Cove Committee Wants A Say In Expenditure Of Waterways Funds

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing , Waterways

The Chatham Fish Pier. CHRISTOPHER SEUFERT PHOTO

CHATHAM – Members of the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee want a say in how the town spends the money raised through the fees they pay to operate out of the municipal fish pier.

Those fees, which raise about $150,000 annually, are proposed to be placed in a new waterways user fee revolving fund through an article on the May 8 annual town meeting warrant. The fish pier permit fees will be combined with a new waterways user fee, estimated to bring in about $175,000 a year, to create a pool of funds to be spent on waterfront and waterways infrastructure.

As written, however, the section of the article that establishes the new revolving fund directs town officials to consult and seek recommendations from the waterways advisory committee and harbormaster for expenditures. The language leaves out the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee, which is composed of commercial fishermen tasked with making recommendations regarding the municipal pier facility. After a debate a few weeks ago, selectmen voted 4-1 to support the article but not to include the Cove committee; the finance committee, on the other hand, voted 7-0 to oppose the article because it did not include the fishermen's advisory panel.

“We feel strongly about it,” said Doug Feeney, chairman of the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee,which was never consulted about the town meeting article. The small-boat commercial fishery is “delicate and fragile,” he added, and leaving fishermen out of critical decisions about the infrastructure they depend on threatens to further distance the industry from the community.

“We're taking it from the Feds, and now the town,” he said.

Selectman Dean Nicastro, who supported including the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee in the article, said he intends to amend the measure from the floor of town meeting to add the group as one of the parties to be consulted regarding expenditure of the waterways revolving fund revenue. “It's almost 50/50,” he said division of permit fees that go into the fund between fish pier permits and the waterways user fee, which was recommended by the waterways advisory committee.

“I think they should be in the process,” Nicastro said of the Cove committee. “They know that pier more directly than the waterways committee does.”

Four members of the waterways advisory committee are commercial fishermen, that group's chairman, Peter Taylor, pointed out. “Obviously we're going to look out for the interests of the fish pier,” he said. Because the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee has a single charge – the fish pier – while the waterways group looks at all town waterways and waterfront issues, he could see the situation developing into a power struggle.

“And that's my concern,” said Taylor, who is a commercial fisherman. He added that currently, funds from fish pier permit fees go into the general fund, so neither committee has a say in recommending how they are spent other than through town meeting votes.

Finance committee members were emphatic in their belief that the Cove committee should consult on the waterways revolving fund, said chairman Stephen Daniel. There was also concern over the wording in the article that regarding expenditures being made from the fund by the natural resources department and town manager “after consultation and recommendation” by the committees. Fincom members thought this was too vague, Daniel said; for instance, does it require that a recommendation be made? Should town officials still be able to expend the money if one or more group objects?

“This was troublesome enough to the committee that they voted the whole bloody thing down,” he said.

Nicastro agreed that the existing language creates some ambiguity.

“I don't think the town administration should be prevented from expending from the fund if they have consulted with the [committees] but for whatever reason the committees decided not to recommend either way,” he said.

He plans a second amendment to the article to add the words “if any” following “recommendations.” That way staff has to consult with the committees but the groups are not mandated to make a recommendation before funds can be expended.

“I wouldn't want there to be an obstacle to the ability of the town administration to expend the funds if they've gone through the process and consulted with a committee, but for whatever reason the committee hasn't made a recommendation,” said Nicastro.

Feeney pointed to the new break in South Beach and its potential impact on access to the fish pier as an example of why the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee's input into use of the funds is critical.

“We need a seat at the table,” he said.