Oak Bluffs awaits mooring decision from Beacon Hill
Oak Bluffs is the latest Island town awaiting a decision on the legality of its mooring policies. At issue are 20 moorings assigned by permit to the East Chop Yacht Club.
The club pays an annual permit fee to the town for each mooring, and assigns them to members who pay a membership fee to the club.
Last August, following a complaint from a concerned citizen, the inspector general asked the town for its mooring regulations, according to town administrator Michael Dutton. Mr. Dutton compiled documents outlining the mooring policies and forwarded them to the inspector general with a letter explaining the town's practices.
"We put together a whole package," said Mr. Dutton. "They wanted to know how it worked." As a matter of policy, the inspector general does not confirm or deny whether a review or investigation is underway.
Four months earlier, Oak Bluffs seasonal resident Joseph Vera sent a letter to the selectmen questioning the legality of the yacht club's moorings. Calls to Mr. Vera's Cambridge home seeking comment were not answered. Mr. Vera is well known to Oak Bluffs businesses and town officials. Town officials say he relentlessly pursues what the officials call "vendettas," in response to real or perceived slights.
In a recent letter to the editor of The Martha's Vineyard Times, Mr. Vera charged that the yacht club violates state and local regulations in three ways. "It maintains more than one mooring, the boats of record are not owned by the club, and these moorings are rented to those members who pay a fee of $900 to join the East Chop Yacht Club. The town receives only the $150 permit fee for each mooring," wrote Mr. Vera. He contends the town could earn $30,000 by taking over the moorings and renting them to transient boaters.
Rob Hammett, secretary of the East Chop Yacht Club declined to comment on the issue. He said the club's commodore, James Kay, did not return a message requesting comment.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the state agency that regulates state waters and tidelands, the DEP's rules are based on the concept that the waterways are a limited public resource, and should be available in a fair and equitable way to the public. The rules make an exception for private recreational facilities, defined as a "facility for berthing of recreation vessels at which all berths and accessory uses thereto are not available for patronage by the general public." Their guidelines also say nothing in the regulations "shall be construed to prevent moorings for which permits are issued to a recreational boating facility from being assigned to individual patrons or members of such facility."
"We feel comfortable with the practice we've had for many years," said Mr. Dutton.
Harbormaster Todd Alexander says he is also confident the town's mooring policies are well within the regulations. "They can provide moorings for their members," he said. "Until we hear otherwise, we plan to keep it the way it is. If the inspector general comes back and says we're doing it all wrong, we'll do it differently."
Mr. Alexander says other than the yacht club, there are only about 20 people assigned private moorings. In 1972, the town stopped leasing privately owned moorings. There is no waiting list for moorings in the harbor. When a private owner leaves a leased mooring, the town takes it over and rents it through the summer season to transient boaters for a nightly fee. About 10 private moorings were taken over by the town last year. Transient mooring rental is a considerable source of revenue for Oak Bluffs. Mr. Alexander is still compiling figures from last summer, but expects the amount of revenue from moorings alone will top $150,000.
Chilmark is also awaiting a ruling from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the state agency that regulates waterways and tidal lands. In Chilmark there is a dispute over two private businesses that are allotted multiple moorings, and then assign those moorings to customers. The town's attorney, Ron Rappaport, has recommended that the town should take over moorings assigned to the private businesses, except those used by the owners and their immediate families. But Mr. Rappaport also advised the town that there is some ambiguity in the regulations, and recommended Chilmark seek clarification from DEP. Chilmark selectmen sent a letter to DEP last spring, seeking that clarification.
The inspector general issued a far-reaching opinion on the town of Chatham's mooring policies in 2006 when he found that private boat yards that were assigned moorings by the town were renting those moorings for much higher fees. That allowed their customers to bypass the town's long waiting list for town moorings. The investigation also found that boat yards promised immediate access to a mooring to people who purchased boats from them. The inspector general recommended that Chatham assert control over all moorings in town waters, and the town completely revised its harbor regulations.