It is still winter but the Chilmark selectmen on Tuesday had beach business to discuss.
At a public hearing the town beach committee made several requests for change at Lucy Vincent Beach. Selectmen granted three, including a flat rate of $85 for all vehicle beach passes, permission to charge for catered events held at town beaches and a new fee policy for transferred vehicle stickers. “We’re trying to make the beach pay for itself,” said committee member Pam Bunker.
In the past, two types of vehicle passes were available at the beach. A pass for seven days or less cost $60 and a pass for eight days or more cost $85. The short-term pass will now be eliminated. There has never been a charge for catered events at the beach, but beach superintendent Martina Mastromonaco requested permission to charge a $100 fee for such events. She said the charge will not apply to private cookouts or picnics.
Selectmen also agreed to allow the committee to restructure fees for transferring beach stickers. Transfer stickers are issued so residents will not have to pay more than once for a season pass if, for example, a new car is purchased. When Lucy Vincent opens on June 1 this year, the fee to transfer a sticker will increase from $20 to $25, but the fee for a second transfer will decrease to $15. Renters who move from one house to another will be allowed to transfer their sticker as long as the car and the renter are the same.
The beach committee also requested permission to sell T-shirts from the sticker office and raised the possibility of selling stickers at the beach during the last two weeks of the season. Mrs. Mastromonaco estimated the office sells at most one sticker a day during that time, yet they pay to staff their office in town hall full time. Mrs. Bunker said as a result, the beach loses nearly $15,000 during the month of September. Selling the stickers directly at the beach would save money, she said. Selectmen took no action on either request, but urged the committee to continue to explore options.
In other news, selectmen voted to take to town voters a request from the U.S. Coast Guard to build a 100-foot tower with a 13-foot antennae at Peaked Hill. The tower will be part of a national system called Rescue 21, which will replace outdated technology and function as a nationwide maritime 911 system for coastal waters. The tower is planned to replace a 40-foot tower which currently sits at Peaked Hill off North Road. The Coast Guard also wants to take down an existing plastic shed and replace it with one made of concrete.
Menemsha Coast Guard senior chief Stephen Barr came in front of the selectmen to support the project. “When someone keys up a radio, we will know exactly where they are,” he said. “It’s going to save us a ton of time and a ton of questions.” Harbor master Dennis Jason also voiced his approval. “We support this. It will save lives,” he said. Board chairman Warren Doty opposed the idea, explaining that the proposed site is under a conservation restriction. “It’s not a matter of beauty,” selectman J.B. Riggs Parker said in response. “It’s a matter of safety.” Mr. Parker argued by not supporting the measure, selectmen would be sending mixed signals to fishermen and mariners at a time when the town is increasing support of its harbor and fishing fleet. “It would be a mistake to say to this marine community we don’t care enough about your safety to have this one tower,” Mr. Parker said. In the end, the board voted to host a public hearing on the proposal and place it as an article on the annual town meeting warrant.
Selectmen also discussed a number of harbor issues. They granted a request from Carl Flanders to transfer his lease of a lot along the Menemsha bulkhead to the creek lot previously occupied by his father, the late Robert Flanders. They also heard a request from Alec Gale, who runs a wholesale fish buying business out of his boat in Menemsha harbor, to have a telephone, fax and copier on the docks. “It’s a downright necessity,” Mr. Gale said. He told selectmen he hopes to have a building to work out of in the future. He recently bought a 55-foot boat with increased ice storage to improve his business venture. Selectmen praised his work and referred the request to the park and recreation committee.
Toward the end of the meeting tempers flared when Mr. Parker said he wanted to obtain an opinion from town counsel on the legality of using town mooring permits for commercial use and profit. The town now manages 200 moorings and 53 slip assignments at Menemsha. Currently, two permit-holders lease multiple mooring spaces, which they rent out privately. The state inspector general has reviewed similar cases in Chatham and Harwich and found the situations illegal.
Mr. Doty argued vehemently against seeking the legal opinion. “Why do we need a legal opinion when we are a legal entity,” he asked the board. “Why do we want to make things different if this offers a service?”
Mr. Parker said he was not seeking change, only advice. “I think our job is to protect the town,” he said. Selectman Frank Fenner agreed. “If there’s a legal question, we need to get a legal answer,” he said.
Harbor master Dennis Jason agreed. “For us to think it’s just something we should ignore is just wrong in the long run,” he said.
In the end, the board voted 2-1 to go to town counsel for the opinion. Mr. Doty cast the dissenting vote.