ALC Chair: Town Should Purchase Yacht Club Pier

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing , Waterways

The town-owned trap dock (center) is flanked by the dock owned by Stage Harbor Yacht Club (left) and Old Mill Boat Yard, where the town harbormaster’s office is located (out of view, on right). COURTESY FRANK MESSINA

CHATHAM – Given the evolving conditions in Chatham Harbor, having an alternate location for commercial fishing boats to offload their catch, once a long-term strategy, is looking more like a necessity.

Officials had that use in mind when the town purchased of the Eldredge Trap Dock on Stage Harbor in 2016, and plans are in process to modernize the pier to accommodate at least some commercial fishing boats. In August the town was awarded a $150,000 state Seaport Economic Council grant to fund design and permitting for the project.

Those plans also include upgrades to the adjacent pier, owned by the Stage Harbor Yacht Club; the town and the club have been in talks for some time now about doing the project jointly and possibly allowing town use of the club pier during the offseason.

But it might make sense to convert both piers into a single facility to accommodate a larger portion of the fishing fleet, Doug Feeney, chairman of the town's Aunt Lydia's Cove committee, suggested recently.

“I think all of our efforts should be in the purchase” of the Yacht Club pier, he said.

One aspect of the current discussions between the town and the club involves an open area in the club's pier, known as the “sick bay,” which the club wants to build over. Other waterways-related groups in town have said that gap is useful for fishermen and they'd like to retained. If the town owned the Yacht Club pier, this wouldn't be an issue; a design could better integrate the Eldredge and Yacht Club piers, Feeney said,.

“If we owned the whole thing it might be a totally different design,” he said.

Director of Natural Resources Robert Duncanson said there have been no formal discussions about town purchase of the Yacht Club pier, and the club's commodore said the pier is not for sale.

“We have an ongoing and constructive dialogue with town regarding our neighboring piers,” Yacht Club Commodore Drew Carlson said in a statement. “Our pier is not for sale.”

Duncanson told Feeney that if the committee is serious about the need for the town to purchase the Yacht Club pier, the discussion needs to be kicked upstairs to the board of selectmen.

“That's where it needs to be,” he said.

Club and town officials met last Friday to talk about design issues, Duncanson said. Along with the sick bay, there are other aspects of the plans, drawn up by Coastal Engineering, that need to be resolved before an agreement can be reached to make it a single joint project. He said they also discussed what it might mean if the town and Yacht Club go their separate ways and the pier upgrades become two separate projects.

The plans have not been finalized and are not ready to go out for bid, so Duncanson could provide no cost estimate. “We're not there yet,” he said. Renovations to the Eldredge dock alone have been estimated at $2 million, to be drawn from an $11 million waterfront infrastructure bond approved by voters in 2017.

Initial plans for the Eldredge facility call for pier-supported concrete docks, similar to those at Old Mill Boatyard, contiguous between the trap dock and yacht club properties.

“We are trying to work with them,” Duncanson said at the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee meeting, “to come up with a design that meets the town's needs and meets the needs of the Yacht Club.” The club is mostly active in the summer, and allowing the town to use the pier for the remaining nine months of the year is where discussions have headed, he said.

“We can't guarantee that's where we'll ultimately end up,” Duncanson said. “Who knows; there are lawyers involved.”

While an upgraded Eldredge dock will help should the fishing fleet need to relocate to Stage Harbor, having “half a dock,” with sailboats jostling for space, won't be adequate, Feeney said.

Noting that the committee has also discussed the town buying the Chatham Fish Pier Market property to help alleviate safety concerns at the fish pier, member Luther Bates suggested plot plans for that facility and the Yacht Club and Eldredge dock properties be brought to the committee's next meeting.

“We need to get our ducks in a row first and then go” to the board of selectmen, Feeney said.