Rebuilding Coast Guard boathouse at least two years away


Chilmark selectmen learned Tuesday evening that construction of a new Station Menemsha boathouse is not likely to begin until the summer of 2012. In a divided vote, selectmen also agreed to provide space on the harbor bulkhead for the Coast Guard’s heavy weather 47-foot motor lifeboat, displaced by the July 12 fire.

In a briefing to Chilmark selectmen, Commander Will Smith of Civil Engineering Unit Providence explained the delay. He said funds for reconstruction of the historic building must come from a special pool of money allocated by Congress.

“The fiscal year 2011 budget is already finalized,” Mr. Smith said. “That train has left the station. Assuming all the stars align and everything works well and we get funding allocated by Congress, the earliest you would likely see construction begin on a new boathouse is July or August of 2012. Construction would take 18 months.”

A fire on July 12 destroyed the familiar, red roofed structure, several boats, and heavily damaged the harbor pier infrastructure.

Selectmen were disappointed with the long time frame and concerned the construction schedule would interfere with the summer tourist season. They also requested a public hearing on the Island so local residents could have a say in the design and building of a new structure to replace the historic boathouse.

Commander Smith said the Coast Guard would follow exactly the process set out by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which is based in Boston. The commission identifies, evaluates, and protects important historical and archaeological assets.

“The federal government is obligated to reach out and have public involvement, which we do routinely,” Mr. Smith said. “We’ll send them our proposed scope of work, plans, and there will be a comment period. Local conservation commissions can forward a request to review those plans. All comments we receive back will be considered.”

“Here in Chilmark, we feel as if we live a long way away from Boston,” selectman chairman Warren Doty said. “We would like to have a local meeting concerning something as important as this. We would like to make that request today.”

Fire investigation

Also Tuesday, Robert Ditolla, a special agent for the Coast Guard Investigative Service, said the joint investigation into the cause of the fire is still underway. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco, the lead investigative agency, is working with the state fire marshal and State Police to determine the cause.

“We understand the community is anxious to get answers about the fire,” Mr. Ditolla said. “However, in order to ensure the integrity of the investigation, it may not be discussed while it is ongoing.”

Mr. Doty and selectman Jonathan Mayhew, a commercial fisherman, have been critical of the pace of the investigation and expressed their displeasure again Tuesday. In particular, Mr. Mayhew has said that investigators failed to speak with possible witnesses who might add to the investigation.

Captain Verne Gifford, commander of Coast Guard sector southeast New England, said there has been a delay because investigators are now tracking down interviews with people Mr. Mayhew suggested should be interviewed.

“We received names only days ago,” Mr. Gifford said. “We’re interviewing everyone who gives us a name.”

“With all due respect, you had a chance to interview those people for six weeks,” Mr. Mayhew said.

“I can’t speak to why they weren’t interviewed, I can only tell you they are being interviewed,” Mr. Gifford said.

New lease

Following the fire, the Coast Guard temporarily moved Station Menemsha’s hard won 47-foot motor lifeboat to Woods Hole. Though the Coast Guard’s floating docks where the boat was berthed in Menemsha were not damaged, walkway access to the docks was destroyed. The Coast Guard is working to restore access to the docks.

The Coast Guard asked for a lease to berth the all weather search and rescue vessel near the fuel dock directly in front of the harbormaster’s shack. To do so, several large commercial fishing boats berthed on that side of the harbor would have to be repositioned, harbormaster Dennis Jason told selectmen.

“There’s no doubt about it, we’re going to have to tighten up,” Mr. Jason said.

“Tighten up?” said Mr. Mayhew, a commercial fisherman who owns one of the large boats currently berthed there. “We’re going to have to make a new harbor at this rate.”

Executive secretary Tim Carroll told The Times the commercial fishing boats now berthed in Menemsha pay no dockage fees, and two of the large vessels are currently not actively fishing.

Commercial fisherman Steve Broderick was sharply critical of the lease. “You’re going to take away a hunk of our dock, and we don’t have enough already,” Mr. Broderick said. “Our Coast Guard has changed, and we have to be careful what we give them.”

The lease was approved by a 2-1 vote. Mr. Doty and selectmen Frank Fenner voted yes, Mr. Mayhew no.

Under the terms of the lease, which expires May 20, 2011, the Coast Guard will pay $1 a month plus $200 a month for electricity and pay for the cost to install a high capacity plug, approximately $1,600.

In other business, selectmen approved a 10-article special town meeting warrant for September 27, when they will ask voters to borrow or appropriate more than $1.7 million dollars related to the costs of rebuilding the town piers and responding to the fire.