CHATHAM — Gov. Charlie Baker last week received some tangible evidence that many local residents and visitors oppose the federal taking of more than 3,000 acres of state-owned tidal flats and submerged lands west of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.
Baker's office received a petition with 1,013 signatures urging him to actively support H.R. 1157, a bill introduced by Congressman William Keating, D–9th District, that would re-establish the refuge boundary at the mean low water line, where it was set when the refuge was created in 1944.
In a rare move, town officials circulated the petition, with nearly 700 people signing copies at town offices, the council on aging and elsewhere, and the remainder signing an online version.
“In a little over two weeks, more than 1,000 individuals expressed their desire for the Governor's involvement,” Town Manager Jill Goldsmith wrote in a press statement. “This incredible demonstration of support indicates the importance of this issue, not only to our community but to the broader Massachusetts fishing community.”
The tidal flats and submerged lands claimed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service constitute important shellfishing grounds and fin fish habitat that support the commercial fishing industry. The town's legal battle against the taking has also won support from the mayors of New Bedford and Gloucester, the state's two largest fishing ports.
The boundary dispute began in 2015 when refuge officials announced their claim as part of the refuge's comprehensive conservation plan. The 3,000 acres were owned by the commonwealth, and have been managed jointly by the state and the town of Chatham for hundreds of years.
Because Republicans hold a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, town officials see Gov. Baker’s engagement as critical to the success of the legislation.
“We know the Governor is opposed to federal government overreach and supports fishing communities like Chatham so we expect he will actively support the legislation,” Selectman Shareen Davis wrote in the press statement.
Keating's bill is opposed by several environmental groups, which penned a joint letter in March arguing that the legislation would weaken protections on other federally owned lands. The letter cited a “radical agenda to turn over control of federal public resources to states and local governments where protected lands and their resources would lose federal protections and be quickly auctioned off to the highest bidder.”
The Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is the only coastal wilderness area in New England, and provides key habitat for rare shorebirds, gray seals, horseshoe crabs and blue mussels.