CHATHAM – A massive rewrite and consolidation of mooring, waterways and harbormaster regulations impacts some of the town's most important resources and residents need time to digest them, selectmen said Tuesday.
A public hearing on the 54-page document is scheduled for today, but at the selectmen's urging, the waterways advisory committee agreed to continue the hearing on April 26 to give people more time to review and comment on the proposal.
“I am concerned because of what the waterways regulations actual cover,” Selectman Shareen Davis said Monday, noting that the town's waterways are “some of our most valuable assets.”
“This is something that shouldn't be rushed at all,” she said.
The consolidated regulations have been under development by the waterways advisory committee for more than a year, with the goal of making the rules easier to understand and more transparent. It gathers in one place regulations dealing with mooring locations, waiting lists, renewals and tackle specifications, as well as rules and regulations governing the municipal fish pier and general regulations covering the town's waterways. There's a mix of authorities involved; some fall under the harbormaster by state statute, others are overseen by the board of selectmen.
Harbormaster Stuart Smith said a number of town committees, including the summer residents advisory committee, shellfish advisory committee, South Coastal management committee and Aunt Lydia's Cove committee had input into the process. There hasn't been a lot of interest from the general public, added Waterways Advisory Committee Chairman Peter Taylor, but Davis said she's received “tons” of emails from residents with concerns about the proposal.
A final draft of the document was posted on the town's website last week, and additions and changes were posted Friday.
“That's really not enough time,” said Davis.
Many of the issues the draft regulations deal with, such as third-party use of moorings, have been controversial, added Selectman Jeffrey Dykens. While the draft is a “great start,” extending the public input period is warranted.
“There's no more important environmental asset this town has than our very unique waterways,” he said, noting that officials must manage four very different bodies of water, and “this winter has really taught us what challenges we face.”
“There's a lot of details here,” he said of the document. “I think it's going to take interested constituents...some time to sift through them and dissect them.” Nicastro said he thought the five-week period between this week and April 26 was sufficient. “I can live with that,” he said.
Selectmen had some specific criticisms of the consolidated regulations, including the role of the board of selectmen and a requirement that commercial fishermen produce tax returns to prove residency; Davis said that raised concerns about privacy. Selectman Dean Nicastro also had concerns about sections on third-party use of moorings along with issues with how the draft was edited.
“This is kind of a disjointed document,” he said.
Chairman Cory Metters suggested the board hold a workshop with Smith and Natural Resources Director Dr. Robert Duncanson between this Thursday's hearing – which begins at 4 p.m. at the community center – and the April 26 continuation of the session “to go through the nuts and bolts” of the regulations, after which board members can recommend any changes they might like to see.
Taylor said there were no plans to have any further public hearings; the committee wanted to get the document completed and the regulations in place for this summer. Metters said he didn't think another public hearing would be required after the board provides its input. But board members said they wanted to see the final draft before it is implemented.
Town counsel also has yet to review the draft, said Town Manager Jill Goldsmith.
Duncanson said copies of the draft are available on the town's website, including the harbormaster and natural resources department page, as well as in the selectmen's packet for this week's meeting, which can also be downloaded from the website. Comment can be sent to him via regular mail or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The waterways committee and town staff put in a “tremendous amount of work” on the document, said Taylor. “This has taken a lot of time and a lot of work,” he said. Resident Florence Seldin thanked Taylor's group for agreeing to extend the public hearing.
“It's a long document,” she said, noting that the recent poor weather and extended power outages impacted people's ability to obtain it. “Hopefully more people will come forward to make comments.”