CHATHAM – Beach nourishment, mooring regulations and parking at the fish pier are among the subjects members of the summer residents advisory committee see as top priorities for the board of selectmen.
Chairman Michael Waters presented the board with six recommendations developed by the advisory group over the course of its 11 meetings this past summer. The committee met with town staff, selectmen and committee members and held discussions ranging on topics as diverse as the Cape's opioid epidemic to coastal issues and the council on aging's space needs.
Chatham's summer residents advisory committee is unique on the Cape, in that it is a formal town committee appointed by selectmen. As a culmination of its activities this season, Waters presented a report and recommendations at last Tuesday's board of selectmen's meeting.
Three of the recommendations had to do with the town's beaches, waterways and waterfront infrastructure, all of which are important to residents, second homeowners and visitors, Waters said.
The group strongly recommended that the town make development of a nourishment plan for Nantucket Sound beaches a priority. Due to “serious erosion” over the past five years, the beaches are now in poor condition, Waters said.
Currently, beach nourishment is a “byproduct of dredging harbors and waterways,” he said. “When you need to dredge in that area, you throw that sand on the beach.” That's not been enough, however, as the current condition of the south shore beaches attests, he said.
Beaches are part of the town's infrastructure and a key economic factor, and there should be an independent plan to nourish beaches on a regular basis on a par with dredging programs, but funded as a distinct budget item, said Waters. He asked selectmen to include the topic as an agenda item and get input on the idea from staff and the public.
“I think you'll find there's a lot of support in down for doing something about this problem and to make it more than a contingency of dredging the waterways,” he said. “It's worth independent consideration, money and action by the town. We think it demands your attention.”
With millions of dollars in renovations being planned at the municipal fish pier, now is the time to develop a comprehensive parking plan for the facility, which Waters said is visited by 150,000 people annually. The town acquired property from Chatham Bars Inn a few years ago to expand lower-level parking for commercial fishermen, which the summer residents supported. But a more “global solution” is necessary to accommodate all fish pier users and visitors, Waters said.
Selectman Shareen Davis agreed parking at the pier is “a nightmare.” The recently purchased Eldredge Garage property may provide an opportunity for satellite parking and a shuttle bus to alleviate the parking crunch at the fish pier, she said.
With revisions being proposed to consolidate mooring and waterways regulations, there is a need to ensure that there is transparency, Waters said. “But we don't see that in the regulations,” he said. While acknowledging the complexity of the situation, he had several suggestions for making information about the town's more than 2,000 moorings more available.
The group suggests that an interactive map of all mooring fields and locations be available through the town's website so that anyone can click on a mooring and find out who owns it, when they received it, what size boat is on it, and other information that is held by the harbormaster's office. The town should also ensure that vacant moorings are offered to the next person on the mooring list for the specific mooring field, and that renting of moorings be prohibited. Waters said the proposed changes allow anyone on a mooring wait list to be offered an open mooring, which runs counter to an opinion by town counsel, which suggested that those on the wait list for a specific mooring field be given first opportunity at open moorings.
The waterways advisory committee is slated to discuss the proposed regulation changes at its meeting today (Thursday, Sept. 14). Waters said the summer residents group will be submitted a more detailed opinion on the changes to that group.
In other recommendations, the summer residents committee recommended that the town increased its annual contribution to the Other Post Employment Benefit fund from $150,000 to $500,000 to take a bigger bit out of that obligation. A way to do this may be to adjust the level of estimated local receipts, which the town has consistently underestimated, creating excess free cash. The town has targeted free cash at 3 to 5 percent, but by underestimating receipts the level has been closer to 9 percent, Waters said.
“So that's a couple of million dollars,” he said.
The group also recommended that the town prioritize future capital expenditures, following a process similar to the one the council on aging is using in looking at the need for a new senior center. Finally, the group believes that revenue from the intermunicipal sewage treatment agreement with Harwich should be used to reduce the debt on the town's wastewater treatment plant or lower future borrowing for upcoming sewer projects.