By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The Fairhaven Selectboard seemed unable to explain to Kevin McLaughlin of Casey Boat Realty on 10/19 why he still had not received a letter from town counsel that was promised to him two weeks ago, which Mr. McLaughlin met with metaphors to express his disappointment and scold the town for not giving him what he wanted when he expected it.
“Every time I ask for something,” said Mr. McLaughlin, “it doesn’t happen; there’s another roadblock and another roadblock and another roadblock. I was told that I would get a communication from the town. I have not received a communication from the town.”
“Your attorney has,” said Town Administrator Mark Rees.
But Mr. McLaughlin insisted that Town Counsel Thomas Crotty did not reach out to his attorney, and the letter that the board on 10/6 told him he would get — one offering conditions to allow Mr. McLaughlin to use a town-owned bulkhead at Union Wharf exclusively for the Buzzards Bay Rowing Club to access the water — never came.
On 10/6 Mr. Crotty was there to explain why the town has opposed allowing Mr. McLaughlin to build a pier for the rowing club off the Union Wharf bulkhead. It was not because the town opposed the pier, but because Mr. McLaughlin had allegedly asserted ownership over the bulkhead, said Mr. Crotty, which the town still owns according to the deed of the property that the town sold to Casey Boat Building Company in 1943. Mr. McLaughlin denied claiming ownership of the bulkhead and said all he wanted was for the rowing club to have its own dock there. The board offered to have Mr. Crotty draft a license allowing Mr. McLaughlin to use the bulkhead that they could ratify during the 10/19 meeting.
According to Mr. McLaughlin, he postponed appearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals for the pier, saying he did so because the board had offered to intervene and “in good faith” solve the problem that night.
“I— I— I agree,” said Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas as Mr. McLaughlin interrupted him.
“Do you get my frustration here, guys?” said Mr. McLaughlin. “This is just one other board that is delaying things to the next meeting…. I just don’t understand. This is such a simple thing and it’s been dragging on for so long and, again, I left the meeting last week with a fair amount of hope that something was going to happen.”
Mr. McLaughlin continued: “I didn’t set the time, you guys set the time! You said we’ll get back to you before the next meeting.”
“Kevin, I have to agree with what you said,” answered Mr. Freitas. “You’re not spinning it; I recall that whole conversation, so I don’t know why … somebody didn’t get back to you.”
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said that, while Mr. McLaughlin likely would not appreciate the excuse, Mr. Crotty was likely “pretty busy” and probably did not get around to this particular matter “for reasons that were unintentional.”
“With all due respect, Bob,” said Mr. McLaughlin cutting him off, “We’re all very busy people, but I didn’t promise — I didn’t make the promise.”
Perhaps if Mr. Crotty had said he needed a month to get the letter that would be okay with him, he said.
“But I was promised that I’d have a draft of this license to review so that I could come back to you and we could finalize it during this meeting,” said Mr. McLaughlin.
Mr. Freitas asked him if he would agree to allow the town to send him a letter on the following afternoon and, if Mr. McLaughlin found the letter agreeable, they could hold a special Selectboard meeting on Friday, 10/23 just for Mr. McLaughlin.
Mr. McLaughlin said he appreciated the offer, but added: “I don’t want to waste the board’s time and effort and create — I’m not asking for anything special, okay?
“No,” said Mr. Freitas, “but you —”
“All I’m asking for,” said Mr. McLaughlin interrupting the chair, “is if somebody says something, and promises me something, that they do it, that’s all.”
Mr. Espindola said he would make himself available for a special Friday meeting as well. As he said that, Mr. McLaughlin interrupted him to tell him that his attorney had just texted him back confirming that Mr. Crotty never sent a letter.
“I think something needs to be done about that,” said Mr. Freitas. “Because we can’t be getting told that we’re sending stuff out that’s not out.”
Mr. Rees said Mr. Crotty never said he sent a letter, rather he said that he “spoke with his attorney.”
Mr. McLaughlin said that was false.
“Spoke to him about what?” asked Mr. McLaughlin laughing.
Mr. Rees responded in a serious tone: “About allowing you use of the Union Wharf basin under a license.”
“Not to sound like a broken record,” said Mr. McLaughlin, “I sat there and I was told that I would have a draft of some sort of a license or use of a license agreement from the town sent to me so I could review it and come to this meeting and discuss it, am I incorrect?”
“The way I remember it, yes, you are correct,” said Mr. Freitas.
“We’re just kind of kicking this can down the road, guys,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “So, when am I gonna get the letter?”
There was a five-second silence and then Mr. Rees said, “I will bring this up to town counsel’s attention first thing in the morning.”
“Okay,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “What else can I do but just wait? Thank you.”
Mr. Freitas asked Mr. McLaughlin to please call him if he did not receive the letter by 2:30 p.m. the next day.
“Thank you, and our apologies,” said Mr. Freitas.
The board was ready to move on, but then Selectboard member Keith Silvia had a few questions on behalf of a resident he did not identify. After the meeting that resident called the Neighb News and identified himself as Robert “Hoppy” Hobson, Board of Public Works member and member of the Marine Resources Committee. He was angry that he was not given a chance to speak about the matter when he phoned into the remote Zoom meeting. He said at least two other people were in remote attendance and also wanted to speak but were not offered the chance.
On behalf of Mr. Hobson, Mr. Silvia said that for over 30 years a lobster boat has been docked at the spot in question, and he asked why the town would just give it away to Mr. McLaughlin when the town receives $1,800 annually from the lobster boat. He also said there is a waiting list of lobster boat owners wanting a spot at Union Wharf.
Mr. Rees confirmed the presence of a lobster boat, but said the spot had been vacant for a year as the town works toward a solution with Mr. McLaughlin.
“That’s not factual,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “It’s not true that there’s been a boat there for the last 30 years.”
“That basin has been used for lobster boats,” said Mr. Rees.
“No it hasn’t,” Mr. McLaughlin interrupted.
“[The harbormaster] can provide better information in response to that,” said Mr. Rees. “But the whole issue is … in order to accommodate what everybody wants to do is move the … rowing club boats over there. We’re looking at what’s best, not only for the lobster boatmen, but also for the town as a whole.”
He said adding diversity to the use of Union Wharf aligns with the Town’s Master Plan.
In a follow-up phone call with Mr. Hobson, he said Mr. McLaughlin is wrong, and that the name of the boat that has docked at that spot for 30 years is called the “Christine.”
“But what really pisses me off,” said Mr. Hobson, is that the transaction is being done without public input and virtually “hidden” from public view, which is what he wanted to tell the board if given the chance to speak.
“And the other thing,” said Mr. Hobson, “They’re going out of their way to have a meeting on Friday. Nobody can comment.”
He then accused Mr. Rees of being “in bed with this Kevin guy,” adding, “and so is Freitas.”
“And you can put that in the article,” Mr. Hobson insisted.
“Fairhaven/New Bedford is the biggest fishing port, dollar-wise, in the world, and the Town of Fairhaven wants to give land away?” said Mr. Hobson. “Who’s in bed with who?”
According to Mr. Hobson, when he asked Mr. Rees the question last week, Mr. Rees told him that it was to help town businesses.
What Mr. Rees stated during the meeting was: “More to the point is, what is the highest and best use of that water area for the benefit of the most people?”
“The worst part is they’re trying to hide it,” said Mr. Hobson. “Why no public hearing?
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