Chilmark demurs on Tea Lane tenant, gets dock funds

During a busy but fast-moving meeting Tuesday, Chilmark selectmen approved the start date for the scallop shellfish season, received an update on plans to rebuild the West Dock, and began the process of appointing several committees to oversee renovations to the Tea Lane farmhouse.

With selectman Frank Fenner absent, selectmen Warren Doty and Jonathan Mayhew voted 2-0 to open the commercial bay scallop season on November 1, on the recommendation of the shellfish committee and shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer.

Commercial fishermen will be allowed a daily limit of two bushels. Selectmen also agreed to prohibit shellfishing in a small area to protect seed flats. Mr. Scheffer said he was optimistic about the upcoming bay scallop season.

“It seems like there are a little bit everywhere. That will be the key to the season,” he said.

Selectmen received an update from executive secretary Tim Carroll on plans to rebuild the West Dock car-way that was destroyed during the Menemsha fire in July. Mr. Carroll said engineer Kent Healy sent plans to the state and U.S. Coast Guard.

“They reviewed the plans and said it looked good, he said,” Mr. Carroll reported.

Mr. Carroll said the engineer and draftsman are now working on bid specifications for the project, with an eye toward putting out a request for proposals (RFP) sometime next month. If everything goes to plan, he said, selectmen could award the contract to rebuild the dock in early December.

He said the project is still on schedule for the dock to be completed by May 1, which does not include electricity, which is slated to be installed in the months after the dock’s completion. “That’s as long as the Corps of Engineers doesn’t throw any red flags on the field,” Mr. Carroll said.

Mr. Doty also had good news. He announced that the Seaport Advisory Council, which is made up of cabinet secretaries, agency heads, and mayors from seaport communities, and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, agreed to give the town $200,000 to help fund repairs to the West Dock.

A contingent of town and state officials, including all three selectmen and Cape and Islands Rep. Tim Madden, appeared before the council at its regular meeting in Fairhaven two weeks ago and successfully lobbied for the money.

Mr. Doty said the town will ask the council for more funds after January 1, hoping to underwrite all the cost of rebuilding the dock.

Selectmen also heard an update from Mr. Carroll on plans to renovate and repair the Tea Lane Farmhouse at the corner of Tea Lane and Middle Road.

Mr. Carroll asked selectmen to place an ad seeking candidates to serve on two committees, one to draft a plan for the renovation to the farmhouse itself, and another to work on plans for the approximately 50 acres of farmlands surrounding it.

Selectmen voted to start the process of soliciting candidates, but they were not so quick to approve another request from Mr. Carroll to place an ad in the newspaper seeking tenants to temporarily live in the farmhouse while officials hashed out the plans for the farmhouse and farm.

Mr. Carroll suggested renting the farmhouse from Nov. 3 through Sept. 30 of next year. He suggested advertising the house for $300 or $400 a month, with a stipulation it be rented in “as-is” condition.

Having the farmhouse occupied would create fewer problems with maintenance, while the tenant might be willing to do some repairs in exchange for living there at such an affordable rent, Mr. Carroll said.

“If the property is in use, we don’t have to worry about it, really, as far as sitting vacant,” he said. “And there are a number of people who have expressed interest in doing repairs.”

Selectmen were not necessarily opposed to renting to a tenant, but were reluctant to make a decision without all board members present. “We never discussed with Frank [Fenner] having a tenant there this winter, and in fairness to him he was not expecting us to discuss that tonight,” Mr. Doty said.

Police Chief Brian Cioffi, who was also a member of the now-defunct Tea Lane Farm committee, expressed some reservations about bringing in a tenant.

“I think the farm committee was pretty clear when we made our decision. We wanted to make sure the house was up to par for people to live in. Not that it’s completely unlivable now, but it does need some help. It needs more than a Band-Aid,” Mr. Cioffi said.

Selectmen tabled the tenant discussion until their next meeting.