MANCHESTER — A town committee's new survey of Manchester's harbor moorings has found many of the moorings unused, more than 60 cases of mismatched boat stickers and locations, cases of boats being wrongly billed at reduced rates, and billings that could be short-changing the town by more than $35,000 a year.
At Monday's selectmen's meeting, Karen Smith Crawley, chair of the Ad Hoc Harbor Advisory Mooring Committee, presented the findings of their On-The-Water Mooring Audit, a major undertaking to gather hard data on the state of the harbor. And they have found an organizational disaster they say stretches back more than a decade.
In its survey, the committee counted 704 moorings and docks in the harbor — 558 moorings and 146 docks and slips — of which only 389, or 55 percent, housed boats bearing a proper permit sticker. Also, 61 boats' stickers did not match the mooring location, and 134 boats bore no stickers at all.
The committee's report notes that many boats' stickers were unreadable because they had not been written in waterproof ink. These boats were assumed to have proper stickers, though it is likely that some did not.
In all, 169 moorings were vacant, either because the owners had taken the boat out for the day, because they had moved to another mooring but had not relinquished their old one, or because they were simply abandoned.
The crews endeavored to perform their audits at times of low harbor activity to minimize the risk of excluding boats in use.
Formed in June following the resignation of the entire Harbor Advisory Committee, the ad hoc committee divided Manchester harbor into 11 areas with a captain and crew for each.
Over the months of July and August, these crews went out to count every mooring, check its occupancy, and record vessel names, lengths, and permit status. The data they collected was then compared with that of the harbormaster's OnLine Mooring System List to identify inconsistencies.
The committee's data comparison with the harbormaster's online system revealed numerous irregularities, including duplicate or missing mooring numbers. One hundred and ninety-two moorings listed online could not be found on the water.
Much of the confusion may have begun under the direction of former Assistant Harbormaster Peter Mains, who worked under former Harbormaster and Police Chief Ronald Ramos, the committee report suggests.
Smith Crawley and the Board of Selectmen all expressed their confidence in acting harbormaster Gabe Mongiello, and hope that volunteers familiar with the harbor will step forward to aid in the reconciliation effort.
"This is not a clerical job," Smith Crawley insisted. "We need knowledgeable volunteers."
Longstanding confusion in the harbor has also come at a notable financial cost. As per mooring regulations, the discounted fee applied solely to commercial fishing vessels whose owners make their living on the water.
According to acting harbormaster Gabe Mongiello, only six such boats moor in Area B. This billing error cost the harbormaster's office $5,000.
That billing error, however, is dwarfed by the potential revenue increases from organizing the harbor. Accurate revenue figures cannot be determined "due to an absence of records and the inability to break numbers out relating to the harbor," the report states.
However, based on their audit results, the committee estimates that the harbor may, at present, be passing $35,000 to $50,000 by in potential revenue.
The committee's report identifies specific recommendations for each area of the harbor, identifying particular moorings in need of further investigation. More broadly, however, the committee insists that the effort to reconcile accounts and bring order to the harbor cannot begin too soon, noting a general public ill will concerning the issue.
"Start reassigning moorings to get the (wait) list moving, establish good will," Smith Crawley urged the Board of Selectmen. "The greatest risk we have here is that this goes nowhere."
As Smith Crawley concluded her report, the room broke out in loud applause.
The board voted on and approved several motions to ensure that the clean up effort does not stall. Among these were a commitment to perform follow-up audits in the summers of 2012 and 2013 to track and ensure progress and another to require that the harbormaster report to the Board each month on the state of the harbor.
To further the effort to remedy the harbor, the Board of Selectmen also voted in four new members of the Harbor Advisory Committee, not chaired by Jim Hatch, after several weeks of interviews.
Stuart Conan was voted onto the board for a three-year term. John Kiley and Jerry Jodice each were appointed for two years. Finally, Greg Bailey was appointed for one year. The staggered terms will ensure — barring another mass resignation — that the Harbor Advisory Committee will not again have to begin a new year from scratch.
The new committee members are itching to help restore order to the harbor's mooring woes.
"It's very important that dead people no longer have moorings," Kiley said in his interview. "It's very disturbing for me and for other townspeople to see dozens of empty mooring balls when people can't get a mooring. There should be scores of unassigned moorings being assigned in short order."
Regulations for the Harbor Advisory Committee reserved two seats for commercial fishermen, but none applied to the committee this year. As such, the committee will operate as a smaller group of five rather than the usual seven for the time being.