Fishermen Press Ideas for Harborfront

By RACHEL KOVAC

Commercial and charter fishermen jammed a public forum this week to air their concerns about a plan by the new owners of the Navigator Restaurant to relocate the dinghy docks on the Edgartown harborfront.

Hosted by the Edgartown Marine Advisory Committee in the town hall on Wednesday afternoon, the forum overflowed with fishermen, many of whom had docked their boat early, closed up stores or turned down charter fishing trips just to be at the 3 p.m. meeting. Many expressed anger at the prospect that the town would move forward with a proposal with no comment from those who work on the harbor.

But at the outset marine advisory committee chairman Joseph Cressy offered words to cool the flames. "The selectmen are backpedaling a bit," Mr. Cressy said. "They thought maybe we should send this off to the marine advisory committee. We as a committee have never discussed this. But we were asked to staff this meeting."

Gerret C. Convoer and Thomas E. LeClair, who bought the Navigator last November and want to rebuild it as an upscale establishment with a restaurant, retail space and a private club, had pitched a plan to relocate the dinghy docks and build a series of improvements in the waterfront, including street lamps, benches and new fish cleaning and weighing stations.

Mr. Conover and Mr. LeClair brought the plan to selectmen last month, who gave it a nod and turned it over to town harbor master Charles J. Blair Jr. and the town park and recreation department. It appeared that the plan was moving ahead with little public comment, but when word began to spread around the waterfront, commercial and charter fishermen began to react strongly. Selectmen then turned to the marine advisory committee to host a public meeting.

On Wednesday Mr. Cressy outlined the history of the proposal, which began in early July when Mr. Conover and Mr. LeClair went to the conservation commission with a letter of intent to raze and rebuild the Navigator. Situated on the harbor village waterfront, a portion of the Navigator property lies in commonwealth-owned tideland. State law includes regulations to protect public access.

"The principal concern is to make sure that the public access was finally established around the Navigator," Mr. Cressy said, citing Chapter 91 of Massachusetts state law.

Mr. Cressy said the new Navigator owners have questioned whether their property really lies in the tidelands and have hired a lawyer to look into the situation. He noted the history of the dinghy docks.

"Harvey Young always liked those dinghies cause he had a gangway right into the bar," Mr. Cressy joked. He also apologized for the time of the meeting and said another meeting will be scheduled for next month. "We have no preconceived notions, no ideas and no decisions as a committee," Mr. Cressy said.

Steven Ewing, a longtime former commercial fisherman and owner of Aquamarine Dock Builders, said the town has an opportunity to create a more workable plan for its waterfront.

Mr. Cressy agreed. "This is not a new problem," he said. "Every harbor has this problem. We did make a mistake a hundred years ago not buying more land for the town."

Mr. Blair said the central problem concerns limited space.

As the meeting progressed concerns surfaced about other harbor issues, including the size of the boats that dock at the Harborside Inn. Donald Benefit, a commercial fisherman on the boat Payback, asked if there was any way to limit the size of the boats in the area.

"People with twin screws can turn around in there, but with a single screw they're scratching," he said. "Can you limit the size to 110 feet?"

There was no clear answer to the question.

Then attention turned back to the dinghy docks, and suggestions ran the gamut.

"The dinghies are not the problem," concluded Cooper Gilkes the 3rd, who owns Coop's Bait and Tackle in Edgartown. "Once you start moving everybody you've got a real problem."

One idea called for removing the central finger pier and adding more floating docks.

"You could do a big U-shaped area at the finger piers," Mr. Ewing said. "Just get a measuring tape and some common sense and we can figure this all out."

Mr. Blair asked if there was a consensus among the commercial fishermen that they want to stay at Memorial Wharf.

"We're staying there," Mr. Benefit replied.

Then Mr. Blair asked if the charter fishermen would mind tying up at the finger piers.

Charlie Ashmun, a charter fishermen who owns the Capella, said that was tried before but only four boats could tie up there.

Mr. Conover also stood to speak and explain his plan, with the help of a drawing hung on the wall.

"We just wanted to clean up some of the licensing issues," Mr. Conover said. "When we did go to the selectmen it was just to tell them what we were doing."

He said there were liability issues with the dinghy docks, plus the owners wanted to have a boat there. Mr. Conover said he has offered part of the bulkhead to the town so it will not lose any dock space and has offered to do improvements at his own expense, including planting trees, installing brick sidewalks and building fish cleaning stations.

As the meeting drew to a close the general consensus called for developing some kind of plan to remove one of the finger piers, install more floating docks for dinghies, and possibly limit the size of boats that tie up on the harborfront.

"We can work all of this out with a little configuring," concluded S. Bailey Norton, a member of the marine advisory committee. "There's a problem bringing these 100-foot boats in where they don't belong. We need to limit the beam and the length."

Mr. Cressy said the committee will sit down, look at its notes, and draft some proposals before the next meeting. He said it is important to move with some due speed because the modification of licenses may be involved.

Mr. Blair concurred. "If we came up with a finger pier plan then we could accommodate the dinghies for the next 15 years," he said. "That means modifying some licenses. I would plan to have this approved by the selectmen in the next couple months. What I've heard from you is that we need to modify the finger piers and put in floating docks there for dinghies."

"Yes," said Mr. Benefit. "You have to accommodate the Islanders. We're here 12 months of the year. They're here three."