Tisbury selectmen weigh harbor rules, vent over SSA
In a specially scheduled work session Tuesday night, Tisbury selectmen took a critical look at town waterways regulations and mooring permits. A number of people concerned with the harbor including members of the harbor management committee had plenty to say.
The attention of the selectmen during the second half of the meeting, intended as an administrative session, instead focused on a laundry list of their complaints about the Steamship Authority (SSA). Selectmen expressed frustration over Vineyard Haven traffic, SSA scheduling, terminal reconfiguration, the Park and Ride operation and the refusal of the boatline to fund police details. The Island press was also mentioned as a contributing factor to the selectmen's woes.
The work session to consider possible waterways regulations amendments was held in response to several complaints over the summer from private and commercial boat owners regarding changes made in mooring permits and regulations enforcement, particularly on Lake Tashmoo.
One of the problem areas concerned the differentiation between private, business, and commercial moorings. As Peter Strock, a member of the Tashmoo Management Committee (TMC), pointed out, "The classification of moorings needs to be done and there needs to be fewer of them." Moreover, he said, "The definition of a commercial mooring is confusing."
It was that confusion that led to the creation of another mooring category, said Tom Pachico, a selectman. "We approved the business mooring category because of extra large sailboats that didn't want to pay private mooring permit fees," said Mr. Pachico. "What are those two big boats with the dogs on them? Are they commercial or are they private?"
As chair of the Harbor Management Committee (HMC), Jim Lobdell said his committee recommended eliminating the business category and retaining two mooring categories, commercial and vessel of record. He said that the HMC should be evaluating requests for commercial moorings, rather than the town administrator.
Kim Baptiste, owner of Tashmoo Boatyard, remarked that in his 30 years of business, he has never had such a bad year. "It's impossible to run a business," he said.
In the past, he used vacant moorings that belonged to some of his customers, with their permission, to stage boats under repair, he said. With this year's stricter enforcement against use of moorings by anyone other than the permit holder, he has been ticketed.
Although Mr. Baptiste said he needed additional moorings for his repair business, on closer questioning by Ray LaPorte, selectmen chair, he said he also wants to be able to rent out some moorings as part of his business, which he has done in the past.
"It's a different pond than it was 30 years ago," selectman Tristan Israel told him. "There is much more competition, and we can't accommodate everybody. We want to help your business thrive, but the competition for moorings is really intense."
Members of the various factions did agree, however, that moorings were preferable to allowing boats to anchor in Lake Tashmoo. "The 4th of July a mess - huge boats were everywhere - it was like parking in Tisbury," said Mr. Pachico. "There's no easy answer, but we want it to be user-friendly."
One issue that concerned Mr. Israel was the number of boats that tie up together, or raft, on Lake Tashmoo. Mr. Wilbur suggested the possibility of requiring a seasonal anchoring permit. Lynn Fraker, a former TMC member, disagreed, saying she thought it would be "an enforcement nightmare" and that permitting would "make it unfriendly."
The TMC's concern about the adverse effects of anchoring on shellfish beds led to its creation of no-anchor zones, said Melinda Loberg, committee chair. "It worked for awhile, but we are worried about the increase in day-trippers that are anchoring. We don't want to close the lake, but we have to do something to save it from abuse."
Regarding another mooring issue, Mr. Baptiste inquired about how the mooring locations in Tashmoo were assigned. One of his customers, who had a location close to the dock for many years, was relocated to a mooring far out in the harbor and now has to row a great distance to get to her boat. Mr. Israel advised him that anyone who has an issue regarding their mooring location should call the town administrator, and "we'll try to work with everyone as best we can."
Pledging to work further towards amending the regulations, the selectmen tentatively set a date for the next working session with the harbormaster, town administrator, HMC and TMC for November 22.
Steamship Authority issues
Only the press remained during the administrative session that followed. Mr. Pachico, the selectmen's self-appointed SSA port council member, turned the discussion to the issues between the town of Tisbury and the SSA, and criticized the Island's newspapers for continuing to call attention to them. "Things are going the wrong way with the Steamship Authority. We need to sit down with the Steamship Authority and our representative to the Dukes County Commission, and talk," he said.
Referring to the support of Bob Sawyer of Tisbury, a Dukes County commissioner, for the SSA view that embarkation fee money and not SSA revenue should be used to pay for police traffic control, Mr. Pachico said, "I take offense to Mr. Sawyer saying he has regular communications with the
board of selectmen. I think he does a lousy job representing the town of Tisbury. It's time to put our cards on the table."
Mr. Israel said a letter from Rep. Eric Turkington explained how the embarkation money is to be used, and it did not include police details. "Five Corners is not an easy problem. There's no bad intentions - we're just trying to do what's best for the town," he said.
Referring specifically to an editorial published in The Times criticizing the selectmen's handling of Tisbury's summer traffic woes, Mr. Israel said, "Mr. Cabral decided to write an editorial because he didn't have anything else to do - it was probably a slow week."
Mr. LaPorte said that the issues are between the town and the SSA. Pointing to summer traffic congestion caused by quick boat turnarounds, he said, "It is just the nature of the peak season, not a lack of manpower. It is a schedule that is almost unworkable. Police won't speed up traffic when the road is already congested."
He said that he had reached out to SSA management to remind them that they had not addressed their issues, as well as talking to Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, regarding the traffic issues. "I am open to discussion," Mr. LaPorte said.
The selectmen also discussed remarks made by Marc Hanover, SSA island member and board chairman, last month regarding the possibility that the SSA, which now contributes approximately $70,000 to the town to subsidize the Park and Ride shuttle operation, might look to the town to use embarkation fee money for that purpose.
Pointing out that the Park and Ride shuttle benefits the entire Island, Mr. Israel said, "We spent many years to bring the Steamship Authority and the town together. The shuttle benefits the entire Island, in relieving traffic congestion and improving traffic. For the Steamship's board of directors to threaten to cut off the money, the onus will be on the Steamship Authority and the board of governors [sic]. I hope they won't go down that road."
In conclusion, Mr. LaPorte said, "The traffic problem is not caused by the board of selectmen. It is an issue with the Steamship Authority that has to be solved collectively."