CHATHAM — Town meeting voters next May will be asked to spend around a quarter million dollars to purchase a boat ramp on the Mitchell River. And some of those voters might be surprised to learn that ramp, in use by the public for decades, wasn't owned by the town all along.
Just west of the Mitchell River drawbridge, the landing is popular among shellfishermen and users of small recreational boats. The landing is also frequently used for dinghy access to other boats moored in the river and in Stage Harbor. Because of the shallow water, the landing is suitable only for small boats.
Owned for many years by the Byrne family and recently sold to Dan Russell, the property has been leased to the town each year since at least sometime in the 1950s for the sum of $750 per year, Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said.
“As you are aware, opportunities for the town to acquire waterfront property are extremely limited,” Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson wrote in a memo to selectmen this week. In a closed-door session on Aug. 15, selectmen unanimously voted to proceed with Russell's plan to carve away about 19,000 square feet from his lot at 45 Bridge St., selling that portion to the town for continued use as a boat ramp. The remainder of Russell's lot, on the opposite shore of the marsh, contains a new waterfront home.
The purchase price negotiated by the town is $227,500, which includes the boat ramp and a small area of upland that provides space for about eight cars. Voters next May will be asked to fund the purchase and to pay an additional $35,000 for engineering and site stabilization.
“There is some bank erosion that's taking place, and has been taking place for a number of years,” Duncanson told selectmen Tuesday. The $35,000 will be used, in part, to stabilize that bank.
Having obtained an appraisal for the property, selectmen debated the purchase in executive sessions in June, July and August before voting to proceed with the purchase.
On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to place an article on the 2018 annual town meeting warrant seeking the $262,500. In its vote, the board specified that the land would “be used for municipal and public, water-dependent use.”
On the advice of town counsel, the board also voted to declare the property as “unique” under the provisions of the state's Uniform Procurement Act. The vote, similar to one taken recently for the Eldredge Garage property, declares that it would not be in the town's interest to advertise for other land acquisition proposals. With public access to the shoreline increasingly limited by private development, town officials argue that any opportunity to purchase waterfront land is unique.
In 2014, the town paid $800,000 to buy a small parcel of land on the opposite side of the road at 90 Bridge St. The town has already improved the small parking area there and has built a short pier where small fishing boats can unload their catch. Last month, members of three water-related advisory committees recommended moving ahead with a plan to relocate the town's shellfish upweller to the site and build a gangway and float system.
The land purchases are part of a larger effort to provide additional public access to the water. Last year, town meeting authorized the purchase of the Eldredge Trap Dock, adjacent to the town-owned Old Mill Boat Yard on Stage Harbor.
The town will continue to lease the property on a monthly basis until town meeting to ensure that the ramp remains available for public use.