Selectmen 'Bombarded' With Questions Over Waterways Regulation Rewrite

By: Tim Wood

Although revisions to several of the town's waterways regulations cover a wide range of topics, rules governing moorings have been the most controversial.

CHATHAM – Distilling four separate waterways-related regulations into a single document isn't an easy task, and even the process of reviewing the consolidated rules has become fraught with controversy.

A lack of public input into the process thus far and the possibility of an independent review of the consolidated regulations took center stage at last week's board of selectmen's meeting, although the not-so-subtle subtext was ongoing feuds over how boat moorings are assigned and administered.

There were charges that a revised mooring bylaw approved in 2008 after a state inspector general's investigation into how moorings were assigned to boatyards was not being followed. Several people urged the board of selectmen to take control of the waterways regulations and not leave it up to the waterways advisory committee (WAC) and harbormaster to adopt the rules.

Since April, the WAC has been working on a draft that consolidates the waterways and mooring regulations, town dock and pier regulations, and two sets of fish pier regulations. The group has been holding workshop meetings and going over the document line-by-line, but has not been taking public comment at the sessions. Chairman Peter Taylor said it would take up too much time to have the public comment, but once an initial review is completed a public meeting will be held before the draft document is forwarded to the board of selectmen. Any comments will then be incorporated into a final document which will be the subject of a public hearing before being adopted by the harbormaster, as stipulated in state statute.

Chairman of Selectmen Cory Metters said the board has been “bombarded with questions” about the process. Board members offered assurances that the public will have several chances to weigh in on the revised regulations, but it's too early, Metters said. “I don't want to do anything to sidetrack this process,” he said.

Combining four different regulations into a separate document hasn't been simple, said Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson. “This is a big document; there's a lot of complexity to it,” he said. The group decided that it would complete a first review before hearing from the public. “The committee knows what the issues are. They don't necessarily have consensus among their members” on all of the details. The intention was that the second raft would be sent to various waterways-related committee and the selectmen, then opened for public input “soup to nuts, front to back.”

Resident Rick Leavitt, however, pointed out that the board's own policy for committees urges that public comment be allowed at all meetings, even workshop sessions. The pressure seems to have paid off; the agenda for the waterways committee's meeting today (Oct. 19) states, “At the request of the selectmen we will be taking a limited amount of public comment at the end of this workshop session.”

The majority of selectmen indicated they were comfortable with the current process, although there was disagreement over how much concern the revision has generated.

“I have received more input on this issue than perhaps any other issue during my tenure on the board,” said Selectman Jeffrey Dykens. “There a lot of interest out there, especially in how we administer moorings in this town.” Selectman Dean Nicastro, on the other hand, said he hasn't received any complaints. However, he indicated that it is important that the final regulations provide a “fair and transparent process” that adheres to the bylaw governing how to obtain moorings and how they are administered.

“I don't think this is rocket science,” he said.

Added Dykens, “There's a lot of good ideas out there that I've heard, and it's important that the waterways committee hear them, and that the public hear them as well.” But the process of working through the regulations is “complex and arduous.” With more than 2,000 moorings and waiting lists containing 1,300 names, “this is not easy stuff,” he said.

Metters said there is confusion about the mooring process and how the regulations work. “There are people who don't even know how to get on a waiting list.” The consolidated regulations should make it easier to understand, he added.

Chatham Yacht Basin owner David Oppenheim agreed that the revised regulations have to be transparent and win the public's trust. The 2008 issue was resolved through the cooperation of town officials, staff and boatyards, and that should be what happens here.

“This board needs to take ownership of this problem again,” Oppenheim said, calling for the selectmen to have final approval of the waterways regulations, which he said is the case in other Cape towns. It would probably require a bylaw change, however, since currently that power is vested in the waterways committee and the harbormaster. Former Selectman Florence Seldin said that would increase transparency; it doesn't make sense for an advisory board to have a greater say over regulations than the selectmen.

Some of the issues now under discussion have been around for years, noted Selectman Shareen Davis. Some of the confusion, and the need to revise the regulations, stems from a failed attempt to implement an online mooring permit system. Because of the complexities involved, to have complete confidence in the revised regulations, it would be helpful to have an independent review; the town of Scituate just did that, she said.

“I don't think it hurts us” to vet the regulations through an outside party, she said. There are a lot of technical issues involved, such as whether to track moorings by GPS, and an independent review would help ensure the same issues don't come up over and over again.

“The blue economy is our most important economy,” she said. “It's the lifeblood of our town.” Dykens concurred. “If there's outside expertise, why not use it, that's all I'm saying,” he said.

Nicastro, however, said a decision on outside review is premature, and Selectman Amanda Love said she would oppose such a move. Staff and town waterways committees reviewing the regulations should be sufficient, she said.

The original goal was to have the revision completed next year, but Metters said it will more likely be 2019. Nicastro said that didn't bother him.

“It's more important that they be good regulations than that they be rushed,” he said.

Harbormaster Stuart Smith suggested the revision process be allowed to play out as it has for the past few decades.

“In the end, everybody's going to have the opportunity to speak,” he said. “These will be the most vetted regulations in the history of the town of Chatham, because everybody is chiming in.” So far, he added, input has been “somewhat limited.” Feedback can be sent to himself, Duncanson or any member of the waterways advisory committee.

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