Revision Combines All Waterways-related Regulations In One Place

By: Tim Wood

Boats moored in the Oyster River, near the Barn Hill Road landing. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – It's long and complicated, and it's taking the waterways advisory committee weeks – make that months – to review, but officials say a long-awaiting revision of the town's waterways regulations will make mooring and boating rules clearer and easier to understand and comply with.

Committee members say they often hear complaints about the inscrutable nature of the current regulations.

“I hear it all the time,” said waterways advisory committee member David Davis. “I had one guy say these regulations are nothing but hocus pocus.”

The 43-page revision puts harbormaster, mooring and waterways regulations into a single document. The goal is to update the regulations, review areas of concern and clarify the language, said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson.

Combining all the regulations will also mean that the list of fees will also be on one place, making it “clearer and easier to use,” said Harbormaster Stuart Smith.

While the waterways advisory committee is the only group with regulatory review of the regulations, according to town bylaw, other waterways-related committees will be given an opportunity to review and comment on the revision before they are adopted, officials said.

The town's waterways regulations have been the subject of controversy for some time now, going back several years to a dispute over the assignment of moorings. Last year the controversy erupted again over the assignment of a mooring to then-selectman Seth Taylor, who was allowed to use a third-party mooring held by Smith's brother. While town counsel determined that the assignment wasn't the result of favoritism, he recommended that the mooring regulations be revised to clarify when third-party moorings can be assigned and whether the assignee must be on any mooring area waiting list or specifically on the list for the mooring area in question.

Resident George Myers, who filed that complaint, also recent questioned the assignment of new moorings to a number of people who were apparently either not on mooring lists or low on the lists.

The summer residents advisory committee also weighed in on the draft revision of the regulations, saying in a memo that transparency in mooring assignments is “essential to public confidence that the moorings are fairly assigned.” The group recommended language to improve transparency.

The summer residents committee also suggested that mooring data, including locations and boat sizes, be posted online and be linked to interactive maps.

The problem with this is that not all mooring information is available electronically. A problematic mooring software system the town had been working with for several years was scrapped last year and has yet to be replaced.

Last Thursday, the waterways committee continued to slog through a line-by-line review of the revision, looking at mooring fees, tackle requirements and other technical issues. Davis raised the issue of mooring fees and whether they are too high based on the services the town provides. For instance, the town raised fees to establish a mooring officer position, and continues to include it in the budget even though it has not been filled for several years.

Taylor said the committee is awaiting for an accounting of mooring revenues from the town's finance department before decided whether to hold a public hearing on mooring fees.

“Our plan is to tackle that,” he said.

Lack of a mooring officer also impacts the department's ability to record electronically information about moorings, and also means that moorings aren't inspected as often or as closely as they should be. One thing mooring owners can do to help streamline the process is to make sure mooring balls are identified.

“Put your name on your mooring balls,” said Smith. “It's not a hard thing to do.”

The committee will continue its review on Oct. 19.