By Beth David, Editor
Saying that the important thing was to look forward Fairhaven Selectboard chairperson Bob Espindola set the tone at the start of the discussion items that pertained to the Marine Resources Committee (MRC), issues at Union Wharf, and the rules and regulations for waterways, moorings and boat usage, at the Selectboard meeting on Tuesday, 11/7.
The items were placed on the agenda after tension from the MRC found their way to the Selectboard meeting. After the Northeast Maritime Institute (NMI) was allowed to dock its teaching vessel, M/V Navigator, at Union Wharf, fishermen cried foul.
At the last MRC meeting (see 11/2/17 issue), members were outspoken against Town Administrator Mark Rees, the Selectboard’s representative on the MRC Daniel Freitas, and Harbormaster Timothy Cox for not showing up to face the complaints.
Mr. Freitas also addressed the tension at the last Selectboard meeting (see 11/2/17 issue), saying he was not going to “take a beating” anymore.
At the 11/7 Selectboard meeting, about 30 people with ties to the waterfront attended to make their voices heard.
At the crux of the issue is the limited number of spaces for commercial fishing boats at Union Wharf, with people who have been waiting for a spot for years. The Navigator, which is owned by NMI, which, in turn, is owned by Eric Dawicki, was allowed to dock at a spot that was hastily created for it.
Mr. Dawicki is a Fairhaven resident, and NMI is based in Fairhaven. The boats were located in New Bedford, but a dispute over dockage fees necessitated the hasty removal of both Navigator and Fritha.
Mr. Rees and Mr. Cox made the decision to give temporary dockage to Navigator, and to place a mooring off Fort Street for NMI’s tall ship “Fritha.”
The fishermen and owners of other working vessels on the waterfront complained, saying that Mr. Dawicki was getting special treatment.
The town’s bylaws allow the Harbormaster, who is supervised by the Town Administrator, to make that call.
Mr. Espindola opened up the discussion on 11/7 with the aforementioned intent to look forward.
He then read some suggestions* he had written, and some that Mr. Freitas had written, both basically saying that the rules and regulations governing everything on the waterfront needed to be revamped.
The main problem seemed to be that everyone was working from a different set of rules.
Mr. Espindola’s main suggestion was for Mr. Rees and Mr. Cox to review all rules and regulations, and for the MRC to do the same, then for the two groups to get together to make a final recommendation to the Selectboard for adoption.
He also recommended that maps and diagrams be included with the rules so that there is no confusion as to which rules apply to which part of the waterfront.
He also suggested that there be a single fee table, and that fees be brought up closer to market rates.
Mr. Freitas’s suggestions focused more on the lobster basin, or the south side of Union Wharf, where the smaller lobster boats tie up.
He recommended three new rules, all squarely aimed at spelling out ways to expel boat owners from the Union Wharf Lobster Basin.
The first one says that any slip that is not being used by the boat owner for an extended period shall result in a warning by the harbormaster. After two warnings, the boat owner would be terminated.
The second one lays out a course of action the harbormaster can take to get a boat owner expelled for harassing the HM or deputies. The Selectboard would be the authority to suspend or expel a boat owner.
The third reads: “Anyone charged with a criminal act that has to [do] with violation of Marine laws, to include violations of catch size and quantity, shall upon conviction lose the right to use the Union Wharf Lobster Basin.”
Mr. Freitas also included a section on fees, saying that the town does not charge enough, but he does not recommend charging as much as some of the private marinas. He said considering that some boat owners do not use the slips, it appears the price is not high enough.
Mr. Freitas told the board and the public that he wanted to continue being on the MRC, which was in stark contrast to his comments at the last Selectboard meeting, when he clearly stated he would not be going back.
“I would like to continue my work with them,” said Mr. Freitas on Tuesday.
He also said he wanted to be part of the group that revamped the rules and seemed to take issue with Mr. Espindola for not naming him specifically.
“You’re part of that committee, as an official member,” said Mr. Espindola, which means Mr. Freitas would automatically be part of the group revamping the rules.
Mr. Freitas said he thought he would be “better off” working with Mr. Rees as part of his group with the Harbormaster.
Robert “Hoppy” Hobson, pointed out the contradiction, saying he thought Mr. Freitas said he did not want to be on the MRC.
Frank Coelho, chairperson of the MRC, said he welcomed the suggestion that the rules be revamped.
“Because basically, that’s what we’ve been trying to do anyways,” said Mr. Coelho. “I think we should work together.”
For about an hour and a half, everybody who wanted to speak had a chance to be heard.
With lots of back and forth, and many a raised voice, the MRC and the Selectboard agreed that the rules and regulations should be rewritten.
But the issue of the boat slips and who gets them just went round and round with neither side giving much ground.
Mr. Coelho said it was pretty simple: It just was not fair to give the slip to someone who was not on the list. He said even if they wanted to make it a spot for a non-fishing vessel, that the public still should have been notified.
“A lot of people might want that slip,” said Mr. Coelho.
Mr. Rees reiterated that he and the harbormaster had the authority to put the NMI boat in the slip. He said if the board wanted to change who has the authority, they could do that.
Mr. Espindola pointed out that the board may not want to have all fishing boats at Union Wharf. Just because it was like that before, does not mean it has to be that way going forward.
Mr. Coelho pointed out that a lot of details were left out in the conversation, including that Mr. Cox had previously told the boat owners that two new slips would be made available for fishing boats. Then, suddenly, one of those was given to NMI for a non-fishing vessel.
“Is that right? Is that right to people who have been waiting for two years,” said Mr. Coelho.
Mr. Espindola said they were two different things. One side was the lobster basin, the other was the new section where the safety marina will eventually go, removing those new spots anyway.
He also said they should be looking at diversifying the marina. He said the MRC clearly believes it should be only fishing boats at Union Wharf, but he thinks the town can get higher fees from other types of vessels.
“This board makes decisions based on what’s in the best interests of the town,” said Mr. Espindola.
Charlie Mitchell, who owns a tugboat told the board they were changing 70 years of tradition by giving the slip to a non-fishing boat.
He said it is not just docking fees that benefit the town; boat owners have to be Fairhaven residents, so they pay property taxes and otherwise spend money in town.
He said he felt the working boats were getting squeezed out.
A fishing charter boat owner said operations like his would love a spot to call home. Being a cross between commercial, because he is a business, and recreational, because he takes recreational fishers out, he does not fit neatly into any category.
All three board members assured the public that they did not want to push out the fishing industry.
“We’re just trying to protect what little land we have,” said Mr. Hobson. “We’re just trying to preserve what little bit we’ve got.”
He said it was not fair to kick out boat owners because they are not using the slip. One person has had a boat with long term mechanical problems, another has medical issues.
Mr. Freitas also took a moment to confront the charge that Mr. Dawicki was getting something due to special treatment
“Anyone who knows me knows, I don’t go giving anybody anything,” said Mr. Freitas.
He told the MRC members they should “get to a different level” than their last meeting. “No offense to you,” he said, adding that the problem was that some people just do not like Mr. Dawicki.
Eric Moniz, who has a boat in the lobster basin, hollered out a demand to know where Mr. Dawicki and the town officials were at the last meeting.
“The town acknowledges that town staff didn’t show up at MRC meetings. And maybe there’s a time when they were needed there,” said Mr. Espindola. “We’re going to try to correct that going forward, but we’re going to try to do that in a positive manner.”
*The memos from both Mr. Espindola and Mr. Freitas are on our website: www.neighbnews.com
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Click here to download the entire 11-09-17 issue: 11-09-17 FHA Solar
Click here to download Bob Espindola’s Waterfront Suggestions: EspindolaWaterfrontSuggestions
Click here to download Dan Freitas’s Lobster Basin Suggestions: DanFreitasLobsterBasinSuggestions