Chilmark approves Menemsha Harbor project in divided vote

Voters watched a presentation of the planned dock improvements, before voting to approve them. — Photo by Michelle Williams

After more than an hour of discussion at a special town meeting Monday evening, Chilmark voters approved a project to replace two docks in Menemsha Harbor. The vote was 40-25 in favor.

Voters agreed to replace the 50-foot fixed wooden fuel dock behind Menemsha Texaco, where boaters tie up for fuel. Voters also agreed to replace the 242-foot fixed wooden pier known as the transient dock, behind the breakwater, where boaters tie up for visits of less than two weeks.

That dock will be replaced with a two-part structure. It will be fixed for the first 62 feet and connected to an additional 180 feet of floating docks. A ramp will make the structure accessible for the disabled.

Before the vote, more than a dozen Chilmark voters had something to say about the warrant article.

Chilmark selectman Warren Doty began the discussion with a slide show presentation on the project.

The floating dock “could be concrete, could be plastic, but then would be covered with planking and wooden whales on the side so that the only things visible to the public would be a wooden, floating dock,” Mr. Doty said.

In an effort to allay the concerns of the cash-cautious, he reminded residents that the town wasn’t voting to raise new funding for the project. “It is not a plan that requires any funding from this group, because we have a $629,000 grant from the Massachusetts Seaport Advisory Council for this project,” Mr. Doty said.

Former town treasurer Judy Jardin recommended the town do more to make the harbor self-sufficient and relieve the burden on nonboating taxpayers. She said the town should look at Menemsha harbor as a business, not a public service.

“That dock only services a small number of constituents, but we’re all paying for it with our taxes. I think it’s time to start looking at Menemsha as an enterprise,” she said. “Look at all the revenue sources, look at our expenses and see if we could let the harbor pay for itself, rather than continue to tax all the taxpayers in town, many of whom are not boaters, like me.”

In the weeks prior to the vote, a number of town residents had raised concerns in letters to the editor and public comments that altering the dock from a stationary to a floating platform, possibly with concrete floats, would alter the character of Menemsha harbor.

Chairman of the town finance committee and owner of Menemsha Texaco Marshall Carroll said the changes would alter the character of Menemsha. “I couldn’t sleep at night if I didn’t say something,” he said. “We should repair the docks and keep with the character of the harbor and not replace it with floating docks. We should improve and fix what we already have.”

Based on the terms of the grant from the Massachusetts Seaport Advisory Council, the town is required to spend the money on new projects.

Selectman Bill Rossi said the project adheres to the town’s plans for the harbor: maintaining the character of the harbor and keeping Menemsha as a fishing port. “We’re not adding any new recreational vessels or slips. The number of recreational vessels stays the same and the number of commercial vessels won’t change,” he said.

Chilmark harbormaster Dennis Jason said a the town should rank safety above character. “The things I look for are safety, functionality, and then durability. Somewhere down the list is the aesthetics,” he said.

On average, Mr. Jason said there are 15 accidents per summer ranging from scrapes to broken bones due to the difficulty of getting on and off boats at extreme tides. “Fifty years into the future, I think the floating dock will be a great dock,” Mr. Jason said.

Charter captain and commercial bass fisherman Lev Wlodyka voiced concerns about whether the dock will last for half a century. “I’ve recently been fishing in P-town, and I witnessed a catastrophic failure of a floating concrete dock,” he said. “They lost the entire thing. It was shattered by the storm surge.”

He described floating docks installed on the east side of MacMillian Pier of Provincetown that had been damaged by storms since being installed nine years ago. “Our harbor is not as open as theirs, but I’d like to make sure we’re not setting ourselves up for something that could happen, a major hurricane or something,” he said.

Mr. Jason reiterated that he felt the plans are safe.

Andy Goldman, chairman of the community preservation committee, owns a boat that he maintains in a harbor slip. He said he and his wife have trouble boarding their boat due to the tide, as do other boaters. “This is a change that will help those that use the harbor — boaters,” he said.

In other business, after approximately 85 minutes spent debating the first article on a two-article special town meeting warrant, voters acted swiftly. In under a minute, they unanimously approved $75,000 to fund the Chilmark housing year-round rental conversion program.

The money will be used for a program that seeks to create more year-round housing by subsidizing property owners who agree to rent year round rather than seasonally.