Public input sought for harbor plan, other sessions proposed

Sun fie photo

WESTERLY — The town's Harbor Management Plan, an on-again off-again project that was 16 years in the works, will soon be submitted to the state Coastal Resources Management Council for final approval.

The submission will follow the Town Council's unanimous approval on Monday of final revisions to the plan. CRMC requires all coastal communities in the state to have approved harbor management plans to guide development around the water, protect water quality, and ensure access to the shoreline. Westerly, which has worked for the past year under an interim version of the plan, will be the last coastal community in the state to adopt a plan.

The council's vote Monday followed renewed pleas by the holders of moorings in the Watch Hill Cove Breakwater West area. The mooring holders repeated their request for the council to reconsider a resolution approved in June that forces them to give up their moorings.

Assistant Harbor Master Kimberlie Rayner-Russell explained that the Breakwater West area is designated in the plan as a transient anchorage area, not as a mooring field. Originally, the plan called for complete removal of all moorings in the Breakwater West area, but a compromise was reached after the Watch Hill Yacht Club and a few others who held moorings there complained, pointing out that they had established moorings in the area before 2015, when a draft version of the plan was submitted to the Town Council.

The compromise, which was memorialized in the resolution, allows the yacht club to manage five transient moorings in the Breakwater West area and permits five other moorings in the area that will eventually go away through attrition. The three mooring holders who appeared before the Town Council on Monday had established their moorings after the plan draft was submitted. They were allowed to stay through the end of the 2019 boating season. An additional 20 or so moorings that town officials observed in the area this past summer have been designated for removal, Rayner-Russell said.

Annette Headley, one of the mooring holders who is required to give up a mooring now that the summer of 2019 has concluded, questioned how provisions of the compromise had been reached. "I remain frustrated on how the resolution came into being. All of the moorings in this region have equal rights," she said.

Stephanie Mastroianni, one of the affected mooring holders, said the compromise that was approved in the  council's resolution in June was developed during an "unethical backroom deal." Her criticism drew a  strong objection from Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr., who said he had never participated in a backroom meeting in his 13 years on the council.

On Tuesday, Headley said the meeting that Mastroianni was referring to involved appointed town officials and just one of the Breakwater West mooring holders — not members of the Town Council. Headley questioned why she and others were not invited. "I thought since we had registered our moorings in April we had some sort of a right to our mooring," she said.

Headley said she is waiting to hear back from a CRMC official and may try to appeal the Town Council's decision based on what the CRMC official tells her.

Councilor William Aiello said that while the council took great strides to ensure that the plan was developed and reviewed in a very public process, the Breakwater West compromise could have been handled better. "I don't think there was ill intention, nobody did anything deliberately but we probably should have taken an extra week here," Aiello said. "Some issues came up and they were trying to resolve it ... but I do understand the frustrations."

Councilor Sharon Ahern noted that the plan is subject to continued scrutiny by CRMC. "I think we've established, now, for the public why that 2015 date was selected. It wasn't arbitrary...[but] CRMC might say you can't have any moorings there still."

Richard Holiday, an Avondale resident, questioned language added to the plan stating that municipal enforcement and other work generated by the plan would be paid for by fees charged for mooring permits. The majority of boaters in the town do not use the mooring fields encompassed in the plan, which he said creates an "unfair and discriminatory burden on the smaller number of mooring permittees who are required to pay each year."

The council declined to make changes to a section of the plan that describes a right of way to the shore off Waters Edge Road in Watch Hill. Lisa Pellegrini, director of the town's Development Services Department, said the language that Aiello asked to have changed had been developed through negotiations with the owners of property adjacent to the right of way and their lawyer.

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