for newly hired town administrator John “Jay” Grande.

In a letter dated January 23, Ms. Ewart said she had cited Mr. Searle because of two incidents in which he failed to present his catch for her inspection when asked to do so. Ms. Ewart explained that she was making the request, despite the outcome of a clerk magistrate’s hearing.

“The court dismissed the citations on a technicality, that I didn’t have him sign the citations, and they were mailed to him too late,” Ms. Ewart wrote. “There were also state citations, they too were thrown out, because the court magistrate rolled everything together and didn’t even consider separating offenses.

“Although the court didn’t find him responsible for these blatant violations, he still committed these offenses,” she added.

In her letter, Mr. Ewart appealed to selectmen to exercise the authority granted them in the Tisbury shellfishing regulations and revoke Mr. Searle’s license for violations of the law.

Tuesday evening, Ms. Ewart told the selectmen that she had watched Mr. Searle raking quahogs and scallops in an area of Tashmoo closed to commercial scalloping. When she spoke to him and asked for the scallops, he dumped the catch in shallow water rather than comply.

Ms. Ewart disputed the accusation that she was “harassing” Mr. Searle or any other commercial fishermen. “What I do is not harassment,” she said. “I watch everyone as much as possible. It is

part of my job, a way to manage the resource.”

Several fishermen attended the hearing and spoke in support of Mr. Searle. Ryan Searle, a lawyer and Mr. Searle’s daughter, spoke on her father’s behalf. She argued that the selectmen had no right to “re-try” her father since the magistrate had dismissed the citations, which she said she had confirmed with Ms. Williamson.

“For the record, we did talk with our town counsel, who said a decision of the clerk/magistrate is not appealable, but told us we could proceed if we wished to with this hearing,” selectman chairman Tristan Israel said.

“According to the clerk/magistrate, we didn’t follow procedures we should have followed in filing the complaints,” Mr. Israel added. “But we were told we could go ahead with this.”

Ms. Searle said the shellfishing dispute had caused her father an enormous amount of stress and affected him both financially and emotionally. “He wants to be left alone to fish,” she said. “That’s his sole source of income. I request that you not revoke his permit.”

Selectman Jeff Kristal made a motion for the selectmen to take no action, given what the hearing revealed.

Selectman Jonathan Snyder seconded the motion. “I agree there is a lot that has been said and a lot that hasn’t,” he said. “I think there’s a great need for a greater degree of respect from both sides.”

Mr. Israel said he would concur on taking no action. “We have a great shellfish warden,” he added. “Having said that, I think a lot of people are working hard out there to make a living. I really understand that, too.”

The selectmen voted unanimously to take no action. Mr. Searle thanked them.

Lots of clams

Tisbury taxpayers give generous support to the town’s shellfish industry. According to Tisbury’s 2011 annual town report, taxpayers paid $115,646 for the shellfish department budget in fiscal 2012.

Shellfish permit revenues for calendar year 2011 totaled $32,275. That included $11,200 for 32 commercial permits at $350 apiece. The total value of clams, quahogs, and scallops harvested in 2011 was $409,070.

In a second public hearing, this one continued from March 5, the selectmen revisited a mooring fee schedule proposed as an amendment to the town’s waterways regulations. The selectmen had originally considered increasing the fees by 20 percent across the board, but recently learned from the town’s auditor and counsel that under state law, the town may not charge different rates for annual moorings for residents and non-residents, as it has done in the past.

The discussion Tuesday revealed confusion on the part of both harbor management committee members and the public as to whether commercial mooring permit rates would increase, and if so, by how much, and why an increase is necessary.

Selectmen voted to close the hearing to public comment and to take no action on the proposed fee schedule. Instead, they agreed to send the fee schedule back to the harbor management committee for more analysis, including comments from commercial permit holders. The selectmen also asked harbor master Jay Wilbur to provide more financial details.

Comcast contract imminent

Under departmental reports, public works director Fred LaPiana provided a copy of a draft contract with Comcast, prepared for their signatures on April 2. Mr. LaPiana said the contract includes some fairly significant side agreements.

Tisbury will receive $22,000 that will be used to increase coverage of other town board meetings on public access channels. Tisbury’s contract with Comcast also includes a senior discount.

At Mr. LaPiana’s request, selectmen voted to extend the town’s current contract with Bruno’s to manage the Tisbury-Oak Bluffs transfer station until May 31. Bids have been solicited and will be opened on March 27, to award a new five-year contract that would take effect on June 1.

In other reports, Maggie Downey, Barnstable County and Cape Light Compact administrator, and Ron Collins, Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) project manager Ron Collins said the solar array’s developer, American Capital Energy, plans to close on financing this month. As a next step, NSTAR would start infrastructure work on the project on or before June 1.

In other business, selectmen scheduled a hearing at 6 pm, April 2, to consider revocation of Rocco’s Pizzeria’s beer and wine license for violation of the town’s regulations that food must be served on china and the establishment must have a dishwasher.

Selectman chairman Tristan Israel also welcomed the new town administrator, John Grande, and thanked assistant town administrator Aase Jones for serving as the interim town administrator since last October.