Some towns keep split mooring fee

A disputed law passed last year demands the same rate be paid by all.

CHATHAM - (04/12/05) With boating season in the wings, the Cape's harbor masters are putting docks in place, checking buoys and moorings and replacing pilings damaged by ice. But this year they have another springtime task: deciding whether to comply with a new law that prohibits them from charging a higher rate for nonresidents than they do for residents for boat moorings and boat slips.

David Fronzuto, president of the Cape & Islands Harbormasters Association, said a majority of towns have chosen to follow the law. But a few, like Chatham and Wellfleet, have rebelled, saying the difference in fees is akin to those charged for beach stickers. "We don't think it is discriminatory," Chatham Harbor Master Stuart Smith said. "This is a case of creating legislation without knowing the facts." A nonresident rate for one of Chatham's 2,326 moorings is three times more expensive than for Chatham owners, Smith said.

The law, a rider that state Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, tacked on to a transportation bond bill last summer, also required that towns establish an account dedicated to waterway and marina projects, and fund it with half of boat excise taxes collected and all mooring fees. Morrissey claimed the split fee, sometimes three to five times higher for nonresidents, discriminated against nonresident boaters when both essentially received the same services. "Charging two different rates for two different people borders on being arbitrary and a tax," Morrissey said in an interview with the Times in January.

Boston snubs the law
Morrissey owns several boats and is a member of yacht clubs in Quincy, where he lives, and in Boston. Recently, the Boston Globe reported that Boston has decided not to comply with the new law and will continue charging nonresidents like Morrissey five times what they charge residents. The Globe reported that Morrissey has asked the state attorney general's office to order Boston and other communities to comply. Soon after Morrissey's bill passed, state Sen. Robert O'Leary, D-Barnstable, filed a bill to repeal it. "This happened at the 11th hour, in the dark of night," O'Leary said of Morrissey's use of a last-minute rider onto the huge transportation bond bill. "Most people's reaction is that it wasn't thought through and it was unjustified. We're looking to reverse it." That will not happen in time for this boating season, however, as the quickest way would be to add it to the budget, which the Legislature probably won't pass until the end of June.

Justifying the split
Chatham Town Counsel Bruce Gilmore said a challenge to the split fees would come as a complaint to the state attorney general or as a lawsuit the town would have to defend itself against. Language in Morrissey's amendment does allow towns to justify their split fees by showing where the money translates into services provided to nonresidents - showing, for instance, how much of the fee goes toward police patrols or fire protection for the marina. Smith, Chatham's harbor master, said he believes his town has prepared a case for how fee money is spent on services benefiting all boaters, even those who don't pay local taxes, that will stand up in court. But he doubts that will be necessary. "I have never gotten a complaint from a nonresident about a fee," Smith said. "In fact, I've heard the opposite. Some nonresidents have said they should pay more." Wellfleet Harbor Master Michael Flanagan said the town marina will also continue with the split fees it has in place now. "I don't think it's an exorbitant difference between the taxpayer versus the nonresident - about $30 (for moorings). That's why we've kept them the same," Flanagan said. Boat slips cost $300 more for nonresidents, and there was some uncertainty about whether the law also applies to them.

Harwich Harbor Master Thomas Leach said the town is leery of litigation over fees and thus changed to one fee for residents and nonresidents. He avoided lost revenue by increasing the resident fee while reducing the nonresident. "We went with the flow," he said.
(Published: April 12, 2005 by DOUG FRASER CCT)

SSA ferry wake jars boatyard in Florida

Heading for repairs, Katama causes damage estimated at $25,000. JACKSONVILLE - (3/30/05) The big hite boat out of Martha's Vineyard was moving too fast as it banked into the mouth of the St. John's River in northeastern Florida. That's what Neal Abel, owner of the Jacksonville Marina, said to himself as the unfamiliar boat motored by before noon on March 15. Then, Abel said he watched as the 5-foot wake thrown by the 235-foot freight vessel destroyed four out of five sections of a 140-foot concrete and wooden dock servicing his boatyard. The waves also tossed a smaller boat onto the dock's mangled frame. That freight boat, the Katama, belongs to the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority. Its operator, Capt. Robert Sicard, was cited for careless operation of a vessel after the incident. Abel estimated it will cost about $25,000 to fix the docks and said that if repairs aren't made by June's busy tournament fishing season, he stands to take an even bigger financial hit. Wayne Lamson, general manager of the Steamship Authority said the incident is still under investigation by the boat line's insurance company.

But it's not the first time Sicard has been at the center of a Steamship Authority mishap. He was at the helm of the Katama in January 2004 when a propane truck tipped during a run between Hyannis and Nantucket in rough seas. The boat returned to Hyannis, where 30 residents were evacuated and nearby roads were closed for more than 12 hours as a precaution. Lamson said Sicard, who has worked for the authority for 30 years, received no punishment for that incident and he is not aware of the captain ever having problems with his license. "It was found that there wasn't anything done improperly," Sicard said last night. "I risked my life going out on that deck trying to secure things."

Warnings received
The Steamship Authority runs ferry service between the Cape, the islands and New Bedford. Last year the boat line carried 2,673,159 passengers, 461,895 cars and 126,823 trucks and generated about $57.1 million in revenues. According to Karen Parker, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state agency that enforces wake violations, Sicard must either pay a $50 fine or appear in court to contest the citation. "An incident did occur that could have happened anywhere," Sicard said. He would not comment on the possibility of an appeal. The Coast Guard, with a station near Abel's marina, and Florida wildlife officials received calls about the Katama's speed as it entered the mouth of the St. John's River, a winding inlet leading mariners to Jacksonville. The skies were clear that day and the tide was incoming, according to several sources. Wildlife Officer William Secure issued the citation. Sicard told the officer he was traveling between 10 and 14 knots as he turned into the river. Secure reported that in addition to Abel's docks, a 23-foot outboard commercial fishing boat was damaged in the incident. Sicard was running the Katama south to North Florida Shipyards in Jacksonville, where the freight ferry is now being widened by 12 feet. The Gay Head, the primary freight boat serving Nantucket, recently returned home after receiving the same work.

Plans called for both boats to be enlarged so they can carry 12 additional cars per trip or up to three more large trucks. Before, each boat carried approximately 42 cars or eight trucks. Steamship Authority managers hope the estimated $1.6 million project will allow the financially strapped boat line to trim some of its daily freight trips. Abel, who has owned the marina for four years, said in a telephone interview Monday that while the wake clearly was not intentional and the Steamship Authority quickly sent an insurance agent to survey the damage, the stretch of the St. John's River is known as a no-wake zone. Sicard said last night he did not see any signs designating a no-wake zone.

Repairs needed
His marina, which dry-docks more than 200 fishing and recreational boats ranging from 15 to 35 feet, will start suffering significant financial losses if the work is not completed by June, he said. That's when the summer's kingfishing tournaments begin and he rents out dock space to boats visiting for the competitions. "I will take a huge monetary hit if I don't get it fixed," Abel said, adding that the rest of the year he uses that space as a staging area for customers. "They haven't settled anything, but they haven't denied it," he said. Lamson could not say how long it will take to determine whether Sicard was at fault. When contacted yesterday, four of five of the Steamship Authority's board members had not heard about the incident. The fifth, Martha's Vineyard's Marc Hanover, could not be reached for comment and did not return two messages left for him. "I'll be hearing about it soon I'm sure," said Robert Marshall, Falmouth's representative on the board. Others were also caught by surprise when they heard the news. Lamson, who is vacationing in Florida, said in a telephone interview that because the boat line's insurance company, One Beacon, is still investigating, he decided board members didn't need to know about the incident. "I'm treating it as an alleged incident," Lamson said. "It didn't arise to the level that I felt we needed to inform the board." Lamson also suggested that the wind during the incident might have been blowing up to 25 knots.

Capt. Sicard had never made this type of trip, Lamson said, and likely was not used to making the maneuver without the drag caused by the weight of the vehicles and cargo the boat typically carries between the Cape and islands. Sicard was not a member of the crew that ran the Gay Head to and from Florida for its project. But he was assigned to the Katama trip based on his seniority, Lamson said. "I felt that it was an obligation as senior captain on the vessel," Sicard said.

Jon Hellberg, supervisor of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety office in Woods Hole, confirmed that Steamship Authority officials checked in with them before each boat left for Florida to ensure that the boats and crews were in compliance with all Coast Guard regulations. Lamson said he's not trying to downplay the incident. But he said that he'll stand behind Sicard, who he described as having had a difficult string of luck between last year's propane truck incident and the damage caused to the Florida marina. The Katama is expected to be back in service in June.
(Published: March 30, 2005 CCT)

Romney on Cape to pitch ocean bill
Wind farm issue grabs center stage at Craigville

CENTERVILLE - Looking to prevent "a land grab" on the state's waters, Gov. Mitt Romney yesterday called for an ocean management plan to limit offshore commercial development.

Wind-farm opponent Pam Danforth of Centerville got a gubernatorial greeting as she rowed ashore during Mitt Romney's appearance yesterday at Craigville Beach.
(Staff photo by KEVIN MINGORA)

The governor chose Craigville Beach as the backdrop to announce the bill that would effectively zone the ocean,

And while state officials had said the legislation wouldn't affect the proposed wind farm on Nantucket Sound, foes and advocates of the alternative energy proposal made Romney's appearance a wind-farm event.

His carefully staged announcement attracted scores of people in both corners of the debate and fueled the type of political theater that often follows it.

Even as the governor ran to greet a supporter in a rowboat, hecklers lambasted him for opposing the Cape Wind Associates plan.

Romney conceded the ocean management bill would not affect the Cape Wind proposal, an ambitious plan that would build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.

But it would prevent unchecked development in the future, he said.

"I wish (state legislation) could affect Cape Wind," Romney said. "We're just not comfortable with the idea that people could develop whatever they'd like in the waters off our shore without us having a say on it."

Romney's plan

Gov. Mitt Romney's proposed ocean-management plan:

Would allow Secretary of Environmental Affairs to craft an ocean management plan within two years, which ensures coordination among state agencies.

Would define acceptable uses in specifc zones three miles offshore across more than 1,500 miles of state coast.

Would improve state coordination with the federal government on projects that affect Massachusetts.

Would protect commercial fishing.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently reviewing the Cape Wind proposal, which would be the nation's first offshore wind farm.

Because the bulk of the project is in federal waters, however, the state has limited oversight.

Romney's legislation would enable the Secretary of Environmental Affairs to craft an ocean management plan that regulates commercial development and streamlines the regulatory process.

He did say he hoped the federal government would also lay ground rules on offshore development.

If they had done so by now, he said, "we wouldn't be in the middle of the controversy we are right now over the wind farm."

Sen. Robert O'Leary, D-Barnstable, has filed a rival bill on Beacon Hill called the Comprehensive Ocean Resource Management Act. During the event yesterday, O'Leary characterized his effort as an attempt to push Romney "further" in its efforts, adding that the governor's bill allows for too many exemptions from state oversight.

Many of the public officials standing behind the governor yesterday served on the Ocean Management task force that helped drive this legislation.

There was also Susan Nickerson, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the leading opposition group to the wind farm.

In her remarks, Nickerson assured those listening that the alliance would work with the Romney administration to help craft an ocean policy. And she reiterated her concerns about Cape Wind's project.

"Imagine Nantucket Sound with a string of 130 steel towers across the horizon," she said.

To which someone shouted: "Imagine clean air!"

Like many events related to the Cape Wind debate, Romney's appearance was more than your typical political announcement.

Dozens of advocates on either side of the debate were there, at times shouting each other down.

One renewable energy advocate strapped a six-foot tall model turbine on his back, while another warbled a pro-wind-farm song to the tune of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

In the distance, a wind farm opponent drifted onto the beach in a rowboat, with a sign reading "Nantucket Sound is Not for Sale."

Following the press conference, Romney, dressed in a suit and overcoat, jogged across the beach to the water's edge, and helped drag Pam Danforth's row boat ashore.

He asked the wind farm opponent to describe where the proposed wind turbines would be built, and Danforth, a nearby resident, pointed to the horizon.

"There are other good places for wind farms," Romney said, looking out at the sound. "This doesn't happen to be one of them."

As he walked back to the parking lot, Romney stopped to scoop up pieces of litter.

Matt Palmer, executive director of Clean Power Now and a wind farm supporter, slammed "the marriage" between Romney and Nickerson as inappropriate, citing allegations of fraud against the alliance in years past.

"The governor," Palmer said, "should be ashamed of himself."

Later, Nickerson called Palmer's comments inappropriate.

"Both Gov. Romney and the alliance favor renewable energy," she said. "The governor recognizes that a controversial project like Cape Wind can set back, rather than advance, public support of offshore wind."

Secretary of the Office of Environmental Affairs Ellen Roy Herzfelder defended Nickerson's role in the event, as well as the symbolic choice of venue to demonstrate the governor's legislation.

"It's perfectly appropriate for the governor to dramatize how he got to that vision," she said.

Renewable energy advocates questioned the governor's stand against the project.

"In the 1970s, they said, 'We'll find other sources of energy soon,'" said Carl Freeman of Dennis, a wind farm supporter. "And in the 1980s, they said, 'Soon,' and in the 1990s, they said, 'Soon.'

"Well now its 2005," Freeman said. "And they're still saying, 'Soon.' But just not here."

Staff writers ERIC GERSHON and ETHAN ZINDLER contributed to this report.

(Published: March 19, 2005)  

Man dies trying to rescue dogs

Thin ice in Mashpee pond claims life of breeder, 45 MASHPEE - (3/25/26) John and David Harsch's Christmas card in 2002 pictured their beloved gang of Samoyeds perched on a boat's bow at Wakeby Pond. Yesterday, John Harsch, a 45-year-old dog breeder and business owner, died after falling into that same pond trying to save his dog Tobin. According to brother David, with whom Harsch shared a house on Sunset Strip in Mashpee, John had gone after the 9-month old puppy after the ice collapsed beneath the dog. A second dog, Rocky, the first pure-bred Samoyed Harsch ever owned, then followed his master into the water. David Harsch said in an interview last night that the puppy, Tobin, was likely off his leash and might have run after birds resting on the ice.

One dog was rescued and the other swam to safety, but when police and rescue officials arrived, Harsch was unconscious and efforts to resuscitate him failed. "When they found Johnny, his arms were around the dog," said Harsch's mother Peggy, who lives in New Seabury. "He sacrificed his life to save those dogs." Mashpee Police received the 911 call at 9:44 a.m. The caller, who was walking in the Lowell Holly Reservation, reported that a man had fallen through the ice at the pond. "The caller could hear him screaming for help," Mashpee Deputy Police Chief Al Todino said at an early afternoon press conference yesterday.

Though police and rescue officials from both Mashpee and Sandwich responded to the call within minutes, Mashpee Fire Chief George Baker estimated that Harsch had been submerged for about a half an hour before being pulled from the water. According to Baker, pinpointing Harsch's exact location was no simple task. The patch where the man fell through was roughly 500 feet from shore in a secluded conservation area on the pond's northeast corner. It's an area near the Mashpee-Sandwich border accessed primarily by walking trails that can be up to a mile from nearby roads. Mashpee police officer Sean Sullivan was the first to the scene. "There's three access areas," he said, describing the route he faced. "Two of them were blocked with snow. So I grabbed the first-aid kit and started running down a third access point off South Sandwich Road." Sullivan said he ran about three-quarters of a mile across rugged terrain before he reached the shore. "When I got to the water, by-standers were yelling and pointing to where he had fallen in," Sullivan said. "I checked the ice. I fell through to my ankles after only a few steps."

Moments later, firefighters from both Mashpee and Sandwich reached the shore's edge, having hauled heavy gear and rescue equipment down the nearly mile-long trail. A four-man team slid onto the thin ice on rescue boards tethered to officers and firefighters on shore. Harsch was found floating in the water about 500 feet out, Baker said, and by the time rescuers reached him, he was unconscious. Back on shore, Baker began cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and Harsch was rushed by ambulance to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, where he was pronounced dead. Firefighters successfully rescued Rocky while Tobin made his way back to shore on his own, Baker said. Baker used the tragic event to underscore the danger of walking on ice-covered ponds, especially as the weather warms. He also said that when an animal does break through, the right thing to do is call 911. "We do animal rescues," Baker said. "Dogs will go out on the ice. Family members will go after them ... I've seen it happen before, and we end up executing a rescue for human life instead of an animal." John Cappellina, president of the Cape Cod Kennel Club, first met Harsch about 10 years ago when he enrolled in a handling class with one of his Samoyeds. Cappellina said that Harsch was a devoted and responsible dog owner, and that while it's dangerous to have dogs near the ice, he was not surprised that Harsch went after Tobin. "It's amazing how many times a year you hear about it and people still do that," Cappellina said. "People tell you not to do it, but dogs were his life."

Cappellina also said that Samoyeds are prey-driven and prone to chase things. In the conservation area, he said, having a dog off a leash is permitted as long as the dog is under control. Harsch said his brother frequently brought the dogs to the wooded area to exercise them. In addition to breeding dogs, John Harsch ran a successful business out of their Mashpee home providing employee background checks to companies. Family members said that Harsch had about a dozen clients across the country.

(Published: March 27, 2005)

Something's fishy about cod stocks

WOODS HOLE - (3/28/05) Cape hook fishermen make up the majority of fishermen in New England who catch cod on long lines of baited hooks. They know firsthand that the news is not good because they've seen their cod catches drop precipitously from nearly 3 million pounds in 1999 to just 307,000 pounds in 2003. While some of that may be due to stricter regulations that cut fishing time to just 50 days a year and closed large areas of ocean, fishermen just aren't seeing cod like they used to. Haddock and southern New England yellowtail flounder populations have responded dramatically to the breathing room created by tough fishing regulations that have been in place for the past decade. In contrast, Georges Bank cod, the largest of the two New England cod stocks, are suffering from a missing link. Harsh fishing regulations and increases in minimum-size limits have allowed more adult-sized fish to escape being caught, and that portion of the stock seems to be growing. But post-larval cod have not been showing up as year-old fish in numbers that would help rebuild the stock. Until they do, fishermen will face added regulations, including more cuts to fishing days, in the coming decade. Scientists and fishermen question whether there may be factors other than overfishing that are working against the recovery of the species' population. To some, it's no big mystery. Fishermen have been catching too many cod for too many years, and that needs to be dealt with first. "Clearly, these stocks are just a fraction of what they were before industrialized fishing," said Andrew Rosenberg, former deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who also served as the agency's regional administrator for the Northeast. Rosenberg, now a professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire, recently co-authored a study of fishermen's logbooks going back to the 19th century and found that current cod populations in Canadian North Atlantic waters are just 5 percent of what they were 150 years ago. He thinks New England cod may have suffered a similar reduction. Rosenberg said the clear difference between the success story of bringing haddock back from historic low population levels in 1994 and that of cod is that haddock hasn't been overfished in nearly seven years, while cod continues to be caught at what scientists say are unsustainable levels. Overfishing allowed to continue
Last year, the Conservation Law Foundation sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for not ending overfishing on cod and four other New England fish species. Last month a federal judge decided that overfishing could continue for at least the next four years since the fisheries service has a plan to phase in increasingly restrictive fishing restrictions. "It might sound good in court, but not in the water," Rosenberg said. He is currently looking at 20 fish stocks for a new research project. What he's found thus far is that until overfishing ends, stocks don't start to grow. Think of fish as participants in a lottery, with each breeding female holding a ticket that can be cashed for a bonanza of fertile eggs that become fish. The more fish out there, the better the odds of beating the forces of nature, predators and bad weather, and producing a bumper crop of adult fish. Scientists used to argue that environmental conditions, not numbers, were the most important factor in producing a big crop of young. But in 2001, Northeast Fisheries Science Center scientists found that for most stocks, sheer numbers outweighed other factors. In Georges Bank yellowtail flounder and haddock, the odds of a big stock producing more young than a smaller-sized one were more than 20 to 1. Overfishing can have more long-lasting effects that, combined with environmental factors, could make it impossible for a fish stock to come back. In the case of northern Canadian cod stocks, fishing may have actually changed the cod's genetic structure. Genetic change possible
"Genetic change is more worrisome," said Michael Fogarty, a senior scientist and project director for ecosystem-based fishery management at Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole. Fishermen target larger fish and let smaller ones go. Researchers have demonstrated that older fish produce more eggs that are more likely to survive than those of smaller fish. But intense fishing eliminates older, larger fish, and rewards slow-growing smaller fish. That could eliminate fish genes for fast growth and large size, leaving a species of small fish that produce less-viable eggs. "If you wipe out the fast growers and later maturers, it takes a longer time to get it back, or you couldn't get it back at all," Fogarty said. Historical investigations have also shown that there may have been localized populations of cod in inshore areas that were wiped out by fishing. Cod's spawning strategy is to breed from November to January over a wide range of spawning grounds. This minimizes the risk that bad weather or other problems in one area at one time of year may wipe out the next year's fish stocks. But scientists worry that cod may retain their genetic memory of particular spawning grounds, like salmon, and that once those localized populations are gone, there will be none to replace them. That could leave the species more vulnerable to weather in the long run. Fogarty said that, of the two major spawning grounds on Georges Bank, only the one that is least accessible to fishermen, on the northeast peak of the bank, has been showing any appreciable spawning activity in recent years. Fish size dropping
Northern Canadian cod are showing signs that genetic mutation may have taken hold. Fogarty said their average sizes each year have been dropping. Colder Canadian water also means these fish grow more slowly and take longer to become sexually mature. A Nova Scotian cod, for instance, might take seven years to reach maturity while those on Georges Bank take several years less. There is evidence that fishing has had an impact on Georges Bank stocks. Cod used to mature at between three to five years, but overfishing has reduced cod stocks to levels where there is less competition for food and the remaining cod grow faster and mature in two to four years. Still, Fogarty believes New England's situation is not anywhere near as desperate as that in northern Canadian waters, once the richest cod fishing grounds in the world. After a decade with virtually no fishing, cod stocks there have not budged and there are few signs of hope. In part, that is due to environmental conditions brought on by a shift in the dominant weather pattern 30 years ago that brought colder temperatures and harsher weather to northern seas and milder, warmer weather to New England. This shift in weather has been linked by researchers with lower rates of success in fish maturing past larval stages. Warm waters have some benefits, but also some dangers. New England waters have been warming up over the past decade, with the change more dramatic in inshore waters than offshore. Cod off Cape Cod are at the southernmost range of their temperature preference. Fogarty said there is some concern about waters getting too warm for cod, noting that cod off Long Island and in southern New England waters have all but disappeared as waters there warmed. Not all the news is bad. This past fall, National Marine Fisheries Service research cruises found evidence there may be a bumper crop of small cod off New England. A big contingent of small fish is what jump-started the haddock fishery on the road to recovery. "We might have signs of something on the horizon looking promising for cod," Fogarty said.
(Published: March 28, 2005)