CHATHAM – Selectmen last week declined to support proposed federal legislation to declare Nantucket Sound a National Historic Landmark.
Chatham is the only Cape town bordering Nantucket Sound that has declined to endorse the legislation, which is being promoted by the Alliance To Protect Nantucket Sound. Some 50 towns, municipal agencies and nonprofit organizations signed on to a letter to Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congressman William Keating supporting the declaration.
Selectmen took no action on a request that they add their endorsement to the proposed legislation, with members expressing concern about inviting further federal oversight over the Sound. Chairman Dean Nicastro worried that a National Historic Landmark designation could impact efforts to control the seal population. Culling seals is one of the options a consultant is studying in reaction to last September's fatal shark attack in Wellfleet. While he made clear that he is not advocating culling seals, Nicastro said the option needs to be examined.
The other concern officials expressed related to the town's efforts, through federal legislation, to limit the western boundary of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge to the island's low tide line. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims jurisdiction over some 4,000 acres of open water and submerged lands in Nantucket Sound west of the refuge.
The main goal of the proposed legislation is to prohibit federal leasing of Nantucket Sound for energy projects, including wind farms and oil drilling. Its goal is to protect Nantucket Sound's cultural and tribal heritage, the “unique features” of its maritime history, including the role of commercial fishing, and to promote tourism associated with the water body. The National Landmark Program is administered by the National Park Service
According to Audra Parker, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance To Protect Nantucket Sound, the legislation would protect from development the federal waters outside the three-mile state jurisdiction. The Alliance led the 16-year fight against the Cape Wind project. However, the Martha's Vineyard Wind project south of that island would be outside of the Nantucket Sound landmark designation, she said.
Town Counsel Patrick Costello said he did not believe the town's position regarding the Monomoy dispute would be negatively impacted by a historic landmark designation, since the proposed legislation does not impact boundaries or ownership.
A waiver from the Marine Mammal Protection Act would be required to cull seals, Costello said, and a National Landmark designation would invite the National Park Service, and potentially other federal agencies, into that process.
“It intensifies federal government involvement in the process,” he said. In a memo to the board, he also noted that Nantucket Sound has been determined to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I strongly feel the designation we have now is sufficient enough for us,” said Selectman Shareen Davis. She added that she would be more supportive if the move to declare the Sound a National Landmark came from a grassroots effort and not a nonprofit organization with specific interests.
“I think it's just overkill,” she said.
Selectman Cory Metters said the board could revisit the issue later, but he saw no rush to endorse the designation now.
“I think we need to keep our options open right now,” he said.
Former Selectman Seth Taylor said adding more federal oversight was a bad idea.
“Don't invite the fox to visit with us if we don't have to,” he said.
Selectman Jeffrey Dykens was said he supported the legislation's goal of banning energy development projects in Nantucket Sound. He noted that consultant Jeff Pike, who is working with the town on the Monomoy boundary issue, saw no issue with the proposed legislation, and he considered the seal issue a “red herring” because the Marine Mammal Protection Act already involves federal agencies.
“I don't have an issue with signing onto this,” Dykens said. “In fact I would support it.”
Parker noted that Governor Charlie Baker and members of the Cape state legislative delegation have endorsed the effort along with fishing groups, chambers of commerce, environmental organizations and the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes. Vineyard Wind and Bay State Wind have also signed on to support the legislation
“We've had a very enthusiastic response to our effort to protect this unique body of water from future development,” she said. She likened the proposed designation to the Cape Cod National Seashore and the protections from development that provided.
“We'd like the same type of future for Nantucket Sound, to ensure that it remains a national treasure,” she said.
Nicastro, however, was not convinced the designation is a good idea, and the board decided to take no action on the endorsement request.
“I'm not persuaded we should sign on to this,” Nicastro said.
Parker said the group is continuing to build support and anticipates the legislation being filed “in the short term.”