IG rule may apply to moorings here
A recent opinion issued by the state Office of the Inspector General, finding that the way Chatham issues moorings violates state law, could have an effect on Island harbors.
The opportunity to moor a boat in state waters is a public access right, and by allowing boat owners to bypass Chatham's wait for a mooring, which can be as long as 10 years, by paying higher fees to private marinas for an immediate opening, violates state law, the inspector general opined. The opinion came after an investigation conducted by Inspector General Gregory Sullivan in December. A letter setting out that opinion was sent to the Chatham selectmen, advising them to reconfigure their mooring system so the harbormaster controls all of the town's moorings.
Jack McCarthy, a spokesperson for the inspector general, said while his office has no authority to enforce the law, the opinion is far-reaching.
Awarding mooring permits fairly is the object.
"We looked at the way moorings are supposed to be distributed - and they're supposed to be distributed in a fair way - and that applies to every municipality," Mr. McCarthy said in a recent telephone conversation.
The investigations in Chatham, and a similar one in Harwich in 2003, were initiated after individual citizens complained about the unfair system.
"Not everything we do is because someone filed a complaint," Mr. McCarthy added. "Certainly we respond to every complaint, but we look around for things that may need some oversight."
Island moorings are located in Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Chilmark, and Aquinnah and each town has a different way of allocating them to boaters.
At least 200 moorings in Tisbury are set aside for commercial entities. These moorings are permitted to private marinas for $150 per mooring in the inner harbor, and $75 at other locations. Marinas then have control over those moorings and can rent them to private boaters, thus creating a separate waiting list not regulated by the harbormaster's department.
Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur said the wait for a town mooring is between two and five years in Vineyard Haven harbor, but if you bought a boat from a private boatyard they would likely try to accommodate you with a mooring immediately.
Chilmark has 150 moorings that are controlled by the town, save for two private citizens who each control a block of 15, according to harbormaster Dennis Jason. Jonathon Mayhew and Lynn C. Murphy have each controlled 15 moorings privately for over 30 years, Mr. Jason estimated. They pay the standard $100 permit fee to the town, and have control over each mooring.
"I've been keeping an eye on what they charge and they're reasonable," Mr. Jason said. "As soon as I feel that someone is being unreasonable I guess I would probably see if we can get the mooring committee together to get some kind of standard. But currently they seem reasonable."
Alexander Preston, Chilmark selectman Riggs Parker, and Mr. Jason make up the mooring assignment committee in Chilmark. Currently the waiting list for a mooring in that town is four to five years, Mr. Jason said.
In Edgartown, harbormaster Charlie Blair said all 900 moorings, which are peppered throughout the harbor, Sengekontacket and Eel ponds and Cape Poge and Katama bays, are controlled and issued by the town. Anyone looking for a mooring permit adds their name to the bottom of the 20-year waiting list, Mr. Blair said, explaining the process.
Edgartown took control of the moorings from the now defunct Edgartown Marine about 14 years ago, after a lawsuit. Today, there are no private marinas in Edgartown.
Oak Bluffs harbormaster Todd Alexander said the town controls all 300 moorings that are scattered throughout the harbor, off East Chop, and in Sengekontacket and Lagoon ponds. A single waiting list for the various moorings is kept by the harbormaster.
An investigation in Harwich in 2003 by the inspector general resulted in a reconfiguration of that town's mooring system. Chatham town officials asked their waterways committee last week to create a set of written regulations outlining how moorings are assigned.
The investigation in Chatham was initiated after a citizen complained that the permitting system was unfair. Two private boatyards were targeted in the investigation, and undercover investigators from the Inspector General's office were told that if they purchased a $46,000 boat, they could avoid the town's six-year wait for a mooring and have one at the boatyard immediately. The inspector general determined this practice to be inequitable and against state law.
"The town of Chatham, through its harbormaster, should take all necessary and appropriate steps to assert control over all new and vacant mooring spaces in town waters that are currently controlled by private entities," the Inspector General's letter to Chatham selectmen reads. "From this point forward, private entities should no longer be permitted to decide who is assigned to moorings under their control. All such assignments should be made by the Harbormaster from a written waiting list in a fair and equitable manner."