Chilmark trims shellfish constable's hours
In a continuing reorganization of the town shellfish department, the Chilmark selectmen Tuesday night voted to reduce the work schedule of shellfish constable Stanley Larsen.
Mr. Larsen, who has been the town shellfish constable for the past 20 years, was unhappy about the change and claimed he was being singled out, at least in part, to eliminate the cost of his town-supplied insurance benefits and because he is a political opponent of the Middle Line Road affordable housing proposal, which the selectmen are overseeing. The selectmen said neither allegation is true.
The selectmen cut Mr. Larsen's position from 20 hours to 14 hours a week, or two hours a day. As a result Mr. Larsen will no longer be eligible to receive insurance benefits as a town employee.
When Mr. Larsen asked what prompted the cut, the selectmen said the main reasons were reduced numbers of people shellfishing and the reorganization of the shellfish department with the recent hiring of a new shellfish propagation agent, who took over part of Mr. Larsen's duties.
Warren Doty, chairman of the selectmen, said the amount of shellfishing does not justify 20 hours for the constable. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of activity," selectman Frank Fenner added.
"There is a good body of shellfish," Mr. Larsen countered. He said the scalloping season was strong last year and was extended this year. Next year should be even bigger because of the propagation efforts, he said.
"You're not aware of what's going on there," Mr. Larsen told the selectmen. "I feel this is being done indiscriminately."
He also questioned whether the reduction in hours was for the purpose of eliminating his benefits. "Isn't this the bottom line?" he asked. "It's come down to this. I'm going to be railroaded out of my benefits."
Selectman Riggs Parker took offense at the comment and responded, "I don't have any interest in changing your benefits. The benefits come from state law." He also agreed with the other selectmen regarding the reduction of hours.
Speaking on Mr. Larsen's behalf, John Larsen told the selectmen he understood from the spring town meeting vote that Stanley Larsen was going to be the propagation agent's helper. The shellfish constable said that was also his understanding.
"We wanted to emphasize the propagation aspect and not have him being involved with other issues," Mr. Doty answered John Larsen. He said the town is putting more effort than ever into supporting shellfishing with the new department, but that the effort warranted dividing the duties. Previously, Mr. Larsen was the only shellfish official.
In addition to approving the shellfish propagation officer at a salary of $50,306, the annual town meeting approved $15,000 to fund the first year of a five-year shellfish restoration plan for both commercial and recreational fishing.
Stanley Larsen said Wednesday the changes in the shellfish program are costing the taxpayers more, including himself as a Chilmark taxpayer. He also said he was being singled out because he has spoken out against the way the Middle Line Road affordable housing project was developed. He explained Wednesday that he does not agree with methods used to develop the project, such as taking the land by eminent domain and building on the town's largest aquifer.
The selectmen will send the constable's new job description to the personnel board.
In another shellfishing matter, the selectmen approved the transfer of John Larsen's aquaculture grant to Donald Poole. Mr. Larsen said he no longer has the time to devote to the project and wants to put his time into lobstering.
"I don't see it working for me. I don't want it to fail," he said in making the request to keep the grant going. The grant provides a one-quarter acre space for shellfish seeding in Menemsha Pond.
Mr. Poole said he would be happy to get back to the grant, which was initially in his name for a year before he transferred it to Mr. Larsen. The selectmen asked that the two men work together for a while so the permits don't lapse.
The selectmen also approved developing two more aquaculture grants in Menemsha Pond.
In other business, Mr. Fenner described a meeting he had with a commercial communications company and the Coast Guard about the possibility of increasing the height of the Peaked Hill communications tower from its current 35 feet to 100 feet. The tower would be one of several along the East and West coasts to provide a seamless communications system to improve homeland security, Mr. Fenner said.
The present tower on Peaked Hill does not have the range to get to the next tower, which is in Connecticut, he said. The Coast Guard has contracted with Grain Communications of Sarasota, Fla., to build the towers.
The town currently owns the tower, which the Coast Guard uses for its own communications, and also provides communication for the police departments. The higher tower could reduce the emergency departments' response time, Mr. Fenner said.
The Coast Guard, seafarers, and homeland security would be the primary users for the tower, Mr. Fenner said, with cell phone potential a secondary use, along with other possible commercial uses suggested by Grain. An antenna at the top of the tower could be used for radio communications, he said.
The other selectmen were cautious about the proposal. Mr. Doty said the hill originally had a conservation restriction for its scenic value, but a waiver to install the tower was granted for town safety after a serious boating accident. "The difference between a 35-foot tower and a 100-foot tower is significant," he said.
Mr. Parker suggested the selectmen talk to Grain about the potential uses of the taller tower, and then bring the issue to a public meeting. "We need to know what flexibility it has," he said.
Executive secretary Timothy Carroll said Grain is looking for a response from the selectmen, so they agreed to review information packets and discuss the proposal at a July 24 meeting.
Mary Boyd of the tri-town ambulance committee reported on some changes in the ambulance service. Mutual aid from both West Tisbury and Edgartown will now be dispatched simultaneously for the airport parcel that overlaps both towns, she said. The all-Island paramedic response also has been replaced with separate west and east side paramedics to provide faster response for Chilmark, Aquinnah, and West Tisbury.
Ms. Boyd also answered Mr. Doty's concerns from phone calls he has received about possible decreased use of volunteers in the ambulance service. "The volunteers will always be the base of any EMT system," she said. She then explained the difference between the duties of full-time, paid EMTs and volunteer EMTs, who are paid a stipend for being on duty mostly at night. She also said she doesn't expect the ambulance service will ever go to full-time, 24/7 paid staff. Ms. Boyd was re-appointed to the committee.
The selectmen also approved a temporary assistant, Virginia Jones, for the personnel board and allotted three hours a week for the job. The board requested only four to six hours a month for someone to take minutes at the meetings, because Chuck Hodgkinson no longer has time for the task. Mr. Carroll said the money allotted for that position could be transferred from the selectmen's budget.