Selectmen Mull Oyster Pond Safety Measures

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Sharks

Children play in Oyster Pond.  FILE PHOTO

Following Shark Barrier Loss At Town Meeting

CHATHAM — The message from voters at the annual town meeting was clear: Chatham shouldn’t be spending money on shark detection and mitigation at Oyster Pond Beach. But with swimming lessons starting up soon, selectmen are wondering what might still be done to improve safety for beachgoers.
“Is there anything else we can do for Oyster Pond?” Selectman Peter Cocolis said Monday. A regional study is already underway to consider potential shark safety measures, but it is not expected to recommend actions for specific beaches like the one at the Oyster Pond and probably won't be completed until the fall.
Article 40 sought $100,000 for a feasibility study and possible construction of a shark detection system at the tidal pond, but critics argued that the proposal would be a waste of money and unfair to users of other beaches. The article was defeated by a single vote at last week’s meeting.
Monday, Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said he had hoped that the article would lead to improvements that might allow the town to promote Oyster Pond as a beach that is safe not only from strong surf and currents but also from sharks and seals. While the shark study is still pending, “we need to get ahead of it,” Dykens said.
Board Chairman Shareen Davis said the town should consider low-cost safety improvements at the beach, or possibly having the harbor patrol have a greater presence near Oyster Pond Beach.
The regional study is underway, Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said. “We’re going to try to do what we can do” to meet the recommendations of that study, but if it recommends some sort of shark barrier, “that’s not necessarily going to happen for this season,” she said. The town is seeking to place extra lifeguards there with improved radio communications equipment, Goldsmith added.
“If something should happen at the Oyster Pond, who’s held responsible?” Cocolis asked. He said town officials and the board of selectmen would be criticized for not taking appropriate action, not necessarily the town meeting voters who rejected Article 40.
The board might be held politically responsible for such an emergency, board member Dean Nicastro said, but it probably would not be held legally responsible. Town counsels for other Lower Cape communities have actually advised those towns against putting certain shark detection systems in place, he noted. If they do, and the devices fail to detect a shark, the town could have actual legal liability, Nicastro said. “So I think we have to proceed with caution in this area,” he said.