Chatham Selectmen are justified in being upset over the failure of Congressman William Keating to be more aggressive in pushing forward legislation on the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge boundary. The bill has been around for more than two years; in its current form it was refiled in February 2017 as H.R. 1157. It gained the endorsement of the House Committee on Natural Resources in December but has languished in the full House since.
In issuing a “call to action” to residents to show their support for the legislation last month, selectmen suggested Keating was bowing to pressure from national environmental organizations which see the move as turning over federal lands to the state. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course; the legislation is a reaction to overreach by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its zeal to extend bans on fishing, shellfishing and several recreational activities beyond the shores of Monomoy and into the waters of Nantucket Sound. While those bans have mostly not materialized, it may be only a matter of time and circumstances, and if they do come to pass, the impact will be severe for the local economy. In the 74 years since the refuge was created – to protect migratory shorebirds, not what's on or under Nantucket Sound – the state and town have done just fine protecting and stewarding the fin and shellfish resources in the disputed 4,000-acre area. And literally centuries prior to that. The environmental groups should be more concerned about the threat to resources posed by allowing oil rigs off the New England coast than a few shellfishermen scratching on the sand flats west of Monomoy.
Keating denies he's under pressure to stall the bill and attributes its languishing to the House's Republican leadership. There is a sizable backup which House leaders seem unconcerned about. Indeed, with mid term elections looming, they're not likely to take up much of any substance in the coming months. This is where Keating needs to step up as a “consensus builder,” as he touts himself, and convince his colleagues across the aisle that this is the sort of legislation that falls under their philosophy of less federal government. Once its goals and origins are made clear, the bill should earn bipartisan support handily. It just takes that push.
If “Boundary Bill” Keating is unwilling to do so, as Selectman Dean Nicastro suggested, officials and residents, including summer homeowners who enjoy Monomoy, should reach out to other legislators for help with the legislation. Meanwhile, those interested in restoring the boundary of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge to the low-water line and continuing local protection of the waters west of the island should write to Keating and, if a resident of another Congressional district, their own representative and urge action on H.R. 1157. A “call to action” document with contact information and suggestions – including getting the word out on social media – is available on the town's website, www.chatham-ma.gov.