Panels butt heads over responsibilities
Much of last week’s meeting of the Harbor Management Commission was spent discussing the implications of a Town Council appropriation of $50,000 from the commission’s retained earnings.
A memo from Town Administrator Bruce Keiser in which he explained the reasons for the appropriation fueled the conversation on May 11.
“[At the May 2 Town Council meeting], the town engineer and I reported on the status and cost of repairs to sections of seawall at East Ferry and along Racquet Road, and on a planned West Ferry public restroom,” wrote Keiser. He explained that there were no “appropriated funds available to meet the $100,000 expenditures for these urgent projects,” and that of the three scenarios that he had proposed to the Town Council for funding the work, the council had chosen to split the costs “on a 50- 50 basis.”
Keiser acknowledged that the Harbor Commission was hard at work on a definition of “facilities eligible for harbor capital funding,” and he added that the council and the administration did not intend to bypass the commission’s advisory role.
The frustration was palpable among the commissioners.
The new subcommittee structure has produced a number of documents that further the goal of assigning monetary values and priority status to harbor assets in need of repair, enhancement or replacement.
Credited with designing a spreadsheet that addresses the task, Vice Chairman Andrew Kallfelz spoke about the nexus between town and harbor responsibility for funding projects. He explained that the degree of connection between the seawall at East Ferry is higher than road work at Racquet Road. Kallfelz suggested that the nexus at East Ferry may or may not be worthy of a 50-50 split but he and others on the commission stated unequivocally that there was no connection between harbor responsibilities and the undermined roadbed on Racquet Road.
Commissioner Ed McGuirl led an examination of the language in the goals section of the ordinance, which had been used by Town Council President Mike Schnack at the May 2 council meeting, to justify the council’s appropriation of harbor funds for the purpose of rebuilding Racquet Road.
McGuirl read the first goal, which states in part: “To maintain and improve public access to and from the waters of the town for the benefit of all user groups, including residents and non-residents with or without boats, who seek to use town waters for passive and active recreation.”
McGuirl explained that the extraordinarily broad definition of harbor responsibilities would imply that all roads on the island provide public access to the water and are therefore harbor’s responsibility. He added that the Town Council has “short circuited” the commission’s assignment.
The commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to the Town Council objecting to the expenditure and to explain the guiding concept that the commission intends to use when evaluating which entity is responsible for what part of the funding for a harbor related project.
Town Council members Ellen
Winsor and Bob Bowen voted against the motion at the council’s May 2 meeting. Winsor spoke during the open forum at the harbor meeting in support of the ongoing process of delineating harbor assets, assigning financial responsibility and sending a letter to the Town Council.
“Prioritizing projects is key,” Winsor said, “and the council did you no favors with their conduct at the last meeting by usurping your task that you were assigned by the council to delineate harbor infrastructure and who was [financially] responsible.”
Winsor continued calling out her colleagues: “I think that the council and the town administrator have to be very careful because it is easy and is being perceived that [boat yard owners] are being targeted and you harbor commissioners, to some extent through your budget, are a means to an end.”
Winsor also addressed the letter, which was to be drafted by Harbor Commission Chairman Mike de Angeli and sent to the Town Council. “Your letter to the council is appropriate as a push back, because as you described – and as it was stated at council – you haven’t even finished your process of figuring out who should pay for what as far as the task the council assigned you,” Winsor said.
She continued, “On Monday the council spent $50,000 of your money unbeknownst to you [on] a project [that] isn’t even on the town engineer’s [list of harbor assets and infrastructure] map.”
“So it does come across as capricious and I also think that it is self serving,” she added. “I am speaking firmly because I think that this council really needs to have regard for the citizen’s process and the citizen’s time. I am speaking as a town councilor and as a citizen.”
Other items on the agenda included the ongoing changes to the Harbor Management Ordinance, which incorporated “99 percent” of the changes suggested by the state Coastal Resource Management Council’s coastal policy offi cer Kevin Cute, according to de Angeli.
Changes included language prohibiting anchoring of vessels in a conservation zone and the redrawing of conservation zones, in particular reducing the size of the zone between the mouth of Great Creek and Dutch Island. Previously the zone permitted day anchoring only.
Maureen Coleman, liaison from the Conservation Commission, said that her panel was satisfied with the changes.
McGuirl spoke strongly in support of sending the conservation zone change to the Town Council immediately and the motion passed 4-3. The dissenting view was best characterized by Kallfelz’s opinion that separating one aspect of the revised ordinance was unnecessary.
Harbormaster Sam Paterson offered some support for passing the conservation zone change separately and immediately, before the heat of the boating season, because it would be easier to enforce.
The discussion proved moot since revisions for the entire ordinance were completed by the end of the meeting and the ordinance was unanimously approved by the commission to be sent to the council.
Although the commissioners discussed the possibility of rescinding their earlier vote to send the conservation zone separately, they did not.
Kallfelz spoke to another revision in the ordinance. The CRMC suggests that swimming not be allowed from boats in harbor waters. Kallfelz revised the current ordinance to permit swimming while better ensuring swimmer safety. In addition he added language that would allow for swimming events such as the Save the Bay Swim. de Angeli agreed: “It’s a gross expansion of our responsibilities” and added that “it’s a very bad precedent.”
The next step for the ordinance is for it to be reviewed by the Town Council. At the March meeting Cute said that the revised ordinance should first be sent to CRMC for informal approval following a public workshop and then onto the council for approval before it would go back again to CRMC for final approval. de Angeli said that sending the ordinance first to CRMC would hold up the process and would prevent immediate application of the new rules by the Harbor Commission and the town. He also acknowledged that the council could send it first to CRMC if that was its choice.
The next scheduled meeting of the Harbor Management Commission is slated for Wednesday, June 8, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.