Chatham, Orleans Drifting Apart On Nauset Beach Talks

By: Ed Maroney }, Alan Pollock

Topics: Nauset Beach

The Nauset Beach gatehouse.  FILE PHOTO

With a deadline looming for Chatham and Orleans to sign an agreement for the joint management of Nauset (North) Beach, negotiations are threatening to devolve into a sand-kicking contest.

Last week, Orleans officials rejected Chatham’s plan for the beach, which included a surcharge on non-resident stickers designed to help pay for efforts to protect shorebirds on Chatham’s portion of the beach.  This week, Chatham selectmen not only stood by the surcharge, but proposed reducing the amount of revenue Orleans receives from the sale of nonresident stickers from 100 percent to 75 percent.

Meeting as park commissioners last week, the Orleans Board of Selectmen expressed dismay at Chatham's proposal to help fund patrols of its section of the popular barrier beach by adding a $65 surcharge for non-residents and non-resident self-contained vehicles.

“I'm relieved to see Chatham finally engaged and putting something forward, but the issue is it's too late – too little, too late...,” Orleans Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears said on March 27. “It's March. I have a steady stream of renewals coming in... We need to reach out to (Chatham) and say it's not practical or realistic to put a surcharge in effect this season.”

The Orleans board hoped that Chatham would sign a draft agreement they sent to the town in early February that outlines Chatham's resumption of patrols of its one-mile stretch of the beach. Also, the Chatham Conservation Commission would need to change its order of conditions that has Orleans patrolling the full beach. All this needs to occur before the current agreement expires April 30.

“(So) we have a response to their letter telling them it is too late to change fees this year, and the only way the (Chatham portion of the beach) will operate is if they sign the agreement sent Feb. 7,” park commissioners chair Alan McClennen said. “If the agreement isn't signed, there's no access to the beach.”

Chatham's letter of March 15 notes a consensus of its board of selectmen that Chatham will take over the patrols of its portion of the beach, and that the $65 surcharge will allow recovery of half of Chatham's costs to manage associated with that task.

Orleans Selectman David Currier, a longtime advocate of increased beach access, was unhappy. “We tell Chatham quite literally to pound sand and no one goes on the Chatham section, or we charge $65,” he said. “Without the $65, Chatham's beach doesn't open up this year because we're not patrolling it.” Currier said he understood his colleagues' frustration with Chatham, but added, “I have those same frustrations with this board. I've been asking for how many months, let's be proactive and go to Chatham to their board meeting. I volunteered how many times.”

“Chatham still has the option this year of charging whatever they want for the Chatham resident sticker,” Orleans Selectman Mark Mathison said later. “If they need to make up revenues, they still have options, unless they're already sent out letters (for renewals).”

In his March 15 letter to the Orleans selectmen, Chatham Selectmen Chairman Cory Metters noted that his town would increase the base rate charged to Chatham residents from $40 to $60. His letter states that the $65 non-resident surcharge “is based on recovering approximately 50 percent of the costs incurred by Chatham to manage the Chatham portion of the beach, exclusive of HCP (Habitat Conservation Program) related costs, and approximately 723 non-resident stickers sold by Orleans in 2017.” For the fiscal year beginning July 1, Metters wrote, “Chatham taxpayers will be subsidizing costs of approximately $79,000 for overall beach costs and Chatham HCP related costs...”

Metters acknowledged that “sticker costs will need to be re-visited this fall and may result in recommendations to spread the costs among a broader user base and to recover costs associated with the Chatham HCP program.”

But Orleans Selectmen Chairman Jon Fuller was firm. “I want to stand by what we sent them, the draft contract,” he said last week. “I don't (agree with) charging people from off-Cape or non-residents a $65 surcharge to fund Chatham's program.”

Recalling a meeting of both boards last year, Mathison said Orleans had made it very clear to Chatham that staff limitations would not allow Orleans to continue patrolling the entire beach. “I think their argument a year ago was that it was too late for anything to happen for the summer of 2017,” he said, “that they just didn't have the funds, the wherewithal. They asked us to continue one more year, and we agreed to do that. We gave them everything they needed and wanted, at our expense.”

But Chatham selectmen had a different perspective when they took up the topic at their meeting Monday evening. They agreed to sign a revised version of the Feb. 7 agreement, agreeing that Chatham would take over its own beach patrols and the responsibility for enforcing conservation rules, while increasing the Chatham resident sticker fee from $40 to $60.  But the Chatham board expressed disappointment that, despite several attempts, it was unable to negotiate directly with Orleans board members.  The board circulated a timeline that showed its attempts to negotiate and the meetings of its own subcommittee.

“It is truly unfortunate that we were not able to have a mature conversation face to face,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said.  Chatham’s board attempted to open a dialogue several times “and we heard crickets,” he said.  While some Orleans selectmen seemed open to dialogue, “the staff was not responsive in Orleans,” Dykens said.

Board member Dean Nicastro said it is “totally inaccurate” to characterize Chatham’s proposal as “too little, too late,” saying both sides agreed to create a working group months ago, and Chatham appointed its representatives but Orleans did not.  Nicastro said that if Orleans won’t agree to the $65 surcharge, it could theoretically print its own stickers that allow access south of the town line.

“Would we have to have someone at the border?” he asked.  Chatham Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said that, with Chatham responsible for its own beach patrols, it would be possible to carry out random checks of vehicles on Chatham’s stretch of the beach to ensure they have a Chatham sticker. 

As for the feasibility of having a gatehouse at the town line, Duncanson said he doesn’t believe that would be wise.

“I don’t think you’d want to go there,” he said.  Duncanson said he would check with the printing vendor to see whether Chatham could have its own stickers ready for the start of the season.

“I know it’s fraught with operational issues – perhaps insurmountable operational issues – but I think Chatham has to do their own thing,” Dykens said.

Selectman Shareen Davis, who was to serve on the working group, said the process has been frustrating.  Chatham asked for a meeting at least five times in three months, she said.  “Orleans changed the rules of engagement, which I’m still baffled by,” she said.  Davis proposed that Chatham should keep all of the fees charged to Chatham residents and property owners, including the disputed $65 surcharge, which was to have been forwarded to Orleans.

West Chatham resident David Whitcomb, who was a selectman during thorny beach negotiations with Orleans more than 15 years ago, said that in light of the fact that Chatham must now patrol its own portion of the beach, it should not only retain the $65 surcharge, but should no longer allow Orleans to collect 100 percent of the revenues for out-of-town sticker fees.  Many off-road vehicles using the barrier beach, and particularly the self-contained campers, tend to congregate at the tip of the beach in Chatham, Whitcomb noted.

Lifelong beach user Scott Morris of Chatham said he believes it is unlikely that Orleans would cede any of the revenue from out-of-town stickers.  If Chatham issues its own stickers, it must ensure that users have access to the beach during the summer, Morris said.  The creation of the habitat conservation program was a major accomplishment and using it can ensure beach access, he said.  But if large areas of the beach need to be closed to protect shorebirds, permit holders will not be pleased, he added.

“If you’re going to sell a product, that product’s got to be available,” Morris said.

Bob Long, another lifelong beach user, said if Chatham opts to retain some of the out-of-town permit revenues, it should be clear that it will not charge Orleans residents an out-of-town rate for visiting the Chatham portion of the beach.

“We’re not trying to start border wars here,” Long said.  The goal should still be a cooperative beach management plan that doesn’t require that a line be drawn on the beach.  “Two communities managing a single resource,” he said.

Chatham board members discussed various potential changes to the beach agreement and the fee structure.

“Had there been a working group, this was the sort of thing that would have been discussed,” Nicastro said.

Dykens proposed that Chatham and Orleans split the out-of-town sticker revenues evenly.  

“They’ll say no, for sure,” he said, but a 50-50 split would reflect the fact that Chatham is now paying for its own beach patrol, he said.

Long warned Chatham selectmen of a potential consequence of a new dispute with Orleans.  Under the agreement, Orleans has the responsibility of having stickers printed, and last year, Orleans staff declined to provide those stickers to the Chatham permit office until it felt Chatham had met its obligations under the agreement.  If the agreement is not signed, Orleans is not likely to release the stickers to Chatham, Long said.

“I’d love to negotiate with Harwich,” Nicastro said.  “They’re a lot easier to work with.”

Chatham selectmen voted to send Orleans a revised beach agreement that acknowledges Chatham’s responsibility for patrolling its own beach, and asserts that Chatham will retain all fees from its own resident and property owner stickers, including the habitat conservation program surcharge.  Orleans would retain its own resident fee revenues, and the towns would share the out-of-town sticker fees on a 75-25 percent split with Orleans getting the majority.  

Chatham’s counter-proposal will be sent to Orleans shortly.

With a deadline looming for Chatham and Orleans to sign an agreement for the joint management of Nauset (North) Beach, negotiations are threatening to devolve into a sand-kicking contest.

Last week, Orleans officials rejected Chatham’s plan for the beach, which included a surcharge on non-resident stickers designed to help pay for efforts to protect shorebirds on Chatham’s portion of the beach. This week, Chatham selectmen not only stood by the surcharge, but proposed reducing the amount of revenue Orleans receives from the sale of nonresident stickers from 100 percent to 75 percent.

Meeting as park commissioners last week, the Orleans Board of Selectmen expressed dismay at Chatham's proposal to help fund patrols of its section of the popular barrier beach by adding a $65 surcharge for non-residents and non-resident self-contained vehicles.

“I'm relieved to see Chatham finally engaged and putting something forward, but the issue is it's too late – too little, too late...,” Orleans Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears said on March 27. “It's March. I have a steady stream of renewals coming in... We need to reach out to (Chatham) and say it's not practical or realistic to put a surcharge in effect this season.”

The Orleans board hoped that Chatham would sign a draft agreement they sent to the town in early February that outlines Chatham's resumption of patrols of its one-mile stretch of the beach. Also, the Chatham Conservation Commission would need to change its order of conditions that has Orleans patrolling the full beach. All this needs to occur before the current agreement expires April 30.

“(So) we have a response to their letter telling them it is too late to change fees this year, and the only way the (Chatham portion of the beach) will operate is if they sign the agreement sent Feb. 7,” park commissioners chair Alan McClennen said. “If the agreement isn't signed, there's no access to the beach.”

Chatham's letter of March 15 notes a consensus of its board of selectmen that Chatham will take over the patrols of its portion of the beach, and that the $65 surcharge will allow recovery of half of Chatham's costs to manage associated with that task.

Orleans Selectman David Currier, a longtime advocate of increased beach access, was unhappy. “We tell Chatham quite literally to pound sand and no one goes on the Chatham section, or we charge $65,” he said. “Without the $65, Chatham's beach doesn't open up this year because we're not patrolling it.” Currier said he understood his colleagues' frustration with Chatham, but added, “I have those same frustrations with this board. I've been asking for how many months, let's be proactive and go to Chatham to their board meeting. I volunteered how many times.”

“Chatham still has the option this year of charging whatever they want for the Chatham resident sticker,” Orleans Selectman Mark Mathison said later. “If they need to make up revenues, they still have options, unless they're already sent out letters (for renewals).”

In his March 15 letter to the Orleans selectmen, Chatham Selectmen Chairman Cory Metters noted that his town would increase the base rate charged to Chatham residents from $40 to $60. His letter states that the $65 non-resident surcharge “is based on recovering approximately 50 percent of the costs incurred by Chatham to manage the Chatham portion of the beach, exclusive of HCP (Habitat Conservation Program) related costs, and approximately 723 non-resident stickers sold by Orleans in 2017.” For the fiscal year beginning July 1, Metters wrote, “Chatham taxpayers will be subsidizing costs of approximately $79,000 for overall beach costs and Chatham HCP related costs...”

Metters acknowledged that “sticker costs will need to be re-visited this fall and may result in recommendations to spread the costs among a broader user base and to recover costs associated with the Chatham HCP program.”

But Orleans Selectmen Chairman Jon Fuller was firm. “I want to stand by what we sent them, the draft contract,” he said last week. “I don't (agree with) charging people from off-Cape or non-residents a $65 surcharge to fund Chatham's program.”

Recalling a meeting of both boards last year, Mathison said Orleans had made it very clear to Chatham that staff limitations would not allow Orleans to continue patrolling the entire beach. “I think their argument a year ago was that it was too late for anything to happen for the summer of 2017,” he said, “that they just didn't have the funds, the wherewithal. They asked us to continue one more year, and we agreed to do that. We gave them everything they needed and wanted, at our expense.”

But Chatham selectmen had a different perspective when they took up the topic at their meeting Monday evening. They agreed to sign a revised version of the Feb. 7 agreement, agreeing that Chatham would take over its own beach patrols and the responsibility for enforcing conservation rules, while increasing the Chatham resident sticker fee from $40 to $60. But the Chatham board expressed disappointment that, despite several attempts, it was unable to negotiate directly with Orleans board members. The board circulated a timeline that showed its attempts to negotiate and the meetings of its own subcommittee.

“It is truly unfortunate that we were not able to have a mature conversation face to face,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said. Chatham’s board attempted to open a dialogue several times “and we heard crickets,” he said. While some Orleans selectmen seemed open to dialogue, “the staff was not responsive in Orleans,” Dykens said.

Board member Dean Nicastro said it is “totally inaccurate” to characterize Chatham’s proposal as “too little, too late,” saying both sides agreed to create a working group months ago, and Chatham appointed its representatives but Orleans did not. Nicastro said that if Orleans won’t agree to the $65 surcharge, it could theoretically print its own stickers that allow access south of the town line.

“Would we have to have someone at the border?” he asked. Chatham Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said that, with Chatham responsible for its own beach patrols, it would be possible to carry out random checks of vehicles on Chatham’s stretch of the beach to ensure they have a Chatham sticker.

As for the feasibility of having a gatehouse at the town line, Duncanson said he doesn’t believe that would be wise.

“I don’t think you’d want to go there,” he said. Duncanson said he would check with the printing vendor to see whether Chatham could have its own stickers ready for the start of the season.

“I know it’s fraught with operational issues – perhaps insurmountable operational issues – but I think Chatham has to do their own thing,” Dykens said.

Selectman Shareen Davis, who was to serve on the working group, said the process has been frustrating. Chatham asked for a meeting at least five times in three months, she said. “Orleans changed the rules of engagement, which I’m still baffled by,” she said. Davis proposed that Chatham should keep all of the fees charged to Chatham residents and property owners, including the disputed $65 surcharge, which was to have been forwarded to Orleans.

West Chatham resident David Whitcomb, who was a selectman during thorny beach negotiations with Orleans more than 15 years ago, said that in light of the fact that Chatham must now patrol its own portion of the beach, it should not only retain the $65 surcharge, but should no longer allow Orleans to collect 100 percent of the revenues for out-of-town sticker fees. Many off-road vehicles using the barrier beach, and particularly the self-contained campers, tend to congregate at the tip of the beach in Chatham, Whitcomb noted.

Lifelong beach user Scott Morris of Chatham said he believes it is unlikely that Orleans would cede any of the revenue from out-of-town stickers. If Chatham issues its own stickers, it must ensure that users have access to the beach during the summer, Morris said. The creation of the habitat conservation program was a major accomplishment and using it can ensure beach access, he said. But if large areas of the beach need to be closed to protect shorebirds, permit holders will not be pleased, he added.

“If you’re going to sell a product, that product’s got to be available,” Morris said.

Bob Long, another lifelong beach user, said if Chatham opts to retain some of the out-of-town permit revenues, it should be clear that it will not charge Orleans residents an out-of-town rate for visiting the Chatham portion of the beach.

“We’re not trying to start border wars here,” Long said. The goal should still be a cooperative beach management plan that doesn’t require that a line be drawn on the beach. “Two communities managing a single resource,” he said.

Chatham board members discussed various potential changes to the beach agreement and the fee structure.

“Had there been a working group, this was the sort of thing that would have been discussed,” Nicastro said.

Dykens proposed that Chatham and Orleans split the out-of-town sticker revenues evenly.

“They’ll say no, for sure,” he said, but a 50-50 split would reflect the fact that Chatham is now paying for its own beach patrol, he said.

Long warned Chatham selectmen of a potential consequence of a new dispute with Orleans. Under the agreement, Orleans has the responsibility of having stickers printed, and last year, Orleans staff declined to provide those stickers to the Chatham permit office until it felt Chatham had met its obligations under the agreement. If the agreement is not signed, Orleans is not likely to release the stickers to Chatham, Long said.

“I’d love to negotiate with Harwich,” Nicastro said. “They’re a lot easier to work with.”

Chatham selectmen voted to send Orleans a revised beach agreement that acknowledges Chatham’s responsibility for patrolling its own beach, and asserts that Chatham will retain all fees from its own resident and property owner stickers, including the habitat conservation program surcharge. Orleans would retain its own resident fee revenues, and the towns would share the out-of-town sticker fees on a 75-25 percent split with Orleans getting the majority.

Chatham’s counter-proposal will be sent to Orleans shortly.