Slip, mooring deadline extended in Chilmark
Chilmark selectmen voted Tuesday to extend the Jan. 15 deadline for renewal of slips, moorings, and waiting list spots to Feb. 15. The action means those who failed to return applications on time will not forfeit their boat space or their spots on waiting lists if they meet the deadline. It also means those slips and moorings will not be assigned to people on waiting lists, including some who have waited more than a decade.
Selectmen Frank Fenner Jr. and Warren Doty voted for the extension, while J.B. Riggs Parker opposed the measure. The regulation change represents a clash of philosophy among elected officials. Mr. Fenner initiated the extension, advocating a forgiving approach, while Mr. Parker argued forcefully for a strict approach that eliminates any hint of favoritism.
"I believe there is room in our regulations to clarify them," said Mr. Fenner. "Make them a little more friendly. It's fair to take and extend it. They may have been on that list for a long time. I feel that it's little enough that the town can do to make a courtesy phone call." He also noted that he has two children on waiting lists.
"If you leave this the way it is, both of my children will end up with moorings," said Mr. Fenner. "I think that's wrong."
"This will apply retroactively to all the people on the waiting list," said Mr. Parker, "who did their job right, and they didn't move up or they didn't get the mooring. I don't think that's right. That's not the American way. It's not good government. It destroys the integrity of government. Frankly, I think it's like my favorite team, the Pats, asking for four more downs because they couldn't win the Super Bowl before the clock ran out."
The extension applies only to 2008, though later this spring, selectmen are expected to consider a permanent change to the harbor regulations that would allow a grace period and an additional payment for those who miss the deadline.
An overflow crowd packed the public hearing held in the selectmen's meeting room at Chilmark town hall. Public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of the extension. Only harbormaster Dennis Jason and harbor department administrative assistant Virginia Jones spoke against the extension during the public hearing.
"You can't put a safety net under everybody," said Mr. Jason. "The regulations were working, and we were making it work. Where we got in trouble was the selectmen decided to try to fix something that wasn't broken."
In a memo to the board, Mr. Jason called the timing of the extension unfortunate, considering the litigation against the town by Paul DeJesus, a boat owner who has filed a lawsuit charging discrimination in the assignment of slip space for transient vessels.
"The proposal," wrote Mr. Jason, "does all those folks who have followed the rules, complied with the instructions, and acted in a timely fashion a profound disservice."
There are other legal issues in question. Mr. Parker, an experienced attorney, raised the possibility that the extension violates a state statute mandating fair and equitable distribution of moorings and slip space in public waters.
Mr. Jason said he was surprised when Mr. Fenner presented a written motion and a provisional modification of the harbor regulations, composed by town counsel. He said he had not seen the documents until the public hearing.
Among those arguing for the extension was Jonathan Mayhew, a former selectman who holds leases for 25 moorings that he operates as a commercial mooring rental business. Mr. Mayhew said he missed the Jan. 15 deadline by one day.
"The mooring issue has been going on ever since you've done this drop-dead deadline without any grace period or recourse," said Mr. Mayhew. "You really haven't solved the issue, unless you have a program in place that allows people to screw up a little bit, and get a warning, and they have a timeframe to do it. You should have addressed this before. We shouldn't be here tonight."
Mr. Doty ended the matter on a lighter note. Sitting as chairman between the two selectmen with strong and vocal positions on the issue, he was the deciding vote.
"I used to think that the worst thing that ever happened to me as a selectman," said Mr. Doty, "was when I had to sit in front of a dog hearing. I've now changed my mind. We have a new worst scenario."