CHATHAM – A short “listening session” last week kicked off the town's effort to square its waterways bylaws and regulations with state and federal rules.
In a meeting that lasted less than half an hour, a handful of speakers raised several questions and made comments about the town's regulations, mostly focused on the contentious issue of moorings.
Waterways officials and the town's waterways advisory committee spent more than two years revising, compiling and consolidating waterways and fish pier regulations as well as mooring regulations into a single document with input from numerous town committees, the board of selectmen and the public. The final document was adopted by Harbormaster Stuart Smith on Aug. 9.
Some were unhappy with both the process and results, however.
“Although the review processes were extensive, some members of the community still expressed reservations over certain aspects, including perceived inconsistencies between the regulations, waterways bylaw and state waterways regulations,” said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson.
The board of selectmen decided to hire a special town counsel to evaluate the revised regulations and waterways bylaw – separate measures that can only be changed through town meeting vote – looking for internal inconsistencies as well as consistency with state and federal laws. The board's directive included drafting new bylaws, regulations and/or policies to address any problems that are found.
KP Law was hired for the review, and last Tuesday attorney Amy Kwessell, who has experience reviewing waterways regulations in Duxbury, Mattapoisett and Rockport, listened to comments. There was no debate or presentation of proposed changes. “Attorney Kwesell is here to listen to what you have to say and take it under advisement during her review,” said Duncanson.
Comments offered at the session, held at the community center, focused on moorings. Rick Leavitt that while the town has more than 2,500 moorings, it needs more than 1,000 more; as of August there were 1,063 people on 24 different waiting lists that cover the town's five principal mooring areas. Some have been on the list for as long as two decades, he said.
Two changes need to be made in mooring policy, he said. Currently there are a large number of unused moorings, and owners are allowed to hold on to the permits as long as they pay an annual fee and continue to own a vessel, he said. “Your boat could be gathering moss in your backyard or in California, but as long as you keep it, you keep your mooring,” Leavitt said.
Unused moorings should be forfeited or allowed to temporarily be used by a third party, he said, such as the next person on the waiting list.
His second suggestion was to fully utilize space in locations such as Oyster Pond and Crow's Pond, where most moorings are close to shore. Moorings in these areas serve a small number of waterfront property owners and underutilize the available space, he said.
“We need a town policy that encourages full utilization,” he said.
Cliff Berner of Oyster River Boatyard disagreed. Those waterways should not be “filled to capacity” with moorings.
“Open space needs to remain,” he said, explaining that those areas are used by boaters for watersports such as water skiing and tubing and also be marinas to troubleshoot repairs and test drive boats.
“We can't go out and test a boat in the middle of Nantucket Sound knowing it has a mechanical problem,” he said. “We need the safety and security of an inland waterway where we can go fast to test a boat and it's a five-minute tow back.” These areas are also used by families and young people learning how to operate boats, he added.
“You can't pack these mooring fields full of boats,” Berner said. “They need open, safe places to boat.”
He also said the newly consolidated regulations are too long and convoluted; they should be shortened and made more simple. “That would be a wonderful goal,” he said.
Harbormaster Smith agreed Chatham has a lot of people on mooring waiting lists, but that's not unusual on the Cape, he said. A major limiting factor, aside from space in the waterways, is infrastructure. “For every 10 moorings we have in town, we have one parking space,” he said. Nothing would make him happier than adding additional moorings, but that would severely tax the town's waterways.
“I don't think the community will stand for developing the waterfront like this community has developed real estate,” he said.
The fact that only about a dozen people attended last Tuesday's session showed that most residents were content with the recent work done to consolidate the regulations. “It was a thorough, lengthy discussion by a multitude of committees, including the board of selectmen and town counsel,” that resulted in a lengthy but complete document, he said. This process, he said, was engendered by a small group of people “who didn't get their way.”
Kwesell said she could not give a date when she will deliver her report, but it should be soon. The report will go to the board of selectmen who will decide what action to take, Duncanson said.