Thanks to the sharp eyes of Nausauket resident Oscar Shelton, who picked it up from the City Council agenda, a group of homeowners turned out at last Wednesday’s meeting to protest a resolution that if passed would have lent the city’s support to a commercial fisherman’s dock on Edgewater Drive.
Strangely, the group favoring the dock, the Edgewater Outboard Association, Inc., was not represented at the meeting, hence leaving questions unanswered as to what is exactly planned at the site. Nonetheless, opposition to a commercial operation based from a residential area appears to have stopped the project for the moment. It is slated to come before the council again on April 22.
A dock, which is in need of repair, has been on the site for decades.
The Outboard Association that is comprised of six shellfisherman who live in Warwick is looking to make improvements to the dock so that it complies with Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) regulations, William Baxter said yesterday. President of the association, Baxter said he did not attend Wednesday’s meeting because he was told that action on the resolution was being postponed.
But Baxter is aware of the letter Shelton sent neighbors informing them of the resolution and the issues he raised. Shelton said he learned of the resolution only days before it was slated to come before the council.
In his letter, Shelton says the council’s blessing would take a valuable public resource and give its exclusive use to a few private citizens.
He goes on to say once a commercial dock is established, the neighborhood would be faced with increased traffic, trucks unloading, overcrowded parking and “further deterioration of the fragile dirt roadbed on Edgewater.”
Baxter claims that’s not the case. He said that at most, 10 boats would use the dock; that shellfisherman sell their catch to buy-boats so there would not be any offloading or trucks in and out of the area.
He also takes issue with other points raised by Shelton, saying that misinformation has “riled” people up.
“Now a lot of people don’t know what’s going on. Let’s get the story straight,” he said.
In an email, Mayor Scott Avedisian said that he has a few problems with the issue, as does the CRMC. He said the CRMC has written a letter of concern that the area where the dock is located in is a wetland area and should be preserved.
“CRMC is considering coming to the next Council meeting to express its concern,” Avedisian wrote. “The neighbors are rightfully concerned about the commercial activity in a residential area as well as persons parking in the neighborhood and traversing the wetlands to access the dock.”
Avedisian also wrote that the city council should be concerned about what other docks exist that could be converted to commercial use in residential areas through this means without providing the neighbors proper due process.
But only one side of the story was presented Wednesday.
While about 15 people showed up to protest the resolution, five voiced their opinions. One person shouted from the crowd, “Do we get stuck with the taxes?”
Citizen Joseph Chehy, who attended the meeting with his wife Carolyn, said that they pay additional property taxes to live on a waterfront property with an “excellent” view of Apponaug Cove.
“Now, they want to put a dock on there so when I look out my window all I see are quahog boats,” he said. “They are screwing up the view. Are my taxes going to go down? I pay taxes through the nose. I’m totally against this proposition.”
Other residents, including Eileen Dean and Lynne Joyrich, were also in opposition. In addition to seeing flaws with the proposal, they were concerned that they didn’t receive notice from the city about the possibility of the dock. They were appalled that they learned of the situation from neighbors.
Dean wanted to know why local residents weren’t better informed.
“I heard about this three days ago, and there was no documentation from the city at all,” she said. “From what I understand, it was on the docket at the previous meeting and could have been passed without us even knowing about it. This is a great concern to me.”
Joyrich, who lives on Oak Tree and owns land on Edgewater, was also bothered that she didn’t receive notice. Considering the fact that dock would be “directly in front” of her property, she wished she had been better educated about the issue. She wasn’t thrilled she heard about it the day before the meeting.
“I should have gotten notice,” Joyrich said. “Given that it’s the council that will get to decide if they want to support the recommendation, I hope you’re all listening and in support of the residents of Warwick.”
She said she recently attempted to contact all nine council members via email addresses she found on the website, but “at least half” of them bounced back.
Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla assured her that his email address is correct, and that he received numerous emails and calls about the issue. He also informed the crowd that they would have a chance to address the proponent for the shellfish association at the April 22 meeting. The council decided to hold the item until then.
Merolla went on to say that the meeting and the items on the agenda are always advertised in the Warwick Beacon [which it is not], and that the council had no intention to hide it from the public. He said he appreciates the comments and understands their frustration, as it would be a commercial industry in a highly residential area.
Additionally, the agenda is available online at Warwick.gov, the same site Joyrich found the emails.
The legislation reads that the Greenwich Bay Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) “recognizes that the displacement of traditional commercial fisheries, the privatization of the shoreline, and the loss of commercial fishing jobs must be addressed in order to preserve the economic and historical heritage of Greenwich Bay’s commercial fisheries; and the SAMP’s recommended policy action to enhance Greenwich Bay’s economic assets include the identification and grandfathering of existing commercial shellfishing facilities in Greenwich Bay.”
The SAMP has recognized an existing facility on Edgewater Drive, and to help the SAMP achieve these goals, the city of Warwick seeks to obtain a permit from the CRMC for it. If approved, Edgewater Outboard Association, Inc. would pay the expenses to prepare the permit application and engineering plans on behalf of Warwick as the applicant.
Baxter said each of the association’s six members have invested about $2,500 of their money to form the association, hire an attorney and raise funds to make the dock improvements. He said the dock would be no longer than it is now.
At the meeting, Merolla, along with City Council Solicitor John Harrington, explained that the CRMC is asking the council for a recommendation, and that the dock would be part of a two-step process. The first step is whether or not the council will support an application to CRMC to replace the dock. If approved, then there would be a second resolution to come before the council for the approval of a lease from the city to Edgewater Outboard Association, Inc.
“It makes a huge difference if you say yes or no,” Dean said, noting that she isn’t able to attend the April 22 meeting, and Merolla answered, “If people can’t get to the meeting, I ask them to speak now.”
And that’s what they did. Aside from expressing concern about not receiving notice, Joyrich said because Edgewater is a “very narrow dirt road,” it’s hard for her to imagine a commercial shellfish enterprise operating there without fully blocking traffic.
Another resident, Debra Rinn, agrees. In an interview, she said she fears that she wouldn’t be able to back out of her driveway if the dock were approved.
“There’s just no room for commercial trucks,” she said.
Though he didn’t address the council, John Williams, the owner of Warwick Cove and Marina, said during a brief phone interview last week that he feels the city is favoring the commercial fishermen versus recreational boaters.
“It’s kind of disingenuous,” said Williams. “They want to stick us with the bill and be buddies with the quahoggers. I don’t blame them from trying it, but I just want everybody to understand it. If the city wants to run a marina, tell them I’ve got one for sale.”
Michelle Komar, a constituent who often attends council meetings, told the council she received a copy of the council agenda Feb. 15, as she has requested to be added to a mass email list that sends the information to residents and media representatives alike.
However, Komar said important information is missing in the documentation, including a lease agreement, as well as a fiscal note “to see if we’re subsidizing a private entity.”
Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan thanked constituents for voicing their opinions. He noted that the day of the meeting he received a letter from Save the Bay opposing the dock, which, along with constituent concerns, will influence the way he votes.
“It goes a long way in helping me achieve my decision on this particular issue,” he said. “Rest assured that I will take in all that you’ve said this evening and stand by you accordingly. I will make sure nothing gets done in that area without a public hearing.”