Chilmark strengthens harbormaster's hand
Chilmark selectmen Tuesday night affirmed the authority of harbormaster Dennis Jason to oversee the permitting of both commercial and residential moorings in Chilmark.
The selectmen also agreed to continue the longstanding practice of allowing two individuals to control blocks of moorings, pending an opinion on the practice from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). But from now on, Jonathan Mayhew and Lynn and Susan Murphy, operators of marine service companies, must bring applications to Mr. Jason for approval.
The Murphys have 15 moorings they provide to commercial customers. Mr. Mayhew has 25 permits. Both the Murphys and Mr. Mayhew have held moorings for decades, long before the development of town and state regulations. The Murphys attended the meeting Tuesday night.
Selectmen approved a new regulation governing the availability of commercial moorings providing that in the event a mooring becomes available from "either of the two Chilmark marine service businesses (CMSB) the mooring must be made available to the next person on the town mooring waiting list." Successful applicants would pay the going commercial rates for the space.
"The right of the two CMSBs to continue the practice of issuing commercial licenses may be revoked by the harbormaster" after a public hearing with seven days notice for failure to comply with the regulations, according to the new regulation.
Selectmen would participate in the hearing and recommend whether or not to revoke prior to the harbormaster's decision. The harbormaster is free to reject or accept the selectmen's recommendations.
For more than a year, the town has been wrestling with its mooring regulations, following action by the state Inspector General to correct how moorings are allocated in some mainland towns.
In June, Chilmark selectmen voted unanimously to seek the guidance of DEP, the agency that sets the rules for public waterways, including regulations about fair and equitable access to moorings and dock space. The action was in response to a legal opinion from town counsel Ron Rappaport.
At the heart of the issue was the possible conflict between the existing town system, which provides a public resource in the form of moorings to people on a waiting list but also provides town moorings to two businesses that then provide them to their customers.
In his review, Mr. Rappaport found that under state laws and DEP regulations, multiple mooring permits may be issued to an individual and used by the permit holder or immediate family members for personal use, but new or vacant mooring permits cannot be assigned by anyone except the harbormaster (or other assigned agent of the town), under a fair and equitable waiting list procedure.
The town counsel found some ambiguity in the regulations governing private boatyards, called private recreational boating facilities, which hold multiple mooring permits.
The town is still waiting for an opinion from DEP.
"We have to give Denny something he can work with until the state rules," said selectman Frank Fenner, chairman of the board, at the beginning of a one-hour discussion of the new regulations that included Mr. Jason.
The discussion included the definition of a commercial mooring, rights of assignment, and also the need for a mooring review committee to oversee the mooring granting process.
Discussion of both ideas had been postponed since last spring. Both Mr. Jason and selectman Warren Doty said they have had recent verbal assurances from DEP that home rule is desirable, but there's been no formal decision.
Language in the new regulations provides that commercial moorings may be held by the two current holders or by their spouses but must revert to the town rather than be passed on to other family members.
Much debate centered on retention of the current mooring assignment committee and on a suggestion that a mooring review committee be established. Mr. Fenner argued that the committee would provide transparency.
Mr. Jason argued that the selectman could best handle the appeal process. "I'm tired of having my ear bent," he said. "We've been trying to resolve one case for three years."
Selectmen J.B. Riggs Parker and Mr. Doty agreed with Mr. Jason's argument that the town's existing and proposed oversight committees were unnecessary and that selectmen could fill the oversight role.
In a 2-1 vote, selectmen approved changes to the town's waterways rules and regulations that effectively ended the existence of the mooring assignment committee. The selectmen will now serve as the only local appeal board for aggrieved mooring applicants. Applicants may also appeal directly to the DEP.
Selectmen Parker and Doty supported the changes. Mr. Fenner opposed them.