WESTERLY — Having completed an initial review of a draft version of the harbor management plan, the Town Council hopes to take a quick additional look next month and then move the document along for a public hearing to be conducted in June and July.
On Thursday, the council met again with Kevin Cute, a marine resources specialist with the state Coastal Resources Management Council. Cute reviewed the additions he had made to the plan based on the council’s input in March, and pointed out a few sections of the plan that require firming up.
The plan covers the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Fishers Island Sound extending 500 feet from shore, an area described by CRMC as Type I waters. The plan will also apply to the town’s salt ponds, Little Narragansett Bay, including Watch Hill Cove; Foster Cove, Colonel Willie Cove, Potter Cove, and the stretch of the Pawcatuck River that flows through the town.
The mooring distribution system has been a focal point of discussions. Councilor Jack Carson asked if holders of current moorings would be given priority in the event that their moorings are deemed improper by the state management council. Cute’s answer was consistent with the message he has delivered during the council’s previous sessions in February and March, and at meetings of the Harbor Management Commission, which wrote the plan.
“I don’t mean to be harsh on this but the answer is an unequivocal ‘no,’” Cute said.
The reason, Cute explained, is that in CRMC’s view all current moorings are unauthorized because there is no accepted harbor management plan. He noted that the surface under the water is considered to be state property, which the council maintains and protects. It is through accepted harbor management plans that CRMC confers maintenance and protection responsibilities to municipalities.
Moorings must be properly constructed and maintained and mooring fields must be accessible for public use, Cute stated.
“I’m not trying to take anyone’s mooring away, but if we can’t find a way to allow public access to every single mooring field it’s going to be difficult for me to not do that. We need some cooperation. I don’t know know how much more I can do to say I’m extending my hand to everyone,” Cute continued.
“You have to work with us...these are legal property issues and we need to respect the law. I’ll do the best I can to work with everyone.”
CRMC is authorized under state law to “to enact regulations and planning programs designed to proactively stimulate coastal communities to develop comprehensive municipal harbor management plans,” according to CRMC’s 83-page Guidelines for the Development of Municipal Harbor Management Plans.
Westerly’s effort to develop a plan dates back at least 14 years, when a Harbor Management Commission was appointed by the Town Council. Only one original member — commission chairman Larry Steadman, remains on the commission.
The plans are intended to provide a comprehensive and continuous evaluation of municipal harbor management activities; provide for a detailed assessment of current and proposed municipal harbor management programs, ordinances or regulations to ensure compliance with regulatory and management requirements of the state; and delegate the management authority and responsibilities of consistent local harbor management programs to the municipalities, according to the CRMC guide.
The most recent draft version of the plan will be posted on the municipal website before the council’s meeting on the plan in May. After the public hearings in June and July, the council will conduct a final review with the hope of approving the plan, said Council President Edward Morrone.
The plan would then move to CRMC for a formal review and decision. CRMC will seek input and a sign-off from the state Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.