CHATHAM – Fishermen are being given a reprieve on removal of gear from a storage area on the grounds of Chatham Airport, and town officials are examining an alternative location where fishing equipment could be stored.
The airport commission was amenable to a delay in the Nov. 19 deadline for removal of items from the area, where just under a dozen fishermen store gear. The exact duration of the delay will be set after commission members meet with fishermen sometime in the next few weeks.
At the Oct. 19 select board meeting, Principal Project Operations Administrator Terry Whalen identified a 1.5-acre area between the wastewater treatment plant and the solar array on the capped landfill as a potential alternative location for fishermen to store gear.
A preliminary analysis of town-owned land filtered through several criteria – a size of at least 1.5 acres, a 250 buffer from structures and at a 1.5-kilometer distance from the airport – narrowed the choice to one area, Whelan said.
For nearly 35 years, fishermen have been using land on the northeast side of the airport to store gear under lease arrangements with the airport commission. The Federal Aviation Administration, however, has been after the commission to close the area; one of the reasons is that the gear attracts birds and other animals that can pose a hazard to aviation. The agency said gear should not be stored within 3,000 feet of the runway, which excludes wide swaths of the town.
Earlier this month the select board asked the commission to delay closing the area for a year. After meeting with fishermen, the commission plans to set an extension date at its Nov. 10 session.
Fishermen sought an extension of the lease termination to provide time to find an alternative location to store gear.
“Our businesses have been based on the ability to store gear at a reasonable rental rate, some dating back to 1987,” fishermen Frank Santoro and Jason Hyora wrote to the commission in September. “There is no affordable private land storage available in town,” and the pandemic has made private solutions inaccessible. “Gear storage at our own homes impacts neighbors and in some cases is not feasible because of lot size or topography.”
Airport Commission Chair Huntley Harrison said the FAA was willing to give some leeway to develop a plan to close the area and find a new storage site.
“We do have some time,” he said at the commission's meeting earlier this month. He noted that the commission has been trying to close the area for a half dozen years or more.
“I think an extension is in order of some kind,” agreed commission vice chair Mike Geylin.
The commission initially supported a six-month extension, which Harrison said corresponded to the 180-day notice of closure provided in its rules and regulations. That would set the closure date at May 13.
“I just can't imagine dragging this on any longer,” Harrison said.
However, rather than set a specific date, commissioners decided to get input from fishermen and develop a specific plan for closure of the area first.
There needs to be a transition period to a new storage area if one is approved, Select Board member Cory Metters said.
“I think it's a very collaborative effort,” he said of the process. Officials need to figure out how many fishermen will move their gear to a new storage area. It would be better to have on central storage location than have the gear scattered throughout town, he said, and would show support for fishermen.
Whalen was asked to further research the proposed storage area to ensure there would be no conflicts.
“It appears this is the only conceivable site you've been able to come up with anyway,” said Select Board member Dean Nicastro. “It's worth pursuing further.”