Tisbury selectmen pass on dock issues
The Tisbury selectmen last week asked the Tashmoo Management Committee (TMC) and Harbor Management Committee (HMC) to come up with a list of commercial activities considered appropriate for the town's waters and docks and a process under which they could be permitted.
The request by the selectmen followed recent objections by harbor committee members to the long-running practice of allowing commercial fuel deliveries to fishermen at the public Lake Street dock on Lake Tashmoo.
Selectmen took the action against a backdrop of previous reports of bullying incidents at Lake Street dock.
The issue of fuel deliveries and sales to commercial fishing boats at the Lake Street landing came up at a selectmen's meeting in August. Jay McMann of Island Fuel said he operated the trucks that deliver fuel there and that he had taken every precaution and safeguard and passed stringent certifications.
A few commercial fishermen who attended the August meeting said they need a convenient and safe refueling location on Lake Tashmoo and argued that deliveries from a truck are safer than filling their tanks from cans.
At the August meeting TMC chairman Melinda Loberg said that in addition to environmental concerns, the crux of the issue for the two harbor committees was that refueling boats at the Lake Street dock is prohibited as a commercial activity by the town regulation.
Tisbury regulations concerning commercial activity on town property filed with the town clerk in July 1998 state that no article, thing, product or service shall be offered for sale in any town building or on property subject to the selectmen's custody and control. It also allows for a permitting process through the selectmen.
Selectman Jeff Kristal suggested that the selectmen should look at the permitting process for commercial activities at town docks first.
"A larger point I want to clear up is that the regulation concerns commercial activities on town property," selectman Geoghan Coogan said. "It says no one shall offer for sale any products or service, and it offers the selectmen the option to allow permits to do commercial activities. We're letting a lot of things go on at the docks right now that I think should be coming before us for permitting."
Mr. Coogan said if the selectmen planned to follow the regulation, then all commercial activities would need a permit. However, he added that the regulation did not clearly spell out a process for that and also lacked broader parameters for definitions of commercial activities.
Mr. Coogan said that Mr. McMann should submit a formal application for his fueling operation. Mr. Kristal and Tristan Israel agreed, and the selectman told Mr. McMann to stop his service at Lake Street until he applied and underwent a permitting process.
At a meeting on October 13 selectmen learned that at least one commercial fisherman reacted to the ruling prohibiting fuel sales at the dock by purchasing fuel and transporting it in a tank in the back of his pickup truck.
During the discussion session last week, Tashmoo Boatyard owner Kim Baptiste asked what would stop someone from putting a tank full of fuel in the back of a pickup truck, running a hose to a boat, and filling it with fuel. Nothing, the selectmen told him.
Harbormaster Jay Wilbur said one commercial fisherman had been doing exactly that since fuel sales were banned on October 6.
"It's not a commercial activity; the guy has gone somewhere else to buy his fuel, he has a tank in the back of his truck, and he's fueling his own boat," Ms. Loberg said in a phone call Monday. "And right now, we don't have any provision that says you may not fuel on the dock. And unfortunately, because people are doing that, it is going to drive us to really consider making that ban, because that is more dangerous than having the fuel truck down there."
A question of what to enforce
Mr. Wilbur said in a call yesterday that he specifically asked the selectmen at a meeting in early summer about what to do about the dock fuel sales in regard to the regulation, and they told him not to enforce it.
"To me it's very clear, and it was 11 years ago when the regulation was written, that it comes down to money changing hands on the spot or actually doing sales on town property," Mr. Wilbur said. "Chartering is not that, fishing is not that. But somehow we keep lapsing back into having to allow it all if we're going to allow any of it, and to me, it's very clear what the difference is."
Tisbury also has waterways regulations and regulations for Vineyard Haven harbor as a district of critical planning concern.
Ms. Loberg said a ban on fueling at the Lake Street dock was one of the regulations proposed for it in May 2008. "And the fishermen were at the meeting and were very concerned about that one, and so at the time, the selectmen said we'll adopt all the other regulations, but let's table this one," she said.
The regulation was not discussed again until last summer, Ms. Loberg said, after one of the abutters near the Lake Street dock called with concerns about safety issues regarding fueling services. The person also questioned whether it was legal.
"And in fact, the selectmen had not banned fueling, but there was clearly a violation of the other regulation about no commercial activity," Ms. Loberg said. "So that's how this came up. The selectmen needed to address this, and they were kind of postponing it so that the summer could be over with and they wouldn't have to impinge on the fishermen's ability to get convenient fueling during the summer."
Mr. Wilbur said the fishermen that are most vocal and adamant about getting fuel at the Lake Street dock are not even Vineyard Haven residents.
Tensions between different groups of boaters that use the dock has also been a problem, Mr. Kristal pointed out at the October 6 selectmen's meeting. "There is an underlying issue at Tashmoo, bullying that's going on, abuse of dockage space, signs being removed, intimidation," he said.
Given that situation, Mr. Kristal added that he was not in favor of moving the fueling activity to Owen Park, as suggested by commercial fisherman Glenn Pachico of Tisbury as an alternative since commercial activity already takes place in Vineyard Haven harbor.
Regulations adopted by the town for the Lake Street landing pier are very specific about what parts of the dock may be used for loading and unloading, and for how long. Licensed fishing boats are allowed longer dock time for loading and unloading gear.
In a phone call this week, Mr. Kristal said he has been told about incidents where some boaters do not let others dock, act rude to passers-by, or park cars near the dock and block others from parking there.
"It's schoolyard behavior that we're dealing with down there, and it is people that were literally in the schoolyard together," Mr. Wilbur said. "We enforce the rules to the best of our ability, but just like teachers who can't stop bullying altogether, neither can we."
Ms. Loberg said the TMC also has received reports of bullying at the Lake Street dock, as well as complaints from recreational boaters that fuel trucks and commercial fisherman obstruct the dock.
"And when it came time to discuss the fueling issue, I also had people who told me, I'm very much against it, but I don't dare come and speak at a public meeting," Ms. Loberg said.
"I really appreciated Jeff bringing it out," Ms. Loberg added. "I think the message really got through, because I don't think that's the image that these guys want to have."
Although the question of using the Lagoon Pond boat ramp for refueling operations was raised, Ms. Loberg said that is not likely. The State Access Board, which funded the building of the ramp, has a rule prohibiting commercial activity on the dock and makes few exceptions.
For the two harbor committees it will be a question of how to allow a limited amount of commercial activity on the dock while not interfering with the public's use, Ms. Loberg said.