Community Preservation Group Rejects Fish Pier Deck Funding

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Waterways , Community Preservation Act

Replacement of the observation deck at the Chatham Fish Pier will move ahead, but without community preservation act funds.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – Members of the community preservation committee have rejected a request for $400,000 toward construction of a new observation deck at the fish pier, saying it didn't qualify as a recreation project.

Recreation is one of the four areas for which funds raised under the Community Preservation Act (CPA) can be spent. While the fish pier deck replacement was presented by the natural resources department as passive recreation, committee members said even though they support the project, because it was not associated with recreation land it didn't meet the criteria under the law.

“I think it's a valuable thing for the town and I would vote for it in a heartbeat,” said committee member Victor DiCristina. “The issue is whether this is legitimate for CPA funds. In my opinion, I say it's not.”

The committee approved five recreation projects, but all were attached to town-owned recreation property, said member Debbie Aikman. The observation deck is on town property that is an industrial site and is not classified as recreational.

“I don't see the connection” with recreation, she said.

Chairman Michael Tompsett disagreed. “I think this is the sort of project that's very much the intent of the law,” he said.

The fish pier is one of, if not the top tourist attraction in town. Every summer more than 100,00 people climbing the stairs to the observation deck located above the fish packing house to watch fishermen unload their catches. Because of structural issues, the existing deck needs to be replaced, and officials have proposed a $1 million-plus plan for a new, larger deck with a second set of stairs and an elevator for accessibility. The CPA funds were to be combined with nearly $600,000 previously appropriated for the work.

The project will move ahead without the CPA money, said Director of Natural Resources Dr. Robert Duncanson. He plans to meet with Finance Director Alix Heilala “to figure out a way to make it happen.” Other possible funding sources include an $11 million waterfront infrastructure bond approved by voters last year or the new waterways user fee revolving fund.

“We're going to get the deck replaced one way or the other,” Duncanson said. “We will address the funding through other sources we have available.”

Plans for the project are in the final stages now, he added, and bids are expected to be sought in May. Construction won't begin in October or November, but officials want to get a contractor on board so that prep work can be done ahead of time, since the schedule will be tight. “We want it done no later than June 1 of the following year,” Duncanson said.

The committee also voted on awarding the project $100,000 for the accessibility elements, but was deadlocked 4-4.

The committee voted to support a total of $1,341,075 in CPA requests. This year the 3 percent community preservation property tax surcharge will raise $900,000; the town will also receive $150,000 in state matching funds, and there's a $1,551,990 undesignated fund balance. All of the requests endorsed by the committee will go before voters at the May annual town meeting.

Projects the committee recommended for approval by town meeting include the following affordable housing requests: affordable housing trust fund, $100,000; buy-down to preserve older deed-restricted properties, $200,000; $5,000 for an affordable housing coordinator to be shared with Harwich; $10,000 to update the town's housing production plan; and $15,000 for the Cape Housing Institute.

The following historic preservation projects were approved: Nickerson Family Association archaeological dig, $48,000; $20,000 to preserve vital town record books; $50,000 to assess and protect antennas on the Marconi property; $3,000 to preserve the Pioneer Memorial at the Eldredge Public Library; and $16,000 to preserve archives at the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center.

Recommended recreation projects include purchase of a previously leased town landing on Bridge Street for $262,500; $450,000 to replace grandstands and netting at Veterans Field; $65,000 to replace the fourth hole tee at Seaside Links Golf Course; and an additional $6,575 to supplement previous funding for work at the golf course.

On a 6-2 vote, the committee also rejected a $90,000 request from the town's park department for an accessible pathway through Chase Park. Members said the project lacked specificity.

There were no open space requests this year, so the committee put aside $105,000 in reserve for future land purchases.