Hope grows for split mooring fees

BOSTON - (5/26/05) Cape and islands towns have won the latest battle over charging out-of-town boat owners higher mooring fees. After a spirited debate between state Sen. Robert O'Leary, D-Barnstable, and state Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, the Senate this week passed a budget amendment that would allow communities to charge nonresidents more money to harbor boats. The amendment, sponsored by O'Leary, would repeal a controversial law that was slipped into a transportation bond bill by Morrissey without debate last year. The law required Massachusetts cities and towns to charge the same mooring fee for all boat owners, frustrating Cape towns that relied on the revenue to offset the impact of out-of-town visitors. The amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 32-5. It now must clear a House-Senate conference committee before a July 1 deadline to pass the state budget.

''There's still a long way to go,'' said Harwich Harbor Master Tom Leach. ''Harwich right now can use every nickel it can get.'' Harwich voters recently rejected a multimillion dollar override that could result in layoffs of town employees and some cuts to services. ''For us, I think selectmen would look very carefully at raising those mooring fees,'' Leach said. Harwich decided to charge the same fee for residents and nonresidents after Morrissey's rider passed last summer. Falmouth did likewise, but Chatham and Wellfleet refused to obey the law, hoping it would be changed.

O'Leary said it was wrong for the Legislature to bar towns from charging split mooring fees when it allows separate fees for other services. He said summer towns need the revenue to provide public safety and trash pickup for the influx of out-of-town boat owners. ''This is about the Massachusetts Legislature, at a time when we have been cutting local aid, reaching into small communities and telling them what they can and cannot do with respect to local fees,'' O'Leary said on the Senate floor. ''It's senators telling selectmen and town meetings all across the commonwealth that the Legislature will micromanage local budgets.'' Morrissey, who owns several boats and is a member of yacht clubs in Boston and Quincy, said it was unfair for coastal towns to charge a separate fee for non-residents. ''This is really about small boat owners and those wealthy seashore towns ripping off the inland communities, those people who are not fortunate enough to have access to the water,'' he said. Morrissey also accused Cape towns of using the higher mooring fees for their general town budgets, instead of for harbor services. But O'Leary said it was unfair for Morrissey to sneak a rider, unnoticed, into the transportation bond bill last summer ''without any discussion, without any roll call.'' ''The bottom line is there was an element of Senate skullduggery here,'' O'Leary said later. ''That goes on in this building. This was done at the 11th hour in the transportation bond bill and no one was really aware it was happening.''

While a majority of Cape towns decided to charge the same fee, some continued to charge split fees this year, saying it was unfair to block them from doing so. The split fees can be three to five times higher for nonresidents. Fees vary by municipality. Some towns say the split in fees only amounts to a difference of $30. But it adds up. Falmouth predicted it would lose $17,000 this year if it couldn't charge a higher fee for nonresidents. The repeal has not been considered by the full House. O'Leary was hopeful the repeal would be approved by House leaders in the conference committee, based on the overwhelming show of support in the Senate. ''It was unfortunate, and we've undone it,'' O'Leary said. Staff writer Doug Fraser contributed to this story.
(Published: May 26, 2005)

Red tide has economic ebb and flow

SANDWICH - (5/24/05) It turns out the miserable cold spring we've been experiencing is good for something - red tide. Much of Massachusetts is caught in the largest red tide bloom in 12 years, which closed down shellfishing from Mid-Coast Maine to the Cape Cod Canal this past week. Not all in the region are affected. The ocean currents from Canada that carry the poisonous algae responsible for red tide brushes by Sagamore and Sandwich, leaving the rest of the Cape untouched. So while thousands of shellfishermen from Maine to the canal will have to put down their clam rakes for weeks, possibly months, most Cape shellfishermen will probably stay hard at work. Maybe they'll even see better prices, since so many shellfish beds have been closed.

The shellfish industry in Chatham brings in about $5 million a year and employs 100 to 125 full-time commercial fishermen. And Wellfleet is home to the largest number of aquaculture grants in the state. The 80 operations in that town bring in about $1.26 million in revenues. ''We definitely hate to wish bad things on other shellfishermen but economically it could be a good thing for a while,'' Wellfleet Shellfish Constable Andrew Koch said.

Red tide is caused by the Alexandrium algae. These microorganisms produce potentially deadly saxotoxins. The toxins are concentrated in shellfish meat when mussels, clams, quahogs and oysters filter feed on the algae. A person eating an infected shellfish could suffer anything from numbness in an arm or leg, to death, from paralytic shellfish poisoning. Red tide algae prefer 50-degree water. They usually bloom in spring and die off as they use up nutrients in the water and ocean temperatures warm up in early summer. This spring, however, a combination of cool weather, which is keeping inshore waters from heating up, and several storms that have stirred up nutrients to feed the algae have resulted in a huge bloom.

Across the state
Late Friday afternoon, the state Division of Marine Fisheries closed all state waters from the New Hampshire border to the Cape Cod Canal, except Boston Harbor, to all shellfishing and aquaculture harvests. State marine fisheries chief shellfish biologist Michael Hickey said the state is cautious and generally closes shellfish beds ahead of any major bloom so that anything in stores and restaurants now is still safe to eat. Hickey couldn't say how long the closures could last, although it would take at least two weeks of tests showing low toxin levels to start reopening areas, even if testing revealed low levels today. ''If the bloom keeps getting bigger, with toxin concentrations going up, we're not in the position of even talking about opening anything up,'' Hickey said. Once the red tide disappears, shellfish purge the toxins from their system and become safe to eat. Wellfleet sent shellfish samples to the state marine fisheries agency yesterday for testing, and won't know for a couple of days whether there is any in their harbor. If there is, it will be the first such outbreak since the algae first appeared in New England waters 33 years ago. Red tide blooms usually start in Canadian waters and are carried south by the southern Maine current that sweeps along the Massachusetts coast until it hits the canal where it takes a sharp turn to the east and back up around Provincetown and into offshore waters.

Wellfleet, Chatham spared
This current keeps the algae out of the two most productive shellfishing areas in the state, Wellfleet Harbor and Chatham. Wellfleet Harbor is spared unless a big storm pushes the algae-laden currents east. As for Chatham, the current typically stays around 20 miles offshore, bypassing the town. ''Monomoy never gets shut down, that's why Chatham clams are such hot property,'' said Ralph Cardarelli, a wholesaler at Cape Fish & Lobster in Hyannis. Cardarelli said that large buyers have gotten accustomed to sending trucks to Chatham to get steamers any time there has been major shellfish closures due to bacterial contamination from storm water runoffs or from red tide. Steamers - soft-shelled clams - are used both for fried clams and steamed in the shell and served with butter. Cardarelli said the increased popularity of Chatham clams because of prior closures, like the big one that hit New England last August, has helped to drive up the price of those shellfish. He said he normally pays around $40 to $60 a gallon for frying clams, but is now paying $70 to $80. That gets passed on to retailers like Briton Luhman, manager at Sir Cricket's in Orleans, who said he's paying $90 a gallon this spring, when in previous years, he's bought them for $75. But no one is making money with this spring's weather. Fish, particularly shellfish, are most in demand in warm weather. Cardarelli thought business in restaurants may be off by 10 percent to 20 percent over other years. ''People just aren't going out, period,'' he said. ''That's where we need some help with the weather.'' Doug Fraser can be reached at dfraser@capecodonline.com. (Published: May 24, 2005)

Harwich prepares for big layoffs

The estimate is 56 full-time employees and more than 20 seasonal workers will lose their jobs.

By KEVIN DENNEHY, Cape Cod Times

HARWICH - (05/18/05)

Diane Nicholson, a dispatcher with the Harwich Fire Department, was called in to work yesterday, one day before she was supposed to return from maternity leave. As one of the department's more recent hires, Nicholson expected to be told that her job was being eliminated July 1, one of roughly 56 town jobs cut when a $2.9 million Proposition 2 override failed Tuesday night. She was half right. ''They told us that we would be laid off effective the end of the week,'' said Nicholson, 30, who has worked full time for the department since the late 1990s. ''I knew I was on the list to be laid off. I had no idea it would happen now ... I absolutely love my job. It was so sad for me to walk out of there today. We're a family there.''

Across Harwich yesterday, the morning after the historic override was defeated, department heads, many of them still shocked by the vote, prepared for a huge layoff. While town officials knew they'd have to make staff cuts before July 1, by yesterday some conceded those cuts will be more immediate. And they will be deep. School officials expect more than 17 teachers to be laid off. Seven fire department employees will go. For the public works department, it'll be six workers. For the police department, the last nine employees hired - from a three-year police veteran to a recent hire still in the academy - will be cut. The estimate is 56 full-time employees and more than 20 seasonal workers will lose their jobs. The Harbormaster will lose a seasonal assistant harbormaster.

Seniority rules
For police and fire officials, it was obvious who had to be let go. It goes by seniority, or, as officials say, ''last hired, first fired.'' But it doesn't make it any easier, said Harwich Police Chief William Mason. ''I've been a police officer going on 34 years now,'' Mason said. ''And this is the worst day of my life ... This is family.'' The failure of the override shocked many, especially considering that it passed town meeting resoundingly earlier in the month. But when it was put to a secret vote at the ballot box, it was far different, though the margin was still slim. The final tally: 2,505 to 2,362.

Selectman Don Howell, a strong advocate of the override, said he had a bad feeling standing at the polls Tuesday. He started noticing that many of the people wouldn't look him in the eyes as they walked past. ''And I wasn't even running,'' he said. Town leaders say the need for an override had become inevitable in recent years. While expenses such as employee benefits have skyrocketed, town receipts and state aid have dropped drastically. And the town had to make up the difference somewhere. So selectmen asked for a $2.9 million override of Proposition 2, the state law that prevents towns from raising property taxes more than 2.5 percent without voter approval. Over the last several weeks, the debate got contentious. While a group of supporters campaigned for the override, calling themselves ''Yes for Harwich,'' another faction worked to defeat it. Geoffrey Wiegman, president of the Harwich Taxpayers Association, had urged voters to reject an override, if only to send a message to town leaders that poor management would no longer be tolerated.

Incumbents ousted
After the vote on Tuesday, he said it was clear that voters were frustrated with the way Harwich selectmen have been running the town. In addition to a failed override, two incumbent selectmen - Bruce Gibson and Robert Widegren - were ousted. Wiegman said the vote was not about the town employees who will now lose their jobs. ''Our hearts go out to the town employees who will be losing their jobs,'' he said in a statement released soon after the vote was announced. ''This vote against the override was a reaction to the poor financial management of the town and not a vote directed against the hard-working employees of the town. ''Unfortunately, they were caught in the middle.''

Before the vote, Harwich leaders had predicted that failure of the override would mean a steep cut in town services. Critics called those predictions scare tactics. Wayne Melville, the town administrator, said yesterday that they were not. In fact, he said the cuts would arrive as predicted, and ''imminently.'' Yesterday morning, he gathered several department heads in town hall to discuss the transition. The staffing levels of the police and fire departments, he said, would be akin to what they were in the 1980s. So there will be juggling, and stretching of resources. ''They really have to reduce how they provide services,'' Melville said. ''This isn't about filling a hole. Twenty-five percent of their staffs are gone.''

At Harwich Middle School yesterday, students took their MCAS exams as expected. But for teachers and staff, this was no normal day. While other town departments will lay off by seniority, the teacher contracts make the decision less clear. Mary Childress, principal of the school, expected to lose a teacher in each grade level. Though even that was uncertain. ''Most of the conversations today have been people wanting to know, 'Will it affect me?''' she said. ''The superintendent will give us definitive answers as soon as she can,'' she added. ''I do know there's a cloud over all of us here today ... It's like cutting out members of your family. ''We've been putting Band-Aids on problems for a long time. I don't have a cast big enough for this one.''

Schooner casualty of storm

HYANNISPORT - (5/27/05) As a boy, Ian McColgin fell in love with the Marco Polo schooner after he read about its maiden voyage in a yachting magazine. As an adult, he came to own one of the 55-foot, three-masted sailboats after he lost his old schooner to Hurricane Bob. Ian McColgin's three-masted sailboat, his home in recent years, sits underwater against the Hyannis breakwater. The ship broke from its anchors during Tuesday's northeaster. It's unclear whether McColgin, left, can salvage his boat.(Staff photo by STEVE HEASLIP) But this week it happened again. The northeaster that blew in Tuesday, with wind gusts reaching 60 miles per hour, thrashed the ship - McColgin's home until recent years - against the Hyannisport breakwater. By Wednesday morning, it had sunk. ''I think that's our only casualty, so to speak, of the storm,'' said Barn-stable Assistant Harbor Master Joe Gibbs. That casualty was a 1964 mahogany-and-oak ship called Granuaile, and yesterday it turned Eugenia Fortes Beach into a kind of maritime wake. Some hiked a half-mile out on the jetty to view the wreck upclose. Others, like Lucille Johnson and Marcia Cowan of Centerville, came to this beach near the Kennedy compound to gaze at it from afar. The two 82-year-olds, one wearing a pink jacket and the other wrapped in a plastic rain scarf, stopped to chat with the man in yellow boots, tattered blue fleece and canvas fisherman's cap. I'm the owner, he said. ''Ohhhhh,'' they both said. ''That's sad,'' Johnson said. ''Everything was shackled properly,'' McColgin said later. ''I don't know what happened.''

McColgin, 56, has a mooring in the harbor, but he hadn't set it up for the season yet. Two anchors, one 65 pounds and the other 45, had held the ship in place about 100 yards north of the mooring. He used the same setup to secure her during Hurricane Eduardo in 1996. It didn't budge. He checked on the boat Tuesday night around 7 p.m. Everything was fine. But when McColgin came back Wednesday morning, the boat was leaning against the jetty, submerged but pretty much intact. McColgin rowed out and salvaged some things that had washed up on the breakwater. His favorite life vest. A kayak. A pump. Whether he can salvage the boat is unclear.

The interior will be ruined, for sure. But the water was still too rough yesterday for a diver to get a look at the structural damage. That will probably happen today. Afterwards, a maritime salvage company will do one of two things. They'll patch up the boat, pump it out and tow it. Or they'll lift it out with a crane. McColgin will have to decide: Will enough of the structure be intact to repair it? The boat came into his life 12 years ago. He found it in a way that he never expected: an ad in Soundings magazine. It said ''H-55'' and listed a phone number. McColgin reached the owner in New York and asked if H-55 meant a Herreshoff 55-foot schooner. That's L. Francis Herreshoff, the legendary boat designer. ''Yeah,'' the owner said. ''Wouldn't be a Marco Polo, would it?'' ''Yeah.'' ''And you have it for sale?'' ''Yeah.'' ''It was almost like he didn't want to sell it,'' McColgin said, retelling the story yesterday. But the man did sell it, for a price McColgin didn't want to reveal. And like Goblin, the two-masted schooner he lost in 1991's Hurricane Bob, the shower- and stove-equipped boat became his home. It isn't really anymore, he said. He's been living at his girlfriend's place the past couple of years. But in the past, before he retired, he spent years commuting from Hyannis to Boston. He'd get up at 5 a.m. and row ashore on a dingy. Then he'd catch the bus to his job with the State Department of Telecommunications and Energy.

Boats touring the harbor would point out McColgin's ship. That, they'd tell people, isn't Ted Kennedy's boat. The senator's boat is the two-masted schooner moored nearby, called Mya. Granuaile has an old Deutz two-cylinder diesel engine, and yesterday Gibbs inspected the area from another boat. There was no sheen, no sign of any environmental damage. But McColgin said many possessions would be destroyed. Pots and pans. Clothes. A new digital radio. And the sailing book he was writing - the hard copy of that sank, too. Still, McColgin said he'll retrieve his most cherished items: the compass and steering wheel, the one he salvaged from Goblin after Hurricane Bob. (Published: May 27, 2005)