CHATHAM – Town officials met last week with representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in ongoing talks to work out a solution to the dispute over the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge's western boundary.
The agency has proposed that the two parties enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) calling for joint management of some of the resources within the western boundary area, which encompasses about 3,000 acres of submerged lands in Nantucket Sound.
In the recent comprehensive conservation plan for the refuge, the Fish and Wildlife Service claimed jurisdiction over resources within the submerged lands within the western boundary area. Town officials say the town and state have regulated shellfish and fin fish resources within the area for years, and have called the assertion of authority by the federal agency an illegal taking. Documents dating from the 1944 establishment of the refuge set the western boundary as low water, according to town officials, and they are backing federal legislation to officially set the low tide mark as the boundary.
At the very least, town officials have said, they want an equal say in management decisions within the disputed area.
A draft MOU, which officials have declined to release, reportedly sets out management parameters for the western boundary area, including joint management of shellfish resources. Fish and Wildlife officials also want the state involved in those decisions.
According to Scott Kahan, regional chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, while Thursday's meeting did not result in a final MOU, “we feel hopeful that we will be able to reach an agreement that works for all parties, and is in the best interest of these important natural resources.” At the meeting both sides “acknowledged our differences in opinion regarding ownership of the submerged lands within the western boundary of Monomoy NWR.”
An MOU, he wrote in an email, can “outline a path forward for our continued work together in implementing the joint management actions identified in the recently completed management plan.”
Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said representatives from Congressman William Keating and Senator Edward Markey also attended the Sept. 1 meeting at the town offices. He said the town and the Fish and Wildlife Service will be following up on items discussed during the session.
“The town also continues to expect the filing of legislation upon Congress' return to session,” Duncanson write in an email.
Keating has said he will file legislation to set Monomoy's western boundary at low tide once Congress returns from its summer recess on Sept. 6.