Selectmen Endorse Shark Mitigation, Name Change, CPA Articles

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Town Meeting


70-Plus Article Town Meeting Warrant Now Closed

CHATHAM The board of selectmen Monday voted to close and sign the warrant for the May 13 annual town meeting, capping a detailed review of more than 70 articles over several weeks. Board members voted to endorse a number of the initiatives, including a possible shark barrier at Oyster Pond Beach, funds to renovate the VFW post, and a measure to change the board’s name to the gender-neutral Chatham Select Board, a move they had previously opposed.

The shark mitigation funding earmarks $100,000 for the feasibility study, design, permitting and possible construction of some kind of safety barrier for the bathing beach. Because there were no respondents to the town’s request for proposals, it’s not clear what form such a barrier might take – a net, an electronic or magnetic deterrent system, a bubble curtain or some other form – and the $100,000 is essentially a placeholder. At the direction of selectmen, town staff are attempting to put some system in place in time for this summer’s beach season, though that goal may not be attainable.

In a reversal of a previous position, a split board of selectmen voted to endorse a nonbinding petition article seeking to change the board’s name to the Chatham Select Board. Petitioners Florence Seldin and Debbie Aikman acknowledged that some prefer the traditional name that’s been in place for hundreds of years, but it was nearly 100 years ago that women were given the right to vote, ending another “cherished tradition” of male-only voting, Seldin said. Board member Shareen Davis, who previously opposed the idea, said her position was insensitive because she was only thinking of her experience, “and not thinking about the community at large.” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens agreed, saying he received “quite a bit of feedback” after he opposed the name change before. The board voted 3-2, with Cory Metters and Dean Nicastro dissenting, to endorse the nonbinding petition.

Board members voted to include a placeholder article that would provide funds for enhanced landscaping and lighting for the West Chatham Roadway Project, over and above what MassHighway will pay for the roadway reconfiguration. A working group has recommended the planting of additional large trees and the installation of pedestrian-scaled streetlights and other amenities, and town officials have asked contractor Lawrence-Lynch Corp. for price estimates for the changes. As of Monday evening when selectmen voted to include it on the warrant, the placeholder article did not include a dollar figure. The board did not vote whether to recommend passage of the article.

Though it faces a legal hurdle, an article appropriating $200,000 for repairs and updates to the Brown James Buck VFW Post won the support of selectmen this week. Post officials have applied unsuccessfully for Community Preservation Act funds for their building project, arguing that the oldest portion of the building is historic. “No one wants to vote no on this article,” Nicastro said, but town counsel has opined that the expenditure would run afoul of the Anti-aid Amendment to the state constitution. Adopted in the 1850s as a means to prevent public funds from being spent on largely Catholic institutions, the amendment is “a nasty, bigoted piece of law that was put into effect during a bad period in this country,” but has nonetheless survived attempts to repeal it, Nicastro said. The board voted unanimously to recommend passage, but noted that it will ultimately be up to the town moderator to decide whether the article can be acted upon.

Selectmen unanimously voted against supporting a petition article seeking to have the town withdraw from the provisions of the Community Preservation Act. Because town officials used an outdated email address to notify him, petitioner and former selectman Seth Taylor could not be present on March 18, so the discussion was postponed to March 21, at which time Taylor was away. Community Preservation Committee Chairman Michael Tompsett argued that the legislation has helped fund many important projects, leveraging state funds that would not otherwise be available.

After some spirited debates, town officials have devised a plan for the $2.265 million received as part of the intermunicipal sewer agreement with Harwich. Instead of being earmarked solely for the wastewater project or used to pay own the town’s other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability, voters will be asked to transfer the funds to a new capital stabilization fund for a broader range of uses in the future. If town meeting voters approve the transfer, they will have to also approve any expenditure from the fund by a two-thirds majority vote.

Selectmen unanimously supported Article 39, which appropriates $575,000 to fund beach nourishment and study sand-retaining groins for Nantucket Sound. The article includes $200,000 more than previously recommended, with the understanding that a portion of the money could be used for the dredging of Chatham Harbor, should it become possible to do so. The board also supported Article 71, which would spend up to $50,000 for a consultant to investigate the feasibility of the town purchasing and operating its own dredge or doing so with neighboring towns.

Without exception, the board voted to recommend approval of all of the articles seeking funding under the Community Preservation Act. The articles included several affordable housing initiatives, along with historic preservation funds for the Nickerson archaeological dig on Chatham Conservation Foundation land. Other historic projects include the restoration of the front door of the Atwood House Museum, repairs to the exterior of the caboose at the Chatham Railroad Museum, and the restoration of several old headstones in Chatham cemeteries. CPA recreation funds are being sought for several initiatives, including the installation of automated warning lights at the bike path crossing on Route 137, installation of a croquet court and a new pathway at Chase Park, three water bottle filling stations, and the restoration of the playgrounds at Chatham Elementary School. Open Space CPA funds are being recommended for the three-year removal of invasive species at the Marconi Triangle Park and at the Nickerson archaeological site.