Selectmen get update on town’s moorings

The summer sailing season might be over, but according to the harbormaster who oversees Greenwich’s waters, a long-term system that will show who is docking a boat where, and more importantly, if the person owes the town money, is closer than ever to being in place.

At issue is keeping track of what are known as “moorings,” which, for people without sailing experience, are anchorages to which boats may be secured. With many boaters in town, keeping track of these moorings and charging for them can be a real source of revenue, and a system has been coming together over the past few months to show exactly who is on which mooring and make it easy to charge for annual mooring permits that expire Dec. 31 and may be renewed on Jan. 1 of each year.

Greenwich’s harbormaster, Ian Macmillan, gave an update on this matter to the Board of Selectmen at its Sept. 20 meeting. He said that at last count the town had received more than $41,000 from the private yacht clubs for their mooring dues through the town’s online system and estimated that he was in the process of collecting another $29,000 from all the other moorings in town “we believe we have information on.”

But those are the legal moorings, and there is still a question of what can be done about moorings that are considered either illegal or unsafe because of their locations.

When asked by Selectman Drew Marzullo how many illegal moorings he believed there were in town, Mr. Macmillan put that number at 10 without permits and added that when a protocol was formally in place to take action he would to be able to send letters to those boaters.

“I expect most of them to comply with paying their due,” Mr. Macmillan said. “I don’t think we’re going to have very many of these. There are at least two of them that I know of that might become problematic.”

Mr. Macmillan said those 10 unpermitted moorings are considered “abandoned” and there are two more out there that he knows of that are being improperly used. He said that number is down significantly from what it was at the beginning of this effort.

“There were 41 that were volunteered as having never been permitted but having been clients of a mooring vendor,” Mr. Macmillan said. “Those 41 we chased down and got their names and their addresses. We know where the locations for their moorings are. Most of them have complied. They’ve gone into the system and are now paying their way. That’s how we want to handle most of this. We want to get them into compliance.”

He added there were close to 150 more moorings that never met permit requirements and have now been “chased down” as part of an “exhaustive inventory” of mooring locations in Greenwich’s waters.

“We know where everyone is,” Mr. Macmillan said. “The trick is then to identify the owners of them, and that’s what’s been taking time. We’re still in the process of doing that.”

Once all the data that’s needed is collected, Mr. Macmillan said, there can be planning of mooring fields in town for the first time. Without that information, which he said the town has never had, it’s impossible to anticipate things like boats bumping into each other in a storm.

“We’ve moved dramatically ahead in that direction,” Mr. Macmillan said.

Town Administrator John Crary told the selectmen that the town’s attorneys had presented a formal legal opinion that the town, not the state, had the ability to remove moorings through due process. Mr. Macmillan is a state appointee who serves at the pleasure of the governor and does not report directly to the selectmen, and Mr. Crary said removing illegal moorings is not the state’s responsibility.

“We have it specifically in our town charter and in our laws what the causes would be to remove moorings,” Mr. Crary said. “We’re spending our funds. We’re liable for the costs. And if someone comes back and says, ‘You removed something you don’t have the right to,’ it comes back on us.”

Because of that, Mr. Crary said, it would be up to Mr. Macmillan to present the town with information about moorings to be removed if they presented a hazard to navigation or for other reasons and then up to the town to act under an established process. Mr. Crary said this would be a “lengthy process” and would require statements in each case from Mr. Macmillan about why the mooring in question is considered hazardous.

There have been disagreements in the past over who does have jurisdiction in this case, but while he insisted that this is the state’s jurisdiction beyond the high water mark, Mr. Macmillan said he agreed with Mr. Crary and that he would identify the locations and the moorings and “do my most diligent best” to identify the owner and bring the information back to the town. By law Mr. Macmillan is deemed an “adviser” to the Board of Selectmen, so he said he would bring the information directly to them.

“I will give specifics as best as science can offer, and then I will help direct and implement,” Mr. Macmillan said, adding that while there are still the questions of jurisdiction that should be dealt with, he would comply here because the process that would be used under town charter is very similar to the process that would be used under state law.

First Selectman Peter Tesei said, “I think it’s pretty clear what the issue is and how we’re going to proceed to go about it. There are these interpretations, but I don’t think that’s something we should get caught up in. At the end of the day, if there are obstructions there are obstructions and they will stand on their merits as obstructions whether it’s you or me that’s taking action on them. We’ll get rid of them.”

Mr. Macmillan told the selectmen that the town has the power from the state to fine people up to $1,000 a day if they are responsible for moorings that are considered hazardous to other boaters. But he added that the goal is to resolve these matters without having to resort to such a hefty fine.

Having a system in place that includes a full database of the moorings and who they belong to and making sure all payments for permits are up to date is “the long-term project” Mr. Macmillan said that he and former Selectwoman Penny Monahan are working on now. Doing this includes collecting for past years that haven’t been paid for. If people don’t pay, Mr. Macmillan said, the town could simply not issue that boater a permit for the next year.

“We do have some leverage there and I suspect anyone who will want to be in the water next year will pay their way this year,” Mr. Macmillan said.

Because of the money involved, particularly what it has cost the town to give the harbormaster the equipment needed to do this, Selectman David Theis had urged Mr. Macmillan on several occasions to do this earlier and “be more diligent in going after these folks.” He said that again at the Sept. 20 meeting and the harbormaster, as he had also in the past, said he welcomed the feedback but that he hadn’t had the information he needed to issue permits for this year any earlier, given the vastness of the task and his limited time and staff.

“For the last 50 years that information has been absent,” Mr. Macmillan said. “It does take time. You can’t do this overnight.”

Mr. Macmillan is expected to provide another update at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting this morning at 10 in the Town Hall Meeting Room.

 

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