Chilmark selectmen will ask the U.S. Coast Guard to reconsider its denial of town insurance claims from the Menemsha boathouse fire. On advice of their town counsel, the selectmen decided not to pursue an appeal through the U.S. District Court, at least for now.
The move comes three weeks after the selectmen received a letter from Coast Guard Legal Command informing them that town property damage claims filed after the July 2010 fire would be denied. An identical letter was sent to individual boatowners who had filed claims. The Coast Guard’s believes the fire started on the town pier and spread to the Coast Guard dock, and therefore is assuming no liability. Selectmen strongly disputed the letter.
“The letter we received states that the Coast Guard has no liability because the fire began on the town pier. We disagree with that and a lot of people were offended by that sentence in the letter. We were stunned by it,” selectman Warren Doty said. Mr. Doty said the board discussed the matter in a special executive session with town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport last week and voted to ask the Coast Guard to reconsider.
“The recommendation of our [town] counsel was we . . . ask for a reconsideration of the matter through the interior departments of the Coast Guard and then if we’re not satisfied with that we can do second step, which is file in court,” Mr. Doty said.
Selectman and board chairman Frank Fenner recommended that individuals who filed claims make their case directly to the Coast Guard.
“I think it would be better to have multiple letters,” Mr. Fenner said.
An investigation by state and federal agencies following the fire concluded that the cause of the fire was undetermined. A report on the results of the investigation was issued in February 2011.
Mr. Fenner, who was an eyewitness to the fire and interviewed by investigators, has repeatedly questioned the accuracy of the report.
But Mr. Doty said Mr. Rappaport and police chief Brian Cioffi both advised that “going back and fighting about the report may or may not be productive for us.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Fenner said he wants the town to be clearly on record as disputing the Coast Guard’s position.
“My big concern is these kinds of things have a way of coming back 20 years from now . . . [for example] if they’re doing an insurance review for the town of Chilmark,” he said.
In other business at their meeting Tuesday, selectmen announced plans to build a new 230-foot transient dock, a new 50-foot fuel dock and a new 185-foot temporary tie-up dock at Menemsha, using grant money from the Massachusetts Seaport Advisory Council. Two weeks ago the council announced the award of $629,026 to go toward rebuilding the historic fishing village.