Town Seeks Public Support In Refuge Dispute

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Monomoy Refuge CCP , Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge

The Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM In a statement released Tuesday, town officials asked the public to send letters to Gov. Charlie Baker and to key lawmakers expressing support for a bill that would negate the proposed expansion of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge boundary.

“With the recent change in make-up of the board of selectmen, the board's subcommittee managing the town's campaign is Selectman Jeffrey Dykens and Selectman Shareen Davis,” Town Manager Jill Goldsmith wrote. “Working with the town manager, staff and our consultant in Washington, they will be deeply involved in putting forth a concerted effort to remedy this wrong.”

In the refuge's comprehensive conservation plan, federal officials asserted jurisdiction over 4,000 acres of submerged lands to the west of Monomoy Island, including prime shellfishing and fishing grounds. Town officials call that boundary change illegal and arbitrary.

On April 5, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing on H.R. 1157, a bill by Mass. Rep. Bill Keating which would restore the historic western boundary of the refuge.

“Unfortunately, two weeks before the hearing, seven Massachusetts-based environmental organizations sent a letter to the Massachusetts congressional delegation opposing the legislation, calling it a 'threat to public lands,'” the town's statement reads. That letter urged Keating to withdraw his bill and suggested that the town and the Fish and Wildlife Service reach a compromise, “something FWS has not been willing to do,” Goldsmith wrote. Saying that letter was filled with falsehoods, selectmen responded with a letter of their own, which is posted on the town's website.

Goldsmith said the town has invited Rep. Rob Bishop, R–Utah, the chairman of the House Resources Committee, to visit Chatham along with Federal Lands Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Tom McClintock, R–Calif., “to witness first-hand the commitments we have to ensuring public access to and proper management of the resources on and around Monomoy Island,” she wrote.

The town is also urging the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office to seek a federal court order blocking the boundary change, though the state has not yet decided whether to do so. Selectmen will also seek a meeting with the new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, upon his or her confirmation by the Senate.

Town officials are urging citizens – both local residents and visitors – to send letters to Keating, Bishop, and Mass. Senator Ed Markey, whose Environment and Public Works Committee would likely take up the bill if it is passed by the full House. The town is also asking citizens to write to Gov. Baker to seek his support for the bill.

“Active support for the legislation from governor Charlie Baker will be extremely helpful in letting Congress know this is a bipartisan issue,” Goldsmith wrote.

Addresses for these public officials, and sample letters, are posted on the town's website.