Capping weeks of debate around town about whether a harbor improvement plan was in keeping with the character of Menemsha, Chilmark voters approved the plan at a special town meeting Monday night.
The vote was 40 to 25 to back the plan for rebuilding the dock and pier system in the heart of the historic fishing village. The project will be funded by a $629,000 grant from the Massachusetts Seaport Advisory Council.
A total of 77 voters turned out for the special session at the Chilmark Community Center Monday. There were two articles on the warrant.
Despite the fact that the funding is covered, the harbor improvement plan has generated much discussion and debate in recent weeks around whether the new docks should be wood or concrete. The latter is less costly, but many argued that wooden docks are more in keeping with the character of Menemsha.
In the end the town selectmen and a subcommittee that developed the plan came up with a compromise.
The plan now calls for a new transient dock with a fixed wooden pier for the first 60 feet and floating concrete docks surfaced with wood planking for the remaining 180 feet. New ramps to provide access for people with handicaps will be built, as well as a new 40-foot fixed wooden fuel dock.
The debate over whether the plan is a good fit for Menemsha continued on the town meeting floor Monday night.
Selectman Bill Rossi said the project conforms with the town master plan, which calls for keeping the fishing village a working fishing port and maintaining the visual character.
“We’re not adding any new recreational vessels to the slips; the number will stay the same and the number of commercial vessels has not been changed,” Mr. Rossi said. “As far as maintaining the visual character of Menemsha, it’s not an appreciable difference, especially with the wood decking, which is significantly better aesthetically than concrete [from] my personal perspective.”
Harbor master Dennis Jason, a supporter of the project, said the concrete floating dock system will be functional, durable and safe. He said he sees between 12 and 15 injuries each summer on the dock with the fluctuating tides.
“We’ve had some serious injuries — a broken collarbone, separated shoulder,” the harbor master said. “As people get older and kids, too, have to climb in and out of boats . . . it’s a no-brainer.”
But Marshall Carroll, the owner of Menemsha Texaco, argued strongly to keep the replacement docks all wood. He said voting in favor of the plan would be electing “to modernize [Menemsha] and have an Anytown, USA feel.”
Mary Murphy Boyd agreed. “We’re going to make a change we don’t fully understand the ramifications of,” she said.
But in the end the majority went the other way and the new plan was approved.
The state grant money was awarded early this year for repairs stemming from the July 2010 Menemsha boathouse fire.
In the only other article on the warrant, voters also approved spending $75,000 for the Chilmark housing year-round rental conversation program.