By Beth David, Editor
Members of the Fairhaven Marine Resources Committee (MRC), including chairperson Frank Coelho, criticized Town Administrator Mark Rees and Selectboard member Daniel Freitas, who is the Selectboard’s representative on the MRC, at its meeting last week. They also took a few shots at Harbormaster Timothy Cox and his son Todd, who has been filling in as Acting HM while the elder Mr. Cox has been recovering from surgery and is working part time on light duty.
Mr. Rees, Mr. Freitas, and both Coxes did not attend the meeting, prompting Mr. Coelho to call them out on it. He said he was “very disappointed” that people who should be there were not. He said they wanted to “hide.”
“When I was in the service, we had a name for them,” said Mr. Coelho. “We called them ‘cowards.’”
The agenda for the MRC meeting on Thursday, 10/26, had the usual number of items on it, but Mr. Coelho said at the beginning that Mr. Rees had sent an email telling him that the MRC had no jurisdiction over some of the items.
All that was a sidebar, though, to the main issue, which was the decision by Mr. Rees and the Harbormaster’s office to allow a boat owned by the Northeast Maritime Institute to tie up at Union Wharf in a spot that did not exist until NMI needed dockage.
The move caused controversy on the waterfront (see Neighb News issue of 10/19/17) with fishing boat owners and other commercial vessel owners who said they would have welcomed the opportunity to tie up in that spot.
A clearly frustrated Mr. Coelho read the entire trove of emails between him and Mr. Rees about the Navigator. Whenever he read a line about Mr. Rees offering to meet with him or the committee about it, Mr. Coelho made a point of looking up and asking if Mr. Rees was there anywhere, prompting some chuckles from the crowded East Room in Town Hall.
“Anybody see Mark here,” he asked more than once. “Mark, is that you?”
Mr. Coelho contends that the rules and regulations governing Union Wharf make it clear it should be for working fishing boats, and, he said, there has been a waiting list for those spots for years.
Mr. Rees contends that the rules and regulations limiting dockage to fishing boats are for the lobster basin only, which is on the south side of Union Wharf. He contacted Town Counsel Thomas Crotty, who sent a letter backing up Mr. Rees’s point of view, and also backing the authority of the Harbormaster and Mr. Rees to allow any vessel to dock at Union Wharf.
Some owners of working vessels that are not fishing boats said they would have asked for the spot if they had known non-fishing vessels could use Union Wharf, including Charles Mitchell, who owns the tugboat “Jaguar.”
“This is all about a special person getting a special spot unbid,” said MRC member Robert “Hoppy” Hobson, adding that the deal allows the NMI boat to have the same spot, reserved, for the same rate as the fishing boats which are not guaranteed a spot. When those boats return from a trip, they can only tie up if there is room .
“He gets the same spot,” said Mr. Hobson. “Through politics. I don’t know what this guy did for those people, but he did something.”
Mr. Coelho echoed that sentiment.
“I really don’t understand why this guy comes in and gets special treatment,” said Mr. Coelho. “
MRC member Vincent Manfredi encouraged those in attendance to lobby the Selectboard.
“This Selectboard doesn’t really want to deal with any of these issues,” said Mr. Manfredi, adding that it has been clear for the last couple of years. “The public has to make the requests, because they are not listening to us very well. They need to see the public cares.”
The MRC’s status as an advisory board also came up time and time again, with Mr. Coelho stating that he understood the role of his committee. But if the point of the committee is to advise, then why will the Selectboard not let them advise, he asked.
He pointed to an email from Mr. Rees stating that the matter of the rocks obstructing the south point of Hoppy’s Landing was “not appropriate” for the MRC as it dealt with “administrative matters.”
Mr. Rees’s email also states that he believed there was a need to “clarify the role of the Marine Resources Committee as an advisory board.”
At some point, Mr. Coelho remarked that he was probably going to get “kicked off” this committee, too, recalling several years ago when a clash with the Selectboard led to the dissolving of the Hoppy’s Landing Committee. Then the MRC was created.
Mr. Coelho also said he had acquired an invoice from the Harbor Development Commission, which administers Pope’s Island Marina, where the NMI boats were docked until October 6.
He said NMI owed New Bedford more than $10,000, and that was the “contract dispute” that Mr. Rees referred to in his letter informing the board that he had given permission for Navigator to dock at Union Wharf.
Mr. Coelho also pointed out that NMI was late in making property tax payments to the town.
Mr. Rees and Eric Dawicki, who owns NMI, said the current docking of the Navigator is temporary, but they are negotiating for a long term arrangement.
In his letter requesting the spot for Navigator Mr. Dawicki wrote: “We look forward to finalizing an agreement that benefits the town and provides a more diverse maritime economy on Union Wharf.”
That “diverse maritime economy” is what scares the fishing boat owners, who feel they will get squeezed out bit by bit.
“What’s to stop him from going to the basin side,” asked Mr. Coelho. “Where’s it [going to] stop?”
Mr. Coelho, who worked on the waterfront for most of his career, used Newport, RI, as a cautionary tale. He said Newport used to have a “pretty big fishing industry,” but now it is all yachts and pleasure boats, with just a handful of fishing vessels left.
“Little by little, they pushed them out,” he said, adding that he did not know if that was the agenda for Union Wharf or not.
He noted that the guys on the docks were told that two new fishing boat spots would be created when the new pier was installed.
“”Now it’s for a deadbeat,” said Mr. Coelho.
“It’s always been fishing boats,” he said. “So what’s changed now, I don’t know.”
Mr. Coelho tried to get the matter on the agenda for the Selectboard’s 10/30 meeting, but he will have to wait until 11/7.
In another matter, the MRC voted to recommend the license renewal for Matthew Loo, who has an oyster farm in Jack’s Cove
Mr. Loo gave the board specifications for 1.8 acres to be leased for his license. Mr. Coelho said he believed that the amount should be either 1.5 or two acres. He said he did not find any other town that leased by the 10th of an acre.
He also voiced his concerns about wether or not the harbormaster’s department would be able to calculate the difference, pointing to a mixup with Taylor Cultured Seafood that was about 10 acres off.
Mr. Loo, however, stuck to his request, saying he only needed the 1.8 acres, not two. He said that he measured what he actually needs, no more, no less.
The board voted to recommend the two acres. The Selectboard is the licensing board, but the MRC makes the recommendation. It will be on a future Selectboard agenda to be voted on.
That discussion led to the issue of the moratorium on aquaculture farms. Mr. Loo suggested that an increase in the actual size of his farm would mean a violation of the moratorium, so he suggested that the board vote to recommend ending it.
After a bit of back and forth, a motion was made to recommend that the Selectboard end the moratorium on aquaculture farms. The motion, however, was not seconded and the matter was dropped. •••
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