Divided public speaks on harbor management

Greenwich’s waterfront will be the main focus of the new committee that would be formed if the Board of Selectmen gives the go-ahead for developing a harbor management plan. — Ken Borsuk photo

Greenwich’s waterfront will be the main focus of the new committee that would be formed if the Board of Selectmen gives the go-ahead for developing a harbor management plan.
— Ken Borsuk photo

After months of listening to town officials discuss the potential development of a new Harbor Management Commission, it was time for the rest of the community to have its say at a public hearing Monday night.

A number of residents spoke before the Board of Selectmen to discuss their approval or disapproval of a draft ordinance authorizing the creation of a commission of seven volunteer residents and two alternates that would develop a new Harbor Management Plan for the town. Each candidate would follow the traditional process of being nominated by the selectmen and then approved by the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). No policy has been established yet. This ordinance would only set up the committee to write one.

The proposed commission would have jurisdiction “within and over all ‘navigable waters’ and intertidal areas below the mean water line on the shoreline of Greenwich” and within the territorial limits of the town. Members would be responsible for implementing and managing the town’s Harbor Management Plan, which would pertain to any issues arising from proposals affecting the town’s coastal property, including fees for moorings for boats docked in Greenwich and management of local anchorage areas.

On this, residents had plenty to say to the selectmen Monday night, and kicking off the public comment was Michael Finkbeiner, who opposes the creation of commission.

“What we desperately need is an effective Harbor Management Plan” rather than a commission, Mr. Finkbeiner said. Since the Board of Selectmen has the authority to appoint a Harbor Management Advisory Committee that could draft the plan instead, he claimed there is no need for a new commission that would ultimately refer suggestions to the selectmen anyway.

For 60 years, he added, the selectmen have had coastal authority but a state-approved Harbor Management Plan has not been in place. If the selectmen are finally choosing to create such a plan, Mr. Finkbeiner said, they should abide by the state’s requirement that the harbor master oversee it.

Meg McAuley agreed that a new body was unnecessary, quickly adding, “I fear another big commission in this town.”

Peter Quigley, a District 7 RTM member, agreed with Mr. Finkbeiner that another commission was unnecessary in order to develop a Harbor Management Plan when an advisory board could do the job instead. If the commission is approved, however, Mr. Quigley said, the selectmen must make very clear who has accountability for and authority over that commission.

Additionally, Mr. Quigley told the selectmen it was vital that the Inlands Wetlands & Watercourses Agency be involved as ex officio members of the Harbor Management Commission. Based on the draft ordinance for the commission, the non voting ex officio members would include a member of the Board of Selectmen, one member each from the Planning and Zoning Commission, RTM, Greenwich Marine Police Division and Department of Public Works and the harbor master. As experts in the town’s water-related issues, the exclusion of the Inlands Wetlands Agency would be a “big mistake,” Mr. Quigley said.

Speaking strictly in terms of “process,” District 6 RTM member Erf Porter said it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s an advisory board or an official Harbor Management Commission that establishes a Harbor Management Plan. Mr. Porter said his personal definition of a plan is “predetermining an outcome.” As such, any body charged with developing the plan should determine what outcomes the plan would focus on, then identify the skill sets members of that body would need to ensure that they could effectively implement those outcomes, Mr. Porter said.

Perhaps the most critical piece of the process, he added, is appointing commission or committee members who have the knowledge necessary to succeed.

Not all attendees of Monday’s hearing were opposed to the creation of  a commission, however, and many spoke emphatically in its favor.

Brian O’Donnell told the selectmen that the management of the town’s waters is “a mess” and insisted it was time to take action by approving the commission. The most important decision, he said, will be choosing members who are not only knowledgeable about boating, but don’t have personal agendas or a desire to “build a fiefdom.”

RTM District 8 member Chris von Keyserling also “strongly and absolutely and emphatically” supported the development of a commission, especially since Greenwich’s waters are one of a handful of elements that define the town, he said.

While he has great respect for the Board of Selectmen, charging it with the additional responsibility of overseeing a Harbor Management Plan would allow it only a limited amount of time to dedicate to harbor management, Mr. Von Keyserling said. A commission, on the other hand, would have the time to make complex problems more coherent as well as monitor and adjust harbor management issues as they arise.

“Two heads are better than one,” Mr. Von Keyserling said.

Doug Massey also voiced a strong desire for the development of a commission. Each year, he said, the town loses portions of its harbors by feet — not mere inches. Accordingly, Dr. Massey said, “Rome will burn” if the town continues to procrastinate on the issue. Until Greenwich forms a commission that has a responsibility to the town’s harbors, dredging plan and related affairs, coastal property will continue to disappear, he said.

“Until we decide … who’s responsible, we have lost the game,” Dr. Massey said. “We have to do something,” he added. “This is our time. I’m asking you, please, move forward.”

Now that public comment has been heard, the Board of Selectmen will meet again later this month to discuss the authorization of a commission. If approved, the proposal would move on to the RTM for final approval, which would likely be addressed at the body’s September meeting.

 

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