Thursday, February 02, 2017
By James Lomuscio
Run aground at Westport’s Board of Finance Wednesday night, a $1.265 million request to dredge the Compo Beach channel and marina now heads to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) on Tuesday.
Because the finance board turned it down by a 4-2 vote, it needs a 70 percent supermajority of the 36-member body to approve the request.
The Board of Finance majority wanted boaters to pay 100 percent of the cost, for which the town would go out to bond for 20 years.
Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Fava said her department’s request, which had been in the works for three years and now has permits in place, had boaters paying 80 percent, the town the remaining 20 percent.
“They (the town) would be responsible for $253,000 plus interest over 20 years,” Fava said.
Brian Stern, finance board chairman, and member Jennifer Tooker favored the request.
“This has been in the works for three years,” said Fava, adding that the last time the channel had been dredged was in 1993.
Since then sands that had been piled high along East Beach to act as a buffer against super storms Irene and Sandy have washed into the Ned Dimes Marina and the channel.
“People have been in trouble navigating that channel,” Fava said. “And depending upon the tide, they have run aground.”
She said visiting boaters unfamiliar with the channel’s intricacies are most at risk.
“I don’t know if there may be liability issues there, but I do know there are safety issues,” Fava said.
She said the town’s Marine Police use that route often, having had 320 calls last season.
Fava added that the 20 percent the town would be responsible for would prove money well spent since it would shore up a Westport asset.
“This is a town asset,” Fava said. “This is maintenance of a town asset.”
Charles Haberstroh, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said many Westport boaters from the two Saugatuck Shores yacht clubs as well as private docks use the marina to buy gas and pump out their waste units.
The marina makes money for the town, he said, and thus benefits all Westporters.
The Board of Finance had originally approved the appropriation request in December (see WestportNow Dec. 7, 2016) but added a stipulation that 100 percent of the cost be paid by the boaters.
Since then, Assistant Town Attorney Gail Kelly offered an opinion that the Board of Finance had no authority to mandate the 100 percent charge to boaters.
She said by the Town Charter, the Board of Finance could only recommend an appropriation to the RTM, not how fees should be charged.
And while the RTM could offer an opinion of how the fees should be paid, it was ultimately up to the Board of Selectmen to approve Parks and Recreation Department fees and to the Finance Director Gary Conrad to determine bonding options, she said.
As a result of the opinion, the finance board rescinded its original approval with the conditions and then rejected the appropriation outright, knowing that the RTM would need the 70 percent supermajority to approve it.
Posted 02/02/17 at 05:16 PM Permalink