WESTERLY — Members of the Westerly Town Council at their Monday meeting voted to allow the Westerly harbormaster the authority to grandfather in about five “verified moorings” that have existed in Watch Hill Cove since 2015 under a compromise plan developed by Town Manager J. Mark Rooney, Harbormaster and Police Chief Shawn Lacey and Assistant Harbormaster Kimberlie Rayner-Russell.
Those moorings will be in a “boxed-in” space within the transient anchorage, and the plan would dictate that the moorings “go away” over time, as they cannot be transferred or renewed. The plan, which is for this boating season only, must eventually be approved by the Coastal Resources Management Council and the state Department of Environmental Management.
The moorings had been mandated for removal but were allowed to stay in place for the boating season under the compromise plan.
Before voting, councilors had a protracted discussion about what constituted verified moorings, and why the mooring owners should have such a privilege.
Rooney said the moorings would be grandfathered in, and then gradually go away. He called it a “stopgap measure” for people who broke the rules “with some good intention.”
The plan, Rooney said, was to have the moorings contained within the four corners of certain coordinates within the cove, and that there would be no interference in the larger anchorage area.
Councilor Karen Cioffi noted the discussion was not to create a mooring field, but to appease some boat owners who have had moorings since 2015. It appeared, however, that the documented group who can prove they have been there since 2015 is quite small. Harbormaster Shawn Lacey estimated the number to be about 4 to 6 boat owners.
“These are one-day moorings,” Lacey said. “It’s like someone having their own private parking lot in Watch Hill.”
Councilor William Aiello said he had a problem with the fact that the Watch Hill Yacht Club also had moorings on the chart presented by the harbormaster. Five moorings at the yacht club have also been allowed to stay.
“This changes the scope of what this is about,” Aiello said. “I thought we were talking about five individuals who have moorings out there. I don’t see this ever going away if the yacht club has those for whoever.”
“Let’s not say it’s a temporary mooring when we know very well it’s not going to be,” Aiello said.
Lacey said the yacht club was willing to move the moorings to a dedicated space immediately.
“They will move them whenever the time comes that they have to be moved,” Lacey said.
“My whole issue is that this is grandfathering people in on a temporary basis, and yet it really isn’t,” Aiello said.
“These moorings are going to be there for a while,” Rayner-Russell said.
“We have delegated the authority to (the harbormasters) to run this program, to the extent that we can have a hearing on this at the end of the season,” councilor Sharon Ahern said. “They need this for the season to enforce what they need to enforce in the upcoming months and to shut down the letters we are getting from people who say, ‘I want a mooring there too.’”
“I think we knew, going into this season, we were going to face some rough seas,” Ahern said. “And we’re having these issues because we’re having to work with resolutions, ordinances and plans … so for now let’s get this passed and let these people do what they need to do.”
“At the end of the season we can see how this works,” Ahern said.
Lacey informed boaters in the Watch Hill Cove Breakwater West mooring field in May that the area would be decommissioned as a mooring area and used only as a transient anchorage area. The area is listed in the interim Harbor Management Plan as one of eight mooring fields in the town, but is also described in the plan as a transient anchorage area.