CHATHAM – With the dispute over the western boundary of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge still unresolved, selectmen voted Tuesday to support continued funding of the fight for another year.
Money put in place a few years back to fund a consultant to represent the town's interests in Washington, D.C. will run out in June, Director of Health and Natural Resources Dr. Robert Duncanson said. An infusion of another $120,000 to continue the effort will be sought at the May 8 annual town meeting.
Jeff Pike of Pike Associates has been “very effective in making our case through various Congressional entities as well as others in D.C.,” Duncanson told the board. “But the process is not finished.”
The Monomoy Refuge comprehensive conservation plan approved last March extended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's management jurisdiction over more than 3,000 acres of open water and sub-tidal areas west of the refuge, an area previously managed by the town and state. While the federal agency said most fishing and other activities within that area could continue, local officials objected, fearing that historic fisheries could be shut down at any time.
The town prevailed upon Congressman William Keating to file legislation that would essentially set the western boundary at low tide, but the legislation expired with the last Congress; officials recently asked Keating to refile the bill in the new Congressional session, but that hasn't happened yet.
With the new administration in Washington, an administrative or regulatory resolution to the dispute may be possible, observed Selectman Dean Nicastro. Duncanson said the article is worded broadly enough so that the funds could be used to further that effort, as well as to pursue litigation if that becomes necessary. Attorney General Maura Healey has already put the Fish and Wildlife Service on notice that the state will file suit to resolve the boundary dispute if necessary.
“We knew when we started this that it wasn't going to happen quickly,” said Selectman Seth Taylor, “that it would take a certain commitment to sustain ourselves going forward.”
The board voted unanimously to both place the article on the annual warrant and support its passage. The $120,000 will be appropriated from free cash, and would fund Pike for another year or so, Duncanson said.