Fishermen Told To Remove Gear From Airport Storage Area

By: Alan Pollock

The storage yard is home to lobster pots, line, totes and other fishing gear, but also contains rusty old appliances, industrial equipment and refuse. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

Select Board Asks Airport Commission For Delay

CHATHAM For almost 35 years, commercial fishermen have had an agreement with the town allowing them to store their gear on vacant land northeast of the airport runway. Under pressure from the FAA, the airport commission is bringing that arrangement to a close, and the town has asked fishermen to remove their equipment by Nov. 19.

“I really feel like I’m up against the wall,” lobsterman Jason Hyora told the select board Tuesday. Along with around nine other fishermen, Hyora leases a 5,000-square-foot plot for a fee of $600 a year; he uses it to store around 800 lobster traps. The eviction notice from the town was “a tough pill to swallow,” he said.

Fisherman Frank Santoro, who dredges for clams, uses his plot to store various shellfish dredges, masts and booms, among other bulky, rusty pieces of equipment. “If you were my neighbor, you don’t want to see ‘em in your back yard,” he said.

Airport commission Chairman Huntley Harrison said the storage area was identified by the FAA as a safety liability because the gear is identified as a “significant wildlife attractant.”

“The area, from our point of view, has not been kept up as we feel it should be,” Harrison said. The storage area is largely overgrown, with weeds overtaking some of the more disused fishing gear. Other items have been left there as well, something Santoro blames on illegal dumping.

The airport commission voted on May 12 to terminate the use of the storage area and sent a letter informing the select board of its decision the following day. Board member Dean Nicastro said he doesn’t recall having seen the letter before this week’s meeting. On July 29, Town Manager Jill Goldsmith sent a letter informing fishermen that their leases had been terminated, giving them the required 180 days’ advance notice. But the 180-day clock started on May 13, Goldsmith wrote, giving fishermen until Nov. 19 to vacate.

“Unfortunately, at this time no other town-owned property has been identified for a new storage area site,” she wrote.

Hyora said his first preference is for the airport commission to issue an extension of that deadline for a year or longer, to give fishermen more time to relocate their equipment.

Harrison said he does not favor doing so and will make his feelings known at the next airport commission meeting.

“I’m afraid that my proposal to the airport commission at the next meeting may not be favorable to an extension,” he told the select board.

Board member Cory Metters said the town’s deadline offers “a very short window” to find a solution. Under zoning rules, Chatham allows the storage of fishing gear in all zones other than municipal conservation land.

“This gear is going to end up going somewhere,” Metters said.

“It can be put in anybody’s back yard,” board Chair Peter Cocolis said.

“If these items wind up in people’s back yards, I think we’re going to have a lot of neighborhood complaints about it,” Nicastro added.

All members of the select board said they are sympathetic to the needs of commercial fishermen.

“I can’t imagine we couldn’t find another spot to relocate some of this stuff,” board member Jeffrey Dykens said.

Principal Projects and Operations Administrator Terry Whalen said the town has not yet done a detailed search for alternate locations, but wrote that “considering current enhanced concerns with water quality protection, it is recommended the primary review be focused on parcels located outside the Water Resources Protection District,” excluding town-owned conservation land. On recommendation of the FAA, the gear should also be stored no closer to the runway than 3,000 meters. That exclusion zone covers all of the town with the exception of a corner of South Chatham, Morris Island and the Old Village, parts of North Chatham and Nickerson Neck.

If the town sought to create a new fishing gear storage area within that exclusion area, “we’d probably have to have a discussion with the FAA on grant assurances,” Whalen said.

Cocolis said he walked the airport parcel in the spring and saw lots of fishing gear, “but there are also a lot of other things that were there,” some of which may pose environmental hazards. In the quest for a new storage site, “we’re looking for a place to put fishing gear, not everything else,” he said. Steps can be taken to control illegal dumping, he added.

The town should do what it can to support the fishermen, Cocolis said.

“We’re talking about a major business and industry in town,” he said. “We’re a fishing village, for heaven’s sake.”

Nicastro said town counsel recently made it clear that the select board cannot direct the airport commission when it comes to managing the airport property, but it can certainly share its point of view. To that end, Nicastro made a motion that the board ask the airport commission to grant a one-year extension for the leases. The motion also directs town staff to research an alternate location for the storage of fishing gear, and to respond to the board’s request within two weeks. With board member Shareen Davis recused, the board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.