WESTERLY — Boat owners who use or want to use one of the eight mooring fields in the town are required to apply for a permit and register for a permit by June 1 or reserve a spot on a waiting list. The requirement, which was approved by the Town Council as part of the municipal Boats, Waterways and Harbor Management ordinance, applies to riparian mooring holders as well.
The Town Council unanimously approved a mooring registration process and fee schedule Monday as well as other aspects of the town's interim Harbor Management Plan for incorporation into the ordinance. Registration opened last month. Failure to register a mooring by June 1 may result in the mooring site becoming available to a waiting list applicant. Permits issued in previous years are no longer valid.
On or after June 2, the town will conduct a lottery from the applicant pool to set the order of the waiting lists for the mooring fields. Boaters who register for the waiting list after June 2 will go to the end of the list. Residents and nonresidents can register moorings or seek a spot on the waiting list. The annual registration application fee is $25. The annual mooring permit fee is $250.
Work on the harbor plan began nearly 16 years ago.
"I think it's a momentous point ... there were a lot of interests that had to be considered to compile this plan," Christopher Duhamel, Town Council president, said Friday.
Kimberlie Rayner-Russell, who played a significant role in developing the plan as a member of the Harbor Management Commission, was appointed assistant harbor master. Her duties include managing the mooring permit process and monitoring the mooring fields and other areas for compliance.
"I think most people want to do the right thing and the plan is something we had to do," Rayner-Russell said.
The state Coastal Resources Management Council requires all coastal municipalities to maintain up-to-date harbor management plans. The plans are required to include a focus on ensuring public access to coastal waters and harbor areas. CRMC officials were intensely focused on Westerly's mooring management as the plan was being developed and frequently described the town's previous system as unauthorized and potentially illegal. The surface under the water is considered to be state property, and municipalities are responsible for maintaining and protecting it through their accepted harbor management plans.
In recent weeks boaters have complained that the $250 fee is too high. Rayner-Russell said the fee was developed through a collaborative effort of town officials. Rather than charge nonresidents a higher fee or tie the fee to boat size, Rayner-Russell said the idea was to establish a fee that would produce enough revenue to cover the cost of administering the mooring management process, which will include monitoring throughout the boating season. The police department will enforce speed restrictions and other operational aspects of the ordinance.
"We were trying to come up with an equitable approach that was fair to everyone. A large boat requires the same administration as a smaller one," Rayner-Russell said.
In some ways, officials said, the 2019 boating season will serve as a pilot for the new ordinance.
"The first year is always going to be difficult. It's good to get it going and see the level ... we can revise or adjust it in the future," Rayner-Russell said.
Duhamel said the Town Council is viewing the first season under the mooring registration process as a test.
"It's a trial period. After the first year we'll revisit it," he said. "The council has made that commitment to the public."
The presence of moorings just off Napatree Point is likely to be a trouble spot. Rayner-Russell said the area, according to the harbor plan, is intended to be a transient anchorage, not a mooring field. About two years ago there were five moorings in the area but the number has nearly tripled, Rayner-Russell said. Officials attribute the increase to publicity surrounding the plan and see the moorings as a last ditch attempt to establish moorings in the area.
"Historically that has been a free, open anchorage. If there is a mooring field there it takes up space that others could use. It's not in line with the culture of the area, the intent of the plan or the historic use," Rayner-Russell said.