Dynamic Waterways, Finances, Monomoy Topics Of Summer Town Meeting

By: Tim Wood

Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, left, got a tour of the disputed Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge western boundary last Friday. Also on the voyage was Town Manager Jill Goldsmith, center, and State Representative Sarah Peake; not shown are fellow passengers Daniel Sieger, assistant secretary of energy and environmental affairs and Selectmen Shareen Davis and Jeffrey Dykens. SHAREEN DAVIS PHOTO

CHATHAM – The town's ever-dynamic waterways, solid finances and upcoming projects topped the agenda at Tuesday's 71st annual summer town meeting.

The informal session held to educate seasonal residents was sponsored by the summer residents advisory committee, an official town committee that represents the interest of non-residents property owners, the only officially constituted committee of its kind on the Cape, said Moderator William Litchfield. About 70 summer residents attended the two-hour meeting at the annex and heard reports from town officials and the committee on issues ranging from the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge boundary dispute to cooperative efforts the town has undertaken with neighboring communities.

Chairman of Selectman Cory Metters ran down issues officials have addressed the past year, including the approval of an intermunicipal agreement with Harwich for treatment of sewage and an agreement with Harwich and Orleans to join a shared nitrogen management program for the Pleasant Bay watershed.

“We understand we don't stand alone,” he said. “We need to be good neighbors to protect our natural resources.”

Addressing the many boaters in the audience, Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon gave an update on the evolution of the inlets along the town's eastern shoreline. The situation is so dynamic, he said, it's difficult to keep up with; he described how the tip of North Beach Island was being breached even while he was making a presentation on the condition of the inlets earlier this summer.

“Only in Chatham does breaking news become yesterday's news in days,” he said. “We have one heck of a dynamic shoreline here.”

The April Fool's break in South Beach provided a boon to boaters, who hadn't been able to get from Nantucket Sound to Chatham Harbor directly since the early 1990s. But that shortcut is compromised by increasing shoaling between Morris Island and Monomoy, a location that Keon said is being studied closely to determine the best way to dredge out a channel. Permits are in place that provide a lot of flexibility as to where a channel can be dredged, but with a cut-off date of March 31, there's no guarantee that even if a channel is dredged, it will still be there come the following July.

“This is going to take some real thought to figure out the best place to put a channel,” he said.

The benefit of the extensive shoaling that's happening there is that it provides a more or less endless source of sand which can be used as badly needed beach nourishment along Harding's Beach and other Nantucket Sound beaches, which are in poor condition. One strategy might be to establish a beach nourishment dredging program and hope that it also benefits navigation, he said.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith updated summer residents on the status of the town's efforts to roll back the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's claim to some 4,000 acres of submerged land west of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge through legislation, filed by Rep. William Keating, that recognizes the traditional western boundary of the refuge as the low tide mark. The bill is currently before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands. She urged summer residents to write to their federal representatives in support of the measure; she especially appeal to anyone who knows Natural Resources Commmittee Chair Rob Bishop or subcommittee chair Tom McClintock.

“We need bipartisan support for this to pass,” she said. The town hopes for a legislative or administrative solution to restore the traditional town and state jurisdiction over the area, but she added that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is investigating litigation as another option. Last Friday, town officials took state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, Assistant Secretary Daniel Sieger and State Representative Sarah Peake out to view the area.

The town's financial outlook is strong, said Finance Director Alix Heilala. She projected next year's tax rate will increase by just 6 cents to $5.09. In the committee's annual financial scorecard, Jamie Meehan agreed, saying summer residents have “ample reason to be pleased with the financial condition of the town.” Using fiscal 2012 as a base year, he said the town's overall assessed property value has gone up 9.7 percent to $6.4 billion, the tax rate – the lowest among the Cape's 15 towns – has increased slightly more than the U.S. inflation rate, and the average tax bill of $4,300 has increased by 24 percent, while remaining just under the Cape-wide average. The current average assessed home value is $872,614, second only to Provincetown among Cape towns.

With the completion of the new fire station earlier this year as well as other recent projects, the town has the most modern infrastructure on the Cape, and future projects, including waterways improvements, can likely be funded without significantly increasing the tax rate, Meehan said. Town officials' conservative fiscal policies and hard work have paid off, he said.

“The town has been generous in affording summer residents the opportunity to contribute their views, and we are confident our investment in Chatham continues to be in good hands,” Meehan concluded.