Crackdown at the Harbor: Can It Help Those Who Wait Years for Moorings?


There's about to be a crackdown in Edgartown's harbor - new mooring regulations aim to fix a system in which some boaters have been waiting a generation for a place to put their vessel.

Securing a permanent mooring in any East Coast port town these days is often a challenge. But in Edgartown's inner harbor - one of two Island towns that still permit private moorings - it's practically impossible.

No one has been pulled from a waiting list of 800 in more than seven years. Those edging to the top of the list signed on nearly 15 years ago.

How 800 people came to wait for one of about 290 inner harbor moorings is a simple matter of demand exceeding supply. Everyone wants to be, as Edgartown harbor master Charles Blair puts it, "on the 50-yard-line."

And once they have it, no one wants to give up their front row seat - not even those who no longer own a boat. Some moorings, those on the waterfront say, are leased or lent for seasons at a time - in violation of regulations.

Despite the bleak chances anyone has of securing one of these permanent moorings in the channel between Caleb's Pond and the lighthouse, about 100 people a year add their name to the waiting list. Mr. Blair doesn't mince words when describing to these newcomers their odds of getting a mooring one day: "I've had to tell people that their great-grandchildren wouldn't get a spot on the 50-yard line," said Mr. Blair.

But the time has come, Edgartown selectmen and harbor advisory committee members agreed this week, for a crackdown.

"The question is, ‘Is it proper to let someone rent out a mooring and run a mini-business on town property?' Is that fair?" asked selectman Arthur Smadbeck during a joint meeting Wednesday to look at revisions to the regulations.

"We've determined it's not fair," answered Joseph Cressy, a member of the harbor advisory committee, which has been working for more than a year to beef up the regulations. When mooring enforcement came under fire in the summer of 2002 from Chappaquiddick resident Robert Kagan - who has moved up the list only four spots in 10 years - selectmen asked the harbor advisory committee to examine the regulations.

Mr. Kagan, who has a temporary mooring just beyond Caleb's Pond, said he found more than 20 boats on moorings one summer day that did not match the vessel of record registered with the harbor master.

"There were people sitting on the waiting list for 10 years, playing by the rules, getting screwed," said Mr. Kagan.

The new mooring regulations, which some say differ little from those on the books now, call for:

* Annual renewal of a spot on the waiting list. The yearly renewal carries a fee of $25 for the first year, $10 to $15 following years.

* If a mooring permit holder is caught renting, lending or bartering his mooring, the spot will be taken away and given to someone on the waiting list.

* The mooring holder's vessel of record must be the only boat on the mooring unless the harbor master grants permission otherwise

* If a mooring holder is not using the spot for more than three consecutive weeks a season, the spot will be used for daily mooring rentals (transient) by the harbor master.

* If a mooring holder is not using the spot for a whole season, the harbor master will rent it out for the summer on behalf of the town.

* If a mooring holder has not alerted the harbor master of any of the above situations and his vessel of record is not on the mooring, the harbor master may revoke the permit.

Cleaning up the waiting list could wipe out more than half of those in line, Mr. Cressy said. "There are people [on that list] who have died or who have moved." he said.

But taking some of the 290 moorings from those who abuse the system will be the challenge, officials agreed.

"We have some locals with moorings that don't have boats. Purging these people from the mooring will be tough. The problem is they are our people," Mr. Blair, who has been harbor master since 1995, told officials Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Cressy agreed: "This is a very emotional thing. These moorings have been in the family for years. They're hoping to hang on to them for their grandchildren."

But some on the waterfront, including Mr. Blair, doubt it will come to kicking people off of a mooring. The harbor master suspects people will find loopholes in the regulations before he kicks up enforcement this coming summer.

"I doubt anyone will come off that list. People will buy a dinghy if they have to and call that the vessel of record," Mr. Blair said.

Predicting the fallout on the harbor, Steve Ewing, who services about 200 permanent moorings in Edgartown's harbor, said people will rush to comply with the regulations.

"People will scramble. It will force them to make up their minds whether they really want to keep the mooring," Mr. Ewing said.

How to deal with Edgartown residents who have been leasing or borrowing moorings from friends for many years became a sore point even in the discussions this week. Mr. Cressy proposed an amnesty program for those who have been using the mooring for more than five years - officially giving them the mooring they don't own.

But town administrator Peter O. Bettencourt said that is dangerous territory.

"You're legitimizing something that's wrong. If I'm on that [waiting] list, I'm going to scream," he said.

"You have to decide," said selectman Michael Donaroma: either the person using it legally or illegally ends up losing out.

The harbor advisory committee will be ironing out the details in the next few months, but selectmen endorsed the concepts of new regulations this week. The group wants to get the new rules in place at the first of the year.

Edgartown leaders are not alone in grappling with how to distribute a limited supply of boat space within the town harbor.

"From Boothbay Harbor to New Jersey, everyone's in the same boat. There's only so much land and water. And we keep getting more and more people, with more time, more money, more leisure, more boats," Mr. Cressy said.

In Tisbury's harbor, which has 163 private moorings, the wait list is about 100 people. This year was a good year for the harbor master's crew - they got to pull someone off the waiting list, said Hillary Conklin, the harbor master's secretary.

"I couldn't believe I got to call them," she said. Moorings become available one when someone dies or moves away, she said.

Both Oak Bluffs and Chilmark gave up on permitting private moorings in their small harbors. In Oak Bluffs, every time one of the remaining 25 private moorings is vacated, it reverts to the town to be used as a transient mooring.

Menemsha's harbor is so small there's room for only two moorings, both of which are used for nightly rentals during the summer season.

In addition to changing its regulations, in another move that could help shorten the waiting list, Edgartown may create 50 new private moorings just beyond Caleb's Pond down harbor.

But competition for such moorings has plainly not gone away.

Mr. Ewing said those lucky enough to own one need to remember how fortunate they are.

"Owning a mooring is like owning a little piece of the waterfront. It's a valuable asset to own a mooring in any of these towns. But it's also a responsibility," he said.