“The seashore is like part of our heritage,” said Bill Baxter, a part-time quahogger who heads up the Edgewater Outboard Association who finds himself at the vortex of neighborhood opposition to a Nausauket dock that is used in the summer by him and about five other shellfishermen.
Baxter visited the Beacon offices Monday to give his side of the story in response to a group of about 15 area residents that turned out at the Feb. 20 City Council meeting to protest a resolution to lease city land on Edgewater Drive to the Outboard Association. Having been told that action on the resolution was being postponed, Baxter didn’t attend that meeting. The council is now scheduled to consider the resolution on April 22.
Baxter feels a letter circulated by Nausauket resident Oscar Shelton (who is also the city’s personnel director) is misleading and falsely portrays what the association aims to do. Shelton’s letter is largely responsible for rallying opposition to the association’s plan.
Many of those who turned out Feb. 20 were outraged that they had learned of the plan from Shelton, a neighbor, and not notified by the city. As this is a resolution and not a change in zoning or a petition for a variance of city codes, there is no requirement to notify property owners within a certain perimeter of the dock.
Shelton characterized a city lease as granting exclusive access of a city resource to an exclusive group; endorsing a commercial use in a residential area; posing liabilities to the city and, among a series of other negatives, opening the area for the development of additional commercial docks.
Baxter maintains he has sought to save the area for decades.
“I’ve been trying to protect Edgewater Drive for years,” he said.
As evidence, he produced letters he sent to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) in the 1980s bringing to their attention dumping of material – the crushed concrete of what had been the Lockwood Junior High School bleachers – as fill by former Edgewater Drive resident Dr. Leland Jones. Jones was issued a minimum of three CRMC cease and desist orders and ordered to remove the debris. Instead, he continued filling and covered over the debris.
Baxter also said that the dock, which is in front of the home of association member Rene Martin, is made available to area residents to tie up their skiffs and for fishing at no cost.
So, what’s the big hullabaloo if the dock is already there and its current use has been going on for years and isn’t going to change?
It all goes back to the Greenwich Bay Special Area Management Plan [SAMP] of 2008.
Under that plan, the CRMC required all illegal docks to be removed. The exception was docks that had been in existence prior to 1980. But there was a condition; that the owners of these docks submit an application to legalize them by Jan. 22, 2009. Baxter says the association has filed the paperwork by the deadline and is working to complete their application. A resolution indicating the city will lease the land is part of the application.
Baxter said the association has gone before the Harbor Management Commission and prepared the necessary survey work, which he said has been the biggest expense of their endeavor so far.
The grandfather argument doesn’t work with Mark Carruolo, chief of staff to Mayor Scott Avedisian, who has already questioned the advisability of a commercial activity in a residential area.
“It’s been that way in an unauthorized condition and just because it’s existed doesn’t mean it should continue,” he said.
Carruolo said the fate of the dock rests with the council and “whether they want to proceed over the wishes of the residents.”
So far, the CRMC says it has nothing in its files about the dock, even though Baxter said the association met the 2009 deadline.
“We have nothing pending,” said spokeswoman Laura Dwyer.
“They missed the deadline. This particular dock is not grandfathered.”
She said, in order for the association to proceed, the city would have to apply, as it is city property, and that the dock would have to meet CRMC regulations.
Should the association gain the necessary approvals, Baxter said the plan is to upgrade the existing dock with pilings [trees, association members felled and installed, currently hold it in place] and replace the Styrofoam used for dock floatation with airtight plastic buckets.
“We’re responsible for insurance, taxes and the lease,” he said.
There would be no more vehicles parked in the area than there are currently. Also, he said commercial trucks would not be coming in and out of the area early in the morning as Shelton suggested.
As the association filed for a dock application by the 2009 deadline, Baxter points out that no additional docks can be built in the area and that, in fact, other illegal docks should be removed. He can’t imagine Shelton’s scenario of additional commercial docks resulting from the approved use of this dock.
Baxter said that attorney Christopher D’Ovidio represents the association. D’Ovidio is a member of Merolla & Accetturo Attorneys at Law, where Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla is also a member. Merolla did most of the talking when neighbors turned out to protest the resolution on Feb. 20. At that time, he did not reveal his connection to the issue, but he said Monday he would recuse himself when it came before the council on April 22.
“Whatever is decided is decided,” he said.
“We’re not trying to add anything,” says Baxter. A graduate of Vets High and resident of Greenwood, Baxter sees himself spending more time quahogging once he retires from the Providence Fire Department.
“It’s been here quite a long time,” he said of the dock,” and we would like to keep it open for all of us.”