One of the most important pieces of unfinished business now before the town of Chatham is the disposition of the western boundary of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Legislation currently before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources aims to set the boundary at low water, where it has historically been understood to be. In its comprehensive conservation plan for the refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claimed its jurisdiction extended to the so-called administrative boundary of the refuge, encompassing some 3,000 to 4,000 acres of Nantucket Sound, which is now subject to control by the federal agency which has never before regulated activities in that area. Town officials hope the bill will win approval and settle the issue once and for all. That's far from a sure thing, however, meaning that options such as continued negotiations toward an administrative solution and even litigation remain on the table.
It's a complex issue with a lot of nuances, and given the current tenor in Washington, D.C. there's no way to handicap the changes of any of the options. At last week's annual town meeting, voters agreed to appropriate $120,000 to continue funding a representative in the Capital to argue the town's case. That money is going to be needed as Chatham tries to keep the matter on track and fight off attempts to kill it by environmental groups as well as add-ons to the legislation that could kill its chances before the full House.
The board of selectmen's lead on the issue, Seth Taylor, lost his bid for another term in last week's town election. Taylor had done a considerable amount of research and acquired a wealth of knowledge on the subject, a resource it would be a shame to loose. For the good of the town, the selectmen should keep their former colleague involved in the process, perhaps by appointing a formal task force – composed of Taylor, Selectman Jeffrey Dykens – who has also been knee-deep in the Monomoy issue – Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson and perhaps one other resident or staff member to spearhead the fight. That would provide a way to focus on the fight that best utilizes the town's resources while not relying on a busy board of selectmen to shoulder the full burden.