Which is better — conventional or new-tech moorings with conservation benefits — for Vineyard Haven Harbor and other town anchorages? The debate continues in Tisbury, as selectmen, the harbormaster, and members of the harbor management committee and its subcommittee mull the pros and cons.
Jay Wilbur, former Tisbury harbormaster, has begun a private mooring business. He promotes conservation moorings, which function in an elastic fashion that can conserve space. Mr. Wilbur, in a conversation with The Times Tuesday, said he began selling elastic moorings about nine months ago as an independent contractor; but, as the former harbormaster, he’s been using conservation moorings for more than 15 years. When he retired, he thought it would be a good business venture, because he was drawn to the product’s environmental benefits.
“It very quickly became more of a crusade than a business, because of the environmental aspects,” Mr. Wilbur said.
A crusade in Tisbury waters
Conservation moorings differ extensively from conventional moorings. Instead of chain connecting a block of cement or mushroom anchor that sits on the harbor bottom to a floating mooring buoy, the conservation moorings have an elastic cord made up of a mix of rubber, plastic, and polyester woven together. Because the cord is connected to the anchor by a buoy that floats beneath the surface of the water, the mooring line does not drag along the seafloor, as a chain, which is customarily much longer than the cord, does.
For Lagoon Pond, Lake Tashmoo, and Vineyard Haven Harbor, the benefit of conservation moorings is the preservation of eelgrass — a vital part of the seabed. Eelgrass is important habitat for juvenile scallops, fish, and all manner of sea life, and is an indicator of water quality. It is doing poorly or disappearing altogether in some Tisbury waters.
“I believe it’s nearly criminal for us to continue to use these conventional moorings, when there is a very viable alternative,” Mr. Wilbur said.
In addition to the environmental benefits, he said the moorings in the long run cost less, and require “drastically reduced maintenance.”
Mr. Wilbur sells Storm Soft elastic moorings, which cost from $1,000, including the installation, and about $100 annually to maintain. It costs about $900 to maintain a conventional mooring annually, according to Mr. Wilbur. Another big difference in the maintenance of the moorings is that elastic moorings require only a diver to inspect and maintain them.
The lifespan of a conventional mooring is roughly five to seven years, according to Mr. Wilbur. An elastic mooring, he said, could last as long as 20 years. He estimated that the town owns about 20 elastic moorings, and there are another 50 privately owned in Tisbury waters.
John Crocker, Tisbury harbormaster, told The Times last week that there are currently no regulations that require conservation moorings, but that the harbor management subcommittee is in the process of drafting regulations for them — where they want them and don’t want them, and specifics regarding the mooring tackle.
“The subcommittee is in the process of working through that,” Mr. Crocker said. “Once that gets done, they’ll be brought to the board of selectmen and there would be a public hearing.” During the Tisbury selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, Mr. Crocker updated selectmen on the state of the subcommittee’s deliberations.
“My recollection is that the only thing that we do have in our regulations pertaining to these moorings is that they be inspected annually,” Melinda Loberg, selectmen chairman. said.
“That is correct,” Mr. Crocker replied.
Ms. Loberg said the concern is that conservation moorings lacked a “track record,” and she asked Mr. Crocker what his experience was with ones currently in the water. “Have there been any failures?” she asked.
“There haven’t been any catastrophic failures, if that’s the question that you’re asking, that I’m aware of,” Mr. Crocker said.
Parts of the elastic moorings wear out, according to Mr. Crocker. The town bought specialized shackles for the moorings last spring, and has had to replace them. Divers that inspected them saw most of the wear in the shackles, which was a concern the subcommittee had.
The subcommittee, Mr. Crocker estimated, will draft regulations for the elastic cords to be removed from the water for inspection, because the members believe the moorings haven’t been sufficiently inspected in the past.
In a recent conversation with The Times, Jim Lobdell, chairman of the Tisbury harbor management committee, said 98 percent of moorings on the Vineyard are chain moorings, and that the inspections and regulations for them are “extremely thorough.”
But because there are different kinds of conservation moorings, Tisbury has no specifications for what kinds may be used where, or standards to inspect them. He said the subcommittee is studying what’s out there, and what’s best suited for Tisbury waters.
“I wouldn’t buy one right now, if I didn’t know I could use it,” Mr. Lobdell said.
There is no interest, he said, in any of the types of conservation moorings in the inner harbor in Vineyard Haven, because there isn’t enough data on them that would guarantee they are adequate in handling storms. In the harbor, they are confident in chain moorings.
“We do want to protect the eelgrass, and we are in support of [conservation moorings], but we have to make sure it’s the right thing,” Mr. Lobdell said.
As yet, “we don’t have one to require,” Mr. Lobdell said.