Edgartown town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport had strong words of criticism Tuesday for Norman Rankow, the former chairman of the town dredge advisory committee who used the town-owned dredge for a private project in the town harbor last month without a permit and in violation of state and town environmental laws.

Dredging crews at work. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“This is a very serious matter, that town equipment was utilized to do unpermitted dredging for a private benefit in Katama Bay, and to dump the spoils in the bay,” Mr. Rappaport told the selectmen, with members of the conservation commission and dredge advisory committee in the audience. “It is the type of act which undermines the public’s faith in their government.”

The dredge equipment was used for a private, unpermitted job. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Mr. Rappaport recommended the selectmen and other town boards take “forceful action” to address the situation, including referring Mr. Rankow’s actions to the state ethics commission. Without hesitation, the selectmen agreed.

“I think it’s just deplorable that we’ve been faced with this issue,” said selectman Margaret Serpa after the board voted to send a letter to the ethics commission.

Mr. Rankow, who did not attend the meeting, has admitted that he authorized the use of the town dredge on Jan. 13 for dock work property owned by Steven and Deborah Barnes at 51 Witchwood avenue, without first obtaining permits from the town conservation commission, even though an application was pending.

Mr. Rankow resigned from the dredge committee about two weeks ago, saying he needed a break. He has served on the commission since its inception more than a decade ago.

A survey ordered by the conservation commission showed that the project’s dredging depths exceeded what was proposed, and the sand was not placed on the beach, but instead discharged into the harbor. The unauthorized activity resulted in enforcement orders from the town conservation commission, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

Mr. Rankow is the general contractor for the Barnes property. Mr. Rappaport said it appears that Mr. and Mrs. Barnes did not have knowledge that the dredging was unauthorized.

Last week, conservation agent Jane Varkonda said the town shellfish constable would conduct a survey to see if shellfish and eelgrass were affected by the dredge. Among other things, there are 11 separate oyster farms in Katama Bay.

On Tuesday Mr. Rappaport recommended that Mr. and Mrs. Barnes be required to pay for an independent survey by a qualified engineer to make sure the shellfish habit was not affected.

“I cannot underscore enough the seriousness of this type of activity and the detrimental effect it has on people’s faith in government,” Mr. Rappaport said.

Other recommendations from the town counsel included establishing protocols to be sure that no work is done by the town dredge without proper permit, and to prohibit private work by the town dredge without first adopting a policy for such work.