By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard approved a draft set of rules and regulations for aquaculture operations in Fairhaven, and approved a finance policy, with some changes to how the town has contributed to reserve funds and stabilization funds, at its meeting on Monday, 9/19.
The Marine Resources Committee has been working on updating rules and regulations for aquaculture farms in Fairhaven, and submitted a policy to town counsel Thomas Crotty, who suggested some changes.
The committee submitted the draft, with Mr. Crotty’s suggestions, to the Selectboard, which gave preliminary approval to the document. Mr. Crotty will make more changes and the document will then need to be approved by the Selectboard, then the state, and then back to the Selectboard before the regulations are adopted.
Up until now, the town has used the state regulations as a guide, but has not had its own regulations, said Harbormaster Timothy Cox.
The document creates a framework to allow the town to approve aquaculture operations in keeping with a philosophy on the use of public fisheries. The town has had a moratorium on aquaculture licenses while the new rules were being created.
Currently, the down has a 44-acre scallop farm operated by Taylor Cultured Seafoods, and a one-acre oyster farm operated by Matthew Loo. Both are located in the waters north and northwest of West Island. The scallop farm is in the process of switching to oysters.
The new regulations clearly lay out where authority lies for licenses, enforcement, and related issues.
One significant change is that new licenses will be considered on a trial basis, with contracts lasting three years, and a Selectboard review in two years. The maximum contract will be for 10 years.
Another significant change is to limit the size of licensed areas to two acres. A license holder can apply for an extension to a licensed area or an additional area after three years.
The regulations also restrict the kinds of equipment that can be used, and require the licensee to remove all gear within 35 days of a terminated license.
The new rules also require liability insurance; and set penalties for non-compliance with provisions of the agreement.
Other regulations require an applicant to be taxpayer in Fairhaven, have experience in aquaculture, have no shellfishing violations, and be a US citizen. The approval process will include a pubic hearing.
Marine Resources chairperson Frank Coelho told the board that his committee is also almost ready to make a recommendation on how much to charge per acre for an aquaculture lease. Currently, Taylor and Loo are paying $25/acre. Some municipalities charge as much as $200/acre.
In another matter, the board approved a budget calendar prepared by Town Administrator Mark Rees. The process will make it easier for department heads to know when their budgets need to be submitted, and should make the process for submitted articles to the annual town meeting proceed more smoothly.
In a related discussion, Mr. Rees told the board that if the schedule works the way he expects, the town may be able to eliminate the special town meeting that is traditionally held in conjunction with the annual town meeting every May.
Mr. Rees also presented a financial policy to the board, which included lowering the amount in the reserve fund.
Mr. Rees said that the amount in the reserve fund, which is used for mid-year expenses when departments go over budget on line items, can be reduced because of the changes made to the budget process already.
In past years, when department needed more money for a specific item, they would have to go to the Finance Committee and get the money from the reserve fund. With the new budget, departments are able to move money around within their budgets to cover an increase in the cost of ink or paper, for example.
Mr. Rees also recommended changes in the percentages put into various stabilization funds, changes that reflect the creation of the capital stabilization fund and other budget changes.
He also recommended changing the amount required for projects to change point that Selectboard member Dan Freitas voiced his support for. He said it was difficult to get bids for the smaller projects, or to keep projects under the amount for the more cumbersome process when it was just a small job.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola, who has advocated persistently for written policies since he was elected to the board, praised the changes.
Having a written financial policy also helps the town with bonding agencies, according to Mr. Rees and board members.
The board also agreed to hold a goal setting session with Mr. Rees to set town-wide goals. With the change to a Town Administrator type of government, the board and Mr. Rees are charting some new territory.
The board is charged with making policy and setting overall goals, while Mr. Rees is tasked with running the day-to-day operations of town hall and government, including personnel issues, and carrying out the wider goals with the department heads.
The board will hold the workshop type session on Saturday, 10/1. The meeting will be posted and open to the public as required by law, but the session will not require public participation. It will be televised on Cable Access Channel 18 and available online.
“We do a lot of business at meetings,” said Selectboard chairperson Charles Murphy. “But we don’t have time to set goals.”
In other business, the board:
• Approved a letter of support for the Mattapoisett Rail Trail Extension project. The bike path, which connects to Fairhaven’s Phoenix Bike Trail, ends at Mattapoisett Neck Road. The plan will continue the path to the Depot Street in the village.
• Postponed to the next meeting a public hearing for license enforcement for Dussault Auto Sales due to health reasons, according to Mr. Murphy.
• Reconvened in executive session to discuss collective bargaining agreements with clerical, police, dispatchers and fire department.
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