2009-08-06 / Front Page

Coveted mooring spots go unclaimed

By Stacy Jones

People who have waited years are turning down a town mooring. There are 1,117 moorings in Jamestown. Photo by Jeff McDonough People who have waited years are turning down a town mooring. There are 1,117 moorings in Jamestown. Photo by Jeff McDonough As harbormaster for the last 18 years, Sam Paterson has heard it all: Complaints, cries for help, requests for directions, thanks – and excuses.

But more and more in the last year, he has heard something new and unexpected: “No, thank you.”

More people are choosing to pass on their chance to obtain a town mooring, a process that can take anywhere from four to 10 years.

“It’s very rare,” said Paterson, who attributes this anomaly to simple economics.

Apparently, getting on the town mooring waiting list is the easy — and inexpensive – part.

“All you need is $10 and you can get on the list,” Paterson said, adding that the annual list fee covers administrative costs. The mooring list is not limited to town residents and is divided into eight zones, A-H, which are located around the island. Waiting lists for each zone may vary.

But the serious shelling out of cash occurs when one’s name fi- nally reaches the top of the list.

“It’s expensive to put a mooring in,” Paterson said. “Used moorings can cost between $1,000 and $2,000, and new ones run from $1,500 to $3,000.”

Another potential economic hardship is the boat itself. Since the wait time for a mooring is so long, applicants sometimes aren’t prepared when their names come up. In other words, they have a chance at a mooring, but no boat.

“People forget that when you get a mooring, all you are getting is a parking spot,” Paterson said.

Paterson suspects that the financial commitment of boat ownership has led some to ignore the certified letter from the harbormaster. If a person doesn’t return the mooring application in 10 working days, along with the permit fee and current registration, their name is purged from the system.

While that may seem harsh, there are mechanisms in place for those who find themselves unprepared.

“Our goal is to always give people the best opportunity to take ownership of the space,” Paterson said. “It’s a great opportunity for the general public. And though the rules must be applied, we are very accommodating.”

One of those mechanisms is a temporary one-year grace period. An applicant may request the grace period from the harbormaster, which – if granted – allows the applicant to take ownership of the mooring without having to put in a boat or mooring tackle. In addition, this grace period (open to any mooring owner) allows the mooring owner to let someone else use their space for a year, though no fees can be charged. After the grace period, the owner must fully maintain and make full use of the mooring or lose their spot.

The Harbor Office doesn’t allow consecutive years of nonuse, Paterson said. However, owners with special circumstances can appeal Paterson’s decision through the Harbor Commission.

As harbormaster, enforcer and administrator of the mooring list, Paterson sticks to the rules, which is the main reason he believes the mooring system works just fine.

“The mooring list is a bible. It’s an absolute bible,” Paterson said. “You can find out who signed up before you and who signed up after you. There is no jumping ahead. Everyone is treated the same.”

With 1,117 moorings to manage (738 private; 379 commercial) — the second-largest collection in the state behind Portsmouth — Paterson has his hands full, especially because dealing with moorings is just a small part of his responsibilities during his six-hour patrol. Duties that fall to the harbormaster include patrols, rescues, assisting the Coast Guard, maintaining the Harbor Office boats and the facilities on the waterfront, assisting the police, documenting all boating accidents, safety checks, investigating suspicious activity, educating boaters and serving as an all-around ambassador to Jamestown.

The Harbor Office also has an assistant harbormaster. By comparison, Newport has two harbormasters and five to seven parttime staffers, and also conducts a 16-hour patrol while managing a smaller area.

“I don’t think everyone totally understands the mooring system or the duties of the harbormaster,” Paterson said. “We’re not so hardcore. We work with the public, but the public has to work with us.”

Nevertheless, Paterson is not complaining, not by a long shot.

“It’s all good,” Paterson said over the sound of a ringing telephone. “I’m healthy, I’m happy and I enjoy my job.”

By the numbers

• Number of names currently on the mooring waiting list: 312

• Number of permits issued in the last year: 21 (11 riparian, 10 class three or right-of-way)

•Annual cost of a mooring permit fee: $3.35 per foot (residents); $6.70 per foot (non-resident/ commercial)

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