2012-02-23 / Front Page

Water resources committee disbanded

Conservation board given responsibilities that newly defunct panel once held
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

In its shortest session ever, the Town Council this week agreed to disband a committee charged with the purchase of open land near or over the island’s aquifer. The vote to disband the Water Resources Protection Committee was one of only two significant decisions reached by the council during its Feb. 21 meeting.

In its other noteworthy decision, the council awarded to Vision Government Solutions a contract to perform a full re-evaluation of Jamestown real estate. The “notto exceed” cost of the work will be $139,500, and the project will start sometime this summer.

The meeting agenda was intentionally spare because the council knew that two of its members, President Mike Schnack and Bill Murphy, would be absent. Additionally, the full council had already endorsed in principle the idea of folding the Water Resources Protection Committee into its parent committee: the Conservation Commission.

The resolution expressing the intent of the council directs Town Administrator Bruce Keiser to “organize and provide appropriate technical staff assistance to the [commission] to assist them” in the formation of a technical committee to provide advice to the commission.

The protection committee was established in 1999, when voters at the Financial Town Meeting passed a $100,000 warrant to purchase real estate parcels, development rights and conservation easements for the purpose of protecting the island’s aquifer. The money for those purchases is held in the town’s open space fund, which has a $126,000 balance for future lot purchases, Keiser said.

The protection committee has been largely dormant since completing its initiative to purchase farmland, and its charter expired in 2009. During its Jan. 9 meeting, the panel agreed to propose disbanding and reconfiguring as a non-voting advisory panel within the commission.

The commission has since voted unanimously to endorse the proposal. However, Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki told the council that, during the discussions before its vote, a question arose regarding the protection committee charge, which identifies groundwater protection as the focus of its work. “There may be a need to consider water protection in a broader scope,” Trocki said.

Councilor Bob Bowen said that expanding the scope of the technical committee’s work would not exceed the constraints of the commission’s charge. The three councilors present for the meeting voted unanimously for the resolution endorsing the commission’s assumption of protection committee responsibilities.

The other unanimous vote involved minor Harbor Management Ordinance amendments, one of which was advised by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard had expressed a concern about private (and thus uncharted) buoys. The amendment adopted by the council requires the harbormaster to formally approve the placement of private buoys. A second amendment, which affects outhaul rules, requires the harbormaster to approve the placement of anchors for outhauls.

Keiser said the buoy amendment, which was approved by the Harbor Commission on Dec. 14, was “a housekeeping measure to ensure we have regulatory authority over any navigational aids placed in the harbor by residents.”

A discussion on the Harbor Commission arose in a different arena as well. Under the Town Ordinance, harbor fees must be approved by March 15. Although the commission isn’t proposing any change in the fees from the previous season, Bowen asserted that the fee schedule – under the language of the revised harbor ordinance – may not be adopted until the commission submits both its operating budget and a five-year plan for capital expenditures.

The linkage wasn’t debated by the council. Keiser said that by the time of its December meeting, the commission had received a harborasset management plan prepared by the town engineer. So, it’s unclear why the commission – which has completed its next operating budget – hasn’t prepared the fiveyear plan.

“They’ve been sitting on this,” Bowen said, later adding, “They’ve known for months that this was coming.” He also pointed out that, given the council’s upcoming schedule, the issue will have to be resolved at its next meeting, which will be held on March 5.

In other business, the council:

• Selected the week of March 12 for the start of budget deliberations. The council, which will have the administrator’s proposed town budget by March 7, also selected the week of March 26 for a budget session with the School Committee. The dates of the work sessions were not set.

• Briefly discussed a resident request for aggressive speed-limit enforcement and the addition of double yellow stripes on North Main Road (north of Route 138). Keiser said he has been advised by the town engineer that double striping would only serve to effectively narrow an already narrow country road, but added that the police department recently purchased a speed-surveillance device which could be used to determine if enhanced enforcement was justifi ed.

• Accepted the terms of a “restriction” from Bridges Inc., which wants to convert Hammett Court structures into affordable housing. Under the terms of the restriction, the dwellings would have to remain “affordable” for the next 30 years. The final decision on the proposed conversion now goes to the Planning Commission.

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