Chilmark selectmen re-ponder mooring rules
The Chilmark selectmen have scheduled a public hearing for Feb. 5, to discuss extending the slip and mooring lease deadline outlined in the town's waterways rules and regulations.
According to harbormaster Dennis Jason, more than 40 current mooring or slip holders missed the January 15 deadline for renewal of the lease and payment, or missed the deadline to renew their spot on a waiting list. Usually, 10 or fewer leases are not renewed each year, and those leases are awarded to people on a waiting list for slips or moorings.
"We're considering extending the deadline, a grace period of 30 days," said board chairman Warren Doty. He would not reveal his position on extending the deadline.
Mr. Doty was asked by a Times reporter whether it is unfair to people on waiting lists to extend the deadline for those who did not renew their leases on time. "I think that's possible, that's what we're going to discuss," he said. "I'm going to wait until I hear what people have to say."
Selectmen J.B. Riggs Parker left no ambiguity about his position on the matter.
"I feel the people on the waiting list have just as much right to be protected as the people who have moorings," said Mr. Parker. "Many have waited for a long time to have an opportunity."
An exchange of e-mails among the selectmen illustrates the philosophical differences underlying allocation of the scarce town resource.
In an e-mail, Frank Fenner Jr., the selectman who is now the liaison to the town's mooring assignment committee, wrote that discussions have been under way since July within that committee about revisions to the waterway regulations.
Mr. Fenner wrote that he believes it is the responsibility of the harbormaster to review and recommend changes. That did not happen before the renewal notices went out in November.
"This is just something that's in its infancy at this point," said Mr. Fenner in a phone interview yesterday. "It's not something that we're pitting one against the other. I certainly don't want to pit the harbormaster, that he's doing anything wrong. I just had hoped that he would take the lead in doing the regulation changes. We're just trying to do a review of regulations."
Another difference of opinion is the level of follow-up the harbormaster should do, for those who fail to renew their leases or spot on waiting lists. "I think these people are owed the courtesy of a phone call," said Mr. Fenner.
In a reply to Mr. Fenner's e-mail, Mr. Parker said he is open to review of the regulations, but does not believe the rules should be changed after the fact. "The problem some have with it is that it is too clear," he wrote. "There is no discretion or wiggle room or provision for special treatment. I consider that the strength."
Mr. Parker also said phoning those who did not respond to notices is an unjustifiable and unnecessary taxpayer expense.
Year to year
Slip and mooring renewals were the subject of an emotional and sometimes acrimonious meeting last year, when an exception was granted to Robin Smith. Ms. Smith has held a mooring for the past 21 years, but missed the 2007 deadline for renewal. Mr. Fenner and Mr. Doty voted to grant the exception, while Mr. Parker was the lone dissenting vote. The vote to depart from the harbor policy prompted Mr. Jason to walk out of the meeting, and Mr. Parker to resign his duties as board liaison to the mooring assignment committee.
Mr. Jason is puzzled about the unusually large number of people who failed to return slip and mooring lease renewals. The notices go out in November, with bold envelopes and prominent warnings about the time-sensitive material inside.
"I feel as if the department was doing what we were mandated to do by the selectmen and the state," said Mr. Jason. "We do a pretty good job, the department bends over backwards. It's a letter, as well as the envelope is marked urgent material inside. It tells them what they have to do, and when they have to do it." The notices are mailed in time so that people have two months to reply.
As of Nov. 29, 2007, the published waiting list for a slip on West Dock included 17 people, waiting for 14 assigned slips. There are 18 people on the Float Dock waiting list, waiting for 17 spaces. On those two lists, 11 people have been waiting 10 years or more.
There are approximately 150 moorings currently assigned, according to the published lists, with 60 people on the waiting list.
Those on the waiting lists must renew their spot each year, or give up their spot in line for the next available mooring or slip, in the same way that those who already have boat space must renew their leases.
Several people on those lists refused to comment for the record when called by a Times reporter. Some said they did not want to take advantage of those who missed the deadline. Others accepted the long wait as a fact of life in a town where boat space is extremely limited. Still others were reluctant to speak because they feared offending local political figures, in a town where the social pecking order is precarious, and a slight offense can be remembered for decades.