WESTERLY — The Town Council took steps this week to pave the way for the town's Harbor Management Plan to move from an interim status to final full approval from state and federal regulators.

Members voted 6-0 Monday to "reaffirm" the positive vote taken by the council last September to seek deauthorization of Watch Hill Cove as a federal navigation project. Deauthorization, which requires action by the US Congress, is seen as a step necessary to secure a positive recommendation on the harbor management plan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The office of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., had asked the current council to reaffirm the previous council's vote to confirm that deauthorization was still being sought by the town. The composition of the council changed after the November election. U.S. Sheldon Whitehouse wanted a similar assurance, Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said.

"This is so the two U.S. senators know there has not been a change with the political change of the council," Rooney said, explaining the need for the current Town Council's vote.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has raised concerns about the distribution system for moorings in the cove, saying it conflicts with the federal "open to all" policy that applies to water bodies with certain federal designations, including navigation projects. The mooring system favors residents of Westerly over others who apply for mooring permits.

The state Coastal Management Resources Council requires a positive recommendation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to fully accept the harbor plan. CRMC asked the town to address other aspects of the plan when the Town Council adopted an interim version of the plan in November. Aspects of the plan, including the mooring distribution and monitoring system, were rolled out for the first time this spring and summer.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has developed draft language for a congressional resolution which, if passed, would deauthorize a 10-foot deep, 16-acre anchorage area in Watch Hill Cove and a 200-foot-long riprap  jetty near the southwest corner of the anchorage.

Councilors Christopher Duhamel, Suzanne Giorno, Sharon Ahern, William Aiello Karen Cioffi, and Brian McCuin voted to reaffirm the previous council's vote to seek deauthorization of the cove. Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. did not attend the meeting.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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