Coast Guard tells town to register harbor buoys
Boaters and yacht club members who last summer put race buoys and other channel markers in waters off Jamestown may soon receive an official letter in the mail, the commissioners learned during their Nov. 9 meeting of the Harbor Management Commission.
The letter will notify the responsible parties that they’re obligated to register all channel markers annually with the U.S. Coast Guard, according to Harbormaster Sam Paterson.
Paterson said the Coast Guard recently sent town officials a list of unregistered buoys and signs, which the USCG Auxiliary had spotted during summer inspection of Jamestown harbor. Prominent on the list were race buoys and private navigational aids, he said. No buoys, navigational aids or channel markers of any stripe are allowed without prior Coast Guard approval.
“You can’t just as an individual say, ‘I want to put a buoy out there because there’s a rock,’” Paterson said. “The Coast Guard has to approve.”
Paterson planned to go into the harbor office on Nov. 14 to “walk through the process” to register the channel markers with the Coast Guard. Then, he said, he would leave it up to Kim Devlin, the harbor clerk, to notify the individuals and clubs about the requirement.
But additional requirements could follow, the commissioners indicated.
“It seems odd we wouldn’t have some responsibility for permitting that,” Commissioner Andrew Kallfelz said, referencing a rock marker in Dutch Harbor to illustrate the type of private channel marker in question.
The harbor commissioners are still mulling the options, but said they could decide to treat channel markers as a special class of moorings and require permits.
Kallfelz told Paterson that “we want to have some ability” to control where the channel markers go and some enforcement powers in case of violations.
He debated the issue with the harbormaster, who argued that issuing permits might require the local authority to maintain the signs and buoys and expose the town to liability, in case of an accident.
Once the permit is inked, Paterson said, “Then it’s your responsibility to maintain [them]. You accept the liability.”
“Most of these things are within our mooring fields,” Kallfelz said. He added that they really amounted to a special class of moorings, although possibly not a class covered by the new Harbor Management Ordinance.
“We don’t have a category of mooring for non-boating use,” he said. “It should be part of our process.”
Paterson said the Coast Guard is saying the town owns the channel markers because they’re in Jamestown waters.
Kallfelz asked Paterson specifi- cally about the Jamestown Yacht Club’s race marker.
“How did it get in the water?” he said.
Paterson replied, “What they do is, they put them in.”
The unanticipated questions about the commission’s jurisdiction over private signs and buoys in the waterways emerged just as the commissioners thought the revised harbor ordinance covered all the possible waterfront management issues that could arise.
“We thought we were all done,” said commission Chairman Michael de Angeli. “I think there’s a hole there.”
The Town Council closed the Nov. 7 public hearing on the Harbor Management Ordinance and is set to vote Dec. 5 to adopt it, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said. But the revised ordinance lacks any language to deal with moorings not attached to boats.
Without language in the ordinance to speak to channel markers and other special moorings not attached to boats, Kallfelz and Paterson asked, would the harbormaster have authority over location of channel markers?
Or, Kallfelz suggested, could state law provide an avenue, and Keiser offered to research that question with the Coast Guard and the state Coastal Resources Management Council.
“We’ll research it,” Keiser said. “We’ll get the communication going.”
Patterson attended the Nov. 9 meeting and delivered the monthly harbormaster report, although his seasonal appointment ended Oct. 31.
In other business, Maureen Coleman, in her last appearance as the Conservation Commission’s liaison, put commissioners on notice that her board will oppose efforts to change the CRMC water designation by Fort Getty. de Angeli said the plan was to change the area to Type 5 waters, to reflect the actual use and someday enable dredging in the area for a dock next to the ramp. Coleman said the change from Type 1 to Type 5 was extreme.
“So, we have a really different view,” Coleman said. She said Type 1 reflects protection of wildlife and other natural resources, including the “critical estuary” by Fox Hill Farm, which the Environmental Protection Agency cited as “one of the most pristine marshes” and abuts audubon land. She predicted the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and Save the Bay would also fight the change. Other Type 5 waters in R.I. are “major harbors,” she said, and that’s not descriptive of the actual use at Fort Getty.
The commissioners considered going to Type 3 waters for high intensity boating instead, but ultimately opted to discuss the issue with Bob Bowen, Town Council liaison. He has supported the change to Type 5 waters, Devlin said.
There were valid reasons for the Type 5 designation, she added.
On another topic, repairs to the West Ferry bulkhead are likely to require more work than originally thought, according to Keiser.
Commissioner Larry Eichler said the bulkhead should have lasted longer than it did and the town should “find out what went wrong.”
Kallfelz wanted to know if an engineer has been retained and said the “real solution” would call for re-engineering the bulkhead.