A small group of boaters in Menemsha are making some loud noise this summer about harbor regulations that limit the length of boats and put stricter limits on length of stay.
The boaters say the regulations are discriminatory, but Chilmark selectmen say they are simply protecting the safety and aesthetics of the fishing village.
Previously, Menemsha harbor master Dennis Jason provided dockage for pleasure boats up to 118 feet long, and allowed transient boats to stay on an availability-only basis after two weeks.
Under new regulations adopted in November, the transient dock that previously held boats up to 60 feet now caps off at 50 feet. The Chilmark resident dock limits boats to 45 feet. The largest boat the harbor master will accommodate - at his discretion, on the 150-foot stretch on the filled dock - will be 75 feet.
Regardless of slip availability, all transient noncommercial boats now are required to leave the harbor for a week after docking for 14 consecutive days between July 1 and Labor Day.
"Really what we're trying to do is make sure the harbor can be used by the most amount of people - that's why we're trying to limit the stay," selectman Frank Fenner said this week. "We are well aware that if we turned this into a yacht harbor, we could make more money."
Some Chilmark residents and Menemsha summer boaters question whether it is legal for the selectmen to ban certain boats from a municipal marina that has received state funding, and have hired lawyers to look into a class action lawsuit. Town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport said his preliminary research indicates the regulations are legal.
"It is a change, but it's a change in order to prevent change," said selectman and board chairman J.B. Riggs Parker, who drafted the regulations with the help of Mr. Jason and former selectman Alex Preston. "The selectmen have focused on trying to preserve Menemsha as a commercial fishing port."
Mr. Fenner agreed. "It's really a safety issue with the larger [recreational] boats," he said. "The current here in the channel is really very strong, and it takes an able seaman to be able to handle the boat."
But Chilmark resident Edward (Spider) Andreson, who manages a fleet of boats for Jimmy Buffett, who has been coming to Menemsha on a boat for 30 years, disagrees that large boats are unsafe in the harbor. With bow thrusters and often professional captains, large boats are actually safer, he said.
"Common sense dictates its not a safety issue," Mr. Andreson said. "As long as you've got someone who knows how to operate a boat, you can get a boat against that dock."
Mr. Andreson will no longer be allowed to tie up Mr. Buffett's 90-foot boat, which he typically docks for four or five days on the filled dock. Mr. Andreson also wants to buy a 50-foot boat to keep on the resident dock, but under the new regulations he will not be allowed there.
Selectmen also say they are trying to preserve Menemsha's character as one of the last true commercial fishing villages on the Eastern Seaboard.
"They all want dock space - there is not enough space to go around," Mr. Parker said, referring to the large recreational boats. "Forces of big money are coming against the forces of preserving and maintaining the character of the harbor," he added.
Pleasure boaters with a long history of coming to Menemsha in the summer say the suggestion that there is an increase in demand for long-term dock space is simply fiction.
"Except for a handful of people, Menemsha is a short-term destination," said Paul De Jesus, who has been coming with his family on a boat to Menemsha from his home in Reading for 18 summers. With a no-reservations policy in the harbor, few families are willing to bank their vacation on unforeseen availability, he said.
The De Jesus family usually stays for three weeks on the West side of the filled dock in a 70-foot Hatteras they have owned for six years. The new rules will end that tradition.
"My family's been coming from the time they were born. Menemsha is our Disney World - we would rather be in Menemsha than anywhere else," Mr. De Jesus said.
When Mr. De Jesus heard about the new regulations in October, he wrote a letter to selectmen, asking for relief.
But Mr. Parker said the new regulations simply enforce the meaning of the old regulations.
"After awhile, those regulations were not enforced particularly well," Mr. Parker said of the original two-week rule with a subsequent space-available limit. "They began to feel they were entitled to that month."
Mr. De Jesus's boat was not grandfathered, although another 70-foot boat was. Mr. De Jesus said he called Mr. Parker to ask why.
"Riggs basically told me that [Maurice Tempelsman] had a long-time relationship with the First Lady and he was older than me," Mr. De Jesus said, referring to the owner of the grandfathered boat.
Mr. Parker said last week that the selectmen would like to end grandfathering altogether.
"It's a special privilege that just causes problems," he said. He said Mr. Tempelsman was grandfathered previously but not named publicly at the time.
The most vocal opponent of the new town waterways regulations is James Zisson of Palm Beach and Chilmark. Mr. Zisson has started a web site, made bumper stickers, taken out newspaper advertisements and plans to install several $300 wireless web cams this week in locations around Menemsha to produce streaming footage of the harbor and streets for the public. He is also calling for Mr. Parker's resignation.
"As far as I'm concerned, saying it's about safety and saying it's about scale are two code words for redlining," declared Mr. Zisson, who is a director of wealth management at Citigroup Global Markets in West Palm Beach. "The fact that I don't have a boat doesn't make me any less angry when I hear those words."
Mr. Zisson does not have a pleasure boat this year, but most years since 1974 he has had a boat on the harbor. He plans to apply for nonprofit status for his group titled Menemsha Is for Everyone, which he hopes will raise money to cover legal costs and generate donations for Chilmark volunteer firefighters and the Tri-Town Ambulance.
Mr. Parker vowed that the board will stand its ground. "Forces of big money are coming against the forces of preserving and maintaining the character of the harbor," he said. "The selectmen would rather have more smaller boats than one or two larger boats in the same space. It's a policy decision and it can be debated, but that's what we decided."