By Beth David, Editor
In a move that has turned out to be controversial on the waterfront, the Northeast Maritime Institute, located in Fairhaven, has moved its boats from Pope’s Island Marina in New Bedford to Union Wharf in Fairhaven, which is owned and operated by the town.
Town Administrator Mark Rees informed the Selectboard at their October 2 meeting that he had spoken to NMI owner Eric Dawicki about moving the boats to the town side of the harbor.
The buzz on the waterfront started immediately, as space at Union Wharf is tight and there is a waiting list for the lobster basin, which is where the smaller lobster boats tie up. The transient side of the wharf is a first-come, first-serve proposition. If a boat leaves, it is not guaranteed a spot when it returns. Boats pay $25/ day to tie up.
NMI has a spot for its boat, the “Navigator,” a 65-foot vessel used for training, in a new section on the north side of Union Wharf, that was only recently outfitted with a floating dock for the NMI boat.
The tall ship, S/V Fritha, a 24-foot traditional wooden brigantine that is used for training classes, is on a mooring in the harbor, on the Fairhaven side.
Mr. Rees said that it was his understanding that the waiting list was strictly for the lobster basin. He said there was no waiting list where the Navigator is tied up.
NMI has kept its boats in New Bedford for years. Mr. Rees would only say that NMI had “problems” in New Bedford and had to move his boats. Exactly where they are now is temporary, said Mr. Rees, until they can figure out a good spot for them.
“He came to me and said he ran into problems with New Bedford, and they told him he had to move his boats,” said Mr. Rees. “As a major business in town, as we would with any other business, we worked with him to help him out.”
NMI is paying the same rate as the fishing boats, $25 a day, said Mr. Rees.
Eric Dawicki, President of NMI, said the institute is not looking for a free ride or even a discount. He said they were surprised that New Bedford suddenly told them they had to move the boats.
Navigator needs to be at a dock, he said, because students go back and forth all the time. Fritha can be anywhere, and will soon go south for the winter.
“Fritha is gone most of the summer anyway,” he said because the training consists of long stretches at sea with students.
The short story is, he said, that both places are temporary. NMI paid for a month at the dock for Navigator. He said he does not understand the controversy.
When Scott Lang was mayor, New Bedford asked him to move his boats to Pope’s Island to help attract other boats. Now that the marina is filled up, and there is a new mayor, things have changed, said Mr. Dawicki.
“Tall ships tend to have free dockage,” said Mr. Dawicki. “In fact, they are often paid to go.”
“We were basically abruptly asked to leave a few weeks ago,” he said. “Under, I can safely say, false pretenses.”
He would not elaborate, citing likely legal action.
Since NMI is located in Fairhaven, it makes more sense for the boats to be there anyway, he said.
The Neighb News tried to contact the Harbor Development Council, which administers the Pope’s Island Marina. An attorney for the HDC did return the call, but never connected to give comment for this story.
Robert “Hoppy” Hobson, a member of the Board of Public Works and the Marine Resources Committee, and a lobster boat owner who has a spot at Union Wharf, said he felt if was not fair that Mr. Dawicki got to move his boats in ahead of those on the waiting list. He said they made a special spot for NMI, and there are plenty of others on the waterfront who would love to have those spots.
Charlie Mitchell, who owns the tugboat “Jaguar” and lives on Fort Street, said the mooring for the Fritha, is right in front of his house, and is a new mooring. It was put in specifically for the Fritha, he said.
Mr. Rees confirmed that the mooring was new. The town does not charge for moorings, instead the town charges a waterways user fee.
Mr. Mitchell said he believed Fritha is moored in a spot that interferes with his riparian rights, which allow a shorefront homeowner access to the channel. Mr. Mitchell said he has deeded riparian rights for his property, and a right to build a dock, but the Fritha is now a navigation hazard if he wants to do that. Many of the other houses along that stretch of Fort Street have docks.
“Just because I haven’t been able to afford to put a dock in, I should not be punished,” said Mr. Mitchell. “I should not have my rights taken away from me.”
He said town officials promised to move the mooring, but only moved it about 30 feet, which makes no real difference at all.
“It devalues my property,” said Mr. Mitchell, adding that he is current on his taxes, has paid all his fees for the Jaguar and his business.
Mr. Dawicki said he spoke with Mr. Mitchell about the mooring and he did not seem to have a problem with it at the time. He also said the claim to riparian rights is dubious.
“At the very least, even if this riparian rights thing existed the way it’s being claimed, it would be to enable somebody to have navigation rights,” said Mr. Dawicki. “And, essentially, our vessel is not in the way of anybody’s navigation rights.”
In a match-up between him and Mr. Dawicki on who has done more for the town, Mr. Mitchell said he feels he would hold his own.
“I’ve given more than $100,000 in free ice-breaking [over the years], I helped the Fire Department when a boat was burning and had to be moved, and I’m a valuable resource for the harbor, shipyard and fishing industry,” said Mr. Mitchell. “So I have every reason to think I should not have my [rights] taken away from me and given to anybody else.”
Mr. Dawicki noted that NMI is a college now and in only three years has gained a lot of recognition, and more and more is becoming a part of the “fabric” of the town.
“Which I think is a pretty darn good benefit for the town,” he said, noting that students from all over the world attend classes and frequent town businesses.
“We’re not here to step on anyone’s toes,” said Mr. Dawicki.
He said he was surprised that the town did not have clear, written guidelines in place to cover his situation. If it did, there would not be any question or controversy at all.
“We really don’t have any waterways plan in the town. We don’t have any standards in place,” said Mr. Dawicki. “We, as a community, need to create a serious waterways management plan.”
Several sources on the waterfront also cried foul because they said it is widely know that Mr. Dawicki is not current on his taxes, a requirement for anyone who wants a spot at Union Wharf.
Fairhaven Collector/Treasurer/ Finance Director Wendy Graves said that Mr. Dawicki has worked out a payment plan on all three properties that are in arrears. She said the town has not initiated any proceedings to take the properties for tax default, but they have not been in default for long, just a couple of months. It is only the first time the Dawickis have gotten behind in tax payments since she started working for the town in 2013.
Mr. Dawicki explained that he and his wife usually pay their property taxes after their income taxes. This year is no different than other years, he said and he expects the whole total will be paid off before the end of the year.
The Fairhaven Harbormaster’s office refused to answer any questions about the matter for this story and referred all inquiries to the town administrator.
“We’re not going to answer any questions about that,” said Todd Cox, who is Acting Harbormaster while his father, Timothy Cox, is on medical leave. •••
Support local journalism, donate to the Neighb News at: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=Y6V5ARRYH689G
Click here to download the entire 10/19/17 issue:10-19-17 HarvestFunDay