Yacht owner sues Chilmark for Menemsha dockage
Unable to secure a long-term summer slip for his 70-foot Hatteras yacht, a long-time Menemsha Harbor transient boat visitor has gone to court. Paul DeJesus of Reading filed a lawsuit dated Jan. 9 in Middlesex Superior Court. Named as defendants are the town of Chilmark and Riggs Parker of North Road. Mr. Parker, who has played a lead role in drafting new harbor regulations and pushing for consistent enforcement, was named both individually and in his official capacity as a town selectman.
The heart of the lawsuit is the application of harbor regulations governing the length of time visiting boaters may remain at a slip in the highly desirable harbor.
In recent years selectmen have expressed concern about how a profusion of large yachts could change the working character of Menemsha Harbor. Following a series of public hearings in 2005, the town strengthened regulations adopted in 1996 that limit tie-ups for transient boats to 14 days between July 1 and Labor Day, adding language that stipulated that boaters must leave for one week before they can request dockage again. The town also limited the size of boats to 75 feet.
Several boats that had docked in the harbor for four years prior to 1994 were exempted from the new regulations under a grandfather clause.
The 18-page complaint, filed by David Kelston of the Boston law firm of Adkins, Kelston and Zavez, says that until last summer Mr. DeJesus, a harbor visitor since the summer of 1987, experienced no difficulty docking his boat in the harbor each year, typically for the last two weeks in July and first two weeks in August.
This summer Mr. DeJesus was not allowed to stay beyond the 14-day limit. The lawsuit claims that the town breached an agreement to allow Mr. DeJesus to remain in the harbor for four weeks; and by their "threats, intimidation and coercion" interfered with his rights "entitling him to injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and his attorneys' fees and costs."
A copy of the lawsuit, which was sent to Ron Rappaport, town attorney, was accompanied by a cover letter from Mr. DeJesus's lawyers in which they offered to urge their client to enter into settlement discussions to end the litigation in exchange for grandfather rights for their client's boat.
In a prepared statement read at the Tuesday night selectmen's meeting, Mr. Parker said, "The suit addresses the same issues he raised last summer in a selectman's meeting, all of which were considered at the time by town counsel and found not to have merit. Since this is now in litigation, the selectmen and I will have no further comment."
Reached yesterday, Mr. Parker referenced his public comments made at a meeting this summer when he was the focus of an orchestrated campaign by James Zisson of West Palm Beach, Fla., another boater angered by the enforcement of harbor regulations, when Mr. Parker said Menemsha is a jewel that was at risk from "giant mega-palaces." He referred all questions to Mr. Rappaport.
Yesterday, Mr. Rappaport told The Times, "These are the same issues that we looked at last summer when the issue came up and we found at that time that the regulations were proper and administered in an even-handed fashion."
He added, "There is nothing in the complaint that would cause me to rethink the position that we took then."
Mr. Rappaport, who represents four other Island towns, said that it was unusual for a selectman to be singled out in a lawsuit. He said the harbor regulations were adopted at a public meeting and all three selectmen support a policy to move away from grandfathering large boats to make the harbor more accessible to small boat users.
Mr. Rappaport said the next step would be to file a response. Mr. Kelston could not be reached for comment.