Amid claims of illicit permit trading and concern over a packed waiting list for mooring slips in Chilmark, town leaders were asked to tighten areas of the town waterways regulations at a public hearing last week.
Susan Murphy, who operates Menemsha marine repair with her husband and rents out multiple moorings in town, argued that the long waiting list for mooring slips is a result of allowing leaseholders to keep their slips empty for a year at a time.
In turn, she argued, this may be leading to rule-dodging amongst those desperate for a spot on the harbor.
“We’ve created a demand for a commodity that people want to keep in the family,” said Mrs. Murphy at the meeting. “I want it to work so that those who have a boat get to use it.”
Assistant to the harbor master Ian Yaffe does a weekly survey of the commercial moorings. According to Mr. Yaffe the problem with detecting permit swapping is that running registration checks is a complicated process.
“There wouldn’t be anything obvious to show a boat corresponds to its mooring slips except personal memory. It certainly could happen,” said Mr. Yaffe, who confirmed that there have been no official cases of permit swapping.
The Chilmark waterways consist of nine bodies of water from Tisbury Great Pond across to Squibnocket Pond which straddles Chilmark and the town of Aquinnah. The harbor master manages 200 moorings and 53 slip assignments at Menemsha.
At the discretion of the harbor master, permit holders can lend the space to a friend for a short period — but the arrangement must be approved ahead of time. According to Mr. Yaffe, the current priority is data gathering. If slip leaseholders are contravening the regulations, they are receiving warnings and reminders at this stage. Later in the season, these may turn to fines or, in extreme cases, slip revocation hearings in front of selectmen.
The harbor master’s office is also working to compile better data to better enforce the standing regulations. Meanwhile, at the meeting, harbor master Dennis Jason sought to allay concerns that people were free to ignore them.
“I’m still the law on the harbor,” said Mr. Jason. He added that simple population growth has affected the mooring waiting list. “The town’s grown, people want space.”
The language on mooring usage is as follows: “Moorings must be used to be maintained. Any mooring permit holder who does not occupy his/her mooring with the boat registered to such mooring for more than one year of mooring year will forfeit his/her mooring, unless he/she has notified the harbor master in writing, and received written permission for one year’s grace period.”
The current waiting list for mooring space is at 76 growing from 47 in 2003.
At the meeting selectmen presented a new draft of the regulations edited by the board, town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport and harbor master Jason.
The regulations were amended in 2005 and originally instated in 1996. Mr. Rappaport recommended, in a letter sent to selectmen at the end of March, that while department of environmental protection on commercial moorings is unclear, the current commercial regulations may be illegal. His letter recommended that selectmen seek guidance from the Department of Environmental Protection. Currently the entire section on commercial moorings is missing from the new draft.
Selectmen were divided on whether to reinsert the section on commercial moorings to this draft at this stage.
“At the moment this draft eliminates commercial moorings,” pointed out selectman Warren Doty.
Mrs. Murphy argued that the regulations should be reinstated now, since the majority of selectmen intend to keep them.
Selectman J. B. Riggs Parker argued that the commercial moorings section should only be reinstated once they have been deemed legal by the state.
The only other substantive difference in the draft is a softening of annual reapplication deadline. According to the regulations, slip leaseholders must reapply by January 15 each year.
When commercial fishermen and boaters missed the deadline this year — some by less than a full day — they appealed to selectmen for leniency at a meeting in January. Though Mr. Parker strenuously objected to altering the rules, the board ruled to do so by a 2-1 majority. The new draft reflects concerns about the cutthroat deadline expressed at January’s meeting. According to the draft the harbor master will attempt to make contact with all permit owners who miss the deadline — by telephone, post or e-mail — to issue a reminder. However, it does not indemnify permit holders against losing their slip if he doesn’t get hold of them.