Tashmoo Boaters Bump Up Against Rule Enforcement

By MAX HART

Stricter enforcement of town waterways regulations has caused some ripples in the boating community in Vineyard Haven in recent weeks.

Among other things, the Tisbury board of selectmen has heard a litany of complaints over stepped-up boating regulations in Lake Tashmoo. A new mooring grid system coupled with a more aggressive enforcement campaign has longtime boaters and residents of this quiet inland harbor voicing their displeasure.

"We have always done things here the way we have done them, and now all of a sudden they want us to change," declared Kim Baptiste, owner of the Tashmoo Boatyard last week. "Who makes the rules, and why change the way we have always done things now?"

Mr. Baptiste is one of several Tashmoo waterfront dwellers who has clashed with town officials in recent months. Among other things, he has been cited for violating town waterway regulations regarding the use of empty moorings. Mr. Baptiste has been using some of his clients' moorings to tie up boats temporarily while he works on them, a practice that is forbidden under town regulations.

It is a practice Mr. Baptiste and his family have employed since the boatyard opened more than 30 years ago.

"Why not use these moorings that are otherwise going to sit empty?" he said. "This is how I make a living down here. The town has offered me more moorings, but because the town has said it doesn't want more boats in Tashmoo I said I didn't want them. When I was using my clients own moorings it was enough. I'd be satisfied with just that."

This spring the town adopted a new grid system for moorings in Tashmoo. Previously, moorings were scattered throughout the salt water lake which lies on the western side of Vineyard Haven and empties into the Sound through a wide channel. Enforcement was often overlooked.

In the late 1990s the town began looking into ways to better regulate all of its harbors and waters, and for the next several years began redrawing mooring patterns for Vineyard Haven harbor. Tashmoo was next on the list, and in 2004 Tashmoo mooring permit holders learned of the plan to extend the dock at the town landing, upgrade the moorings and establish a more organized mooring field.

"Over the last few years we have been gradually tightening up the enforcement of regulations at Tashmoo, and I think it has taken some adjustment for some people," Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel explained. "When we implemented the grid, it brought the enforcement into the forefront, because it gave us the opportunity to set it all straight."

Setting Tashmoo straight is something town leaders have been wanting to do for years. One town official referred to Tashmoo as the wild west. Currently over 200 boats are moored there in the summer with over 100 names on the mooring waiting list.

With the new grid, the board charged town harbor master John (Jay) Wilbur with seeing that the rules were upheld. But at a series of recent selectmen's meetings Mr. Wilbur defended a barrage of complaints by longtime Tashmoo boaters railing against the changes.

At the board's last regular meeting on August 2, Lynne Fraker, who owns a 34-foot sailboat that she keeps at Tashmoo, argued that she was being unfairly singled out for living on her boat - a clear violation of regulations. Ms. Fraker said Mr. Wilbur was using her as an example. Ms. Fraker was also ironically a member of the committee that helps draft and uphold the waterway regulations. She was not reappointed because of her violation.

Earlier this summer, the board heard complaints from Sarah Menton, who had anchored her boat in Tashmoo for years but lost her mooring because she failed to pay her bill on time, even though she claimed she never received the bill.

In each case, the office of the harbor master has come under fire. Some protesters have argued that the Mr. Wilbur has been either unfair, unrealistic or uncooperative with them. Some have even questioned his conduct - Ms. Fraker called him caustic.

"In these cases, if you look at their basic arguments, each person is in some sort of clear violation," said Hilary Conklin, the administrative secretary to the board of selectmen who provides support to the office of the harbor master. "Whether they had gotten away with it before or not is irrelevant. Jay is just upholding the board's directive to enforce the regulations," she said.

"The board has worked very hard to create a system where everyone is treated the same and where there is no favoritism," Mr. Israel said. "We have hit some bumps, but I think going forward, the process will be a lot less rocky."

As for Mr. Baptiste, he has asked selectmen for some leniency regarding the use of his clients' moorings. Selectman Thomas Pachico came to Mr. Baptiste's defense, wondering aloud if there were ways to get around some of the regulations to protect the Tashmoo Boatyard. But Mr. Wilbur was hesitant to concede any ground, repeating that he was only acting in the interest and at the direction of the board. He reiterated that any exceptions would only compromise his authority.

Mr. Baptiste said he thinks the regulations need some fine-tuning.

"I think there are a few changes that have to be made, for sure," he said. "Why can't a guest of someone who owns a mooring be allowed to use it while they are visiting? Why should moorings left unused all summer be off limits to someone who needs it?"

Mr. Baptiste will meet with the board of selectmen and the Tashmoo management committee in September to begin working on the changes.

"They're going to have to help me out," he said. "I'll have to work with them too, but I don't want to fight with them."