Voters Reject Shark Barrier But Pitch In For VFW

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Topics: Town Meeting

Voters concluded Chatham's annual town meeting Tuesday. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM By the slimmest of margins, voters Tuesday rejected a plan to seek a shark detection and deterrent system for Oyster Pond Beach. But they passed most other articles in the second and final night of the annual town meeting, and soundly approved a $325,000 plan to acquire property interests in the VFW to support renovations to its building. Voters approved several bans on consumer plastics, and decided to change the name of the board of selectmen to the gender-neutral Chatham Select Board.

Article 40 sought $100,000 for a feasibility study and possible construction of a shark detection system or barrier to protect the Oyster Pond bathing beach, where children's swimming lessons are held. Resident Elaine Gibbs, a supporter of the article, said she regularly sees seals in Oyster Pond, and said it would not be impossible for sharks to enter the waterway. “And all we need is one,” she said. Critics said the proposal would be a waste of money and unfair to users of other beaches.

“It’s certainly shortsighted just to focus on protecting the [bathers] at Children’s Beach,” West Chatham resident Robert Davis said.

Select board member Jeffrey Dykens said he favors the idea as a precautionary measure, and the $100,000 might not be enough for a barrier or detection system, “but we should do the research. We’re in a brave new word here,” he said. The majority of voters disagreed, however, and the article was rejected on a 112 to 113 vote.

A special town meeting within the annual meeting contained a single article, a $325,000 appropriation designed to facilitate needed repairs and improvements at the Brown James Buck VFW Post. The VFW was unable to obtain funds from the Community Preservation Act, and a direct appropriation from the town was deemed illegal. To accommodate the request, select board members proposed purchasing one of the two lots owned by the VFW, an L-shaped parcel that contains the athletic fields and parking lot, and offering the use of the land to the VFW under a long-term lease, likely at a $1 a year rate. The town would also purchase the right of first refusal on the parcel where the post building is located, should the VFW ever seek to sell it.

Attorney William Riley, a veteran who spoke on behalf of the VFW, said the organization provides scholarships, flags on veterans’ graves, and an affordable meeting space for public gatherings and memorial services. The VFW also maintains the ball field where Little League teams practice, he noted.

Chatham resident Ted Miller, a VFW member, argued that many posts are active and vibrant despite not having buildings of their own. He urged the town to consider buying the entire property, then evaluating whether the site might be used for a new senior center. Resident Margaret Tompsett, who volunteers to help members of the armed forces and veterans, agreed, saying the new senior center could have a room dedicated to the three servicemen currently memorialized in the VFW post’s name. The arrangement is better than asking the VFW to “cope with a deteriorating building,” she said.

Resident Ronald Bergstrom said that the purchase of property interests in the article represents “a good deal for the town,” and should be approved if only for that reason. Resident Dave Van Wye, a Vietnam combat veteran and member of the VFW post, said the article is also an expression of support for those who served.

“It’s the veterans who have secured our rights to have a meeting like this,” he said. The article passed on a vote of 266 to 23.

Voters adopted three petition articles designed to reduce plastic waste. One makes it illegal for the town to purchase beverages in single-use plastic bottles, except when necessary for public health, public safety or to comply with regulations or laws, starting in January. Petitioner Suzanna Nickerson said the proliferation of plastic in nature is contributing to the decline of whole species.

“The threat to animals is human-made and includes plastic,” she said. “Is that one moment of consumption worth the long-term cost to the environment and ourselves?”

The second article prevents food establishments from dispensing prepared foods in containers made of polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam like Styrofoam. The measure, which takes effect on Jan. 1, also requires merchants to use biodegradable packaging wherever possible. The third article, a project of two Monomoy Regional High School civics students, would outlaw single-use plastic straws. All three measures passed on voice votes, and the Monomoy students earned a round of applause for their efforts.

Town meeting voters also soundly approved Article 68, changing the name of the board of selectmen to the gender-neutral Chatham Select Board. Board Chairman Dean Nicastro said he opposed the measure because it advances a change to the town charter without the usual step of putting it before voters in an election. While he said he doesn’t have strong feelings about the substance of the proposal, “I find it somewhat ridiculous to be referred to as an inanimate object,” he quipped.

“Well I don’t like to be referred to as a man,” one female resident replied. Despite a warning from the town moderator that the language of the article might create some conflict between the town bylaws and the home rule charter, voters approved the measure.

In other action Tuesday, voters gave the nod to a $7.15 million borrowing authorization for the next phase of sewer work in town, an appropriation that will also need approval at Thursday’s annual town election. They approved funds to design a visitor center at the Eldredge Garage property; monies for dredging and to evaluate the installation of groins to retain sand on town beaches; and engineering and design funds for improvements at the transfer station.

In a unanimous vote, town meeting approved the purchase of 4.17 acres of land off Queen Anne Road, fronting Goose Pond. The last three undeveloped lots on the pond were offered to the town by the Atwood family for $1.275 million. The land will be preserved as open space with a walking trail and a bench.

Voters soundly rejected a petition article by Peter Taylor to have the town withdraw from the Community Preservation Act, but approved spending $50,000 to study the possibility of having the town purchase its own dredge, or to do so in cooperation with neighboring towns.