By James Niedzinski
---- — ROCKPORT — The owner of the former Cape Ann Tool Company site is standing by plans to include up to 34 new boat slips along the seawall on the property.
But the issue is drawing opposition from the town’s own harbormasters and Pigeon Cove fishermen, and the selectmen’s chairwoman says she views any proposal that would displace current town moorings as being “off the table.”
Property owner Michael Rauseo said Wednesday that the installation of 34 boat slips off the seawall would effectively displace seven moorings in Pigeon Cove Harbor. However, he added any mooring permit owners that do have their installations displaced would have access to the slips for the same cost as the moorings.
“Our engineer determined we could add 34 new slips along our seawall,” Rauseo said Wednesday. Rauseo added this would mean seven moorings would be displaced, but any mooring holders would have access to the boat slips for the same price of the mooring permit fees.
Rauseo added that the slips are designed to be removed and installed easily, and there was an area set aside where the slips would be put in the event of a storm, one of the questions raised at the state Chapter 91 hearing. In all, the project would add 27 boat access points to the harbor, Rauseo said.
Rockport Harbormasters Rosemary Lesch and Scott Story, however, said that 16 moorings would be displaced, not seven. Mooring permits bring in $7 per foot per vessel for the town.
Pigeon Cove Harbor houses anywhere from 58 to 60 vessels per year, about half of which are commercial.
While anyone in the country can get a mooring permit in Rockport, the wait list is lengthy; some residents have waited more than a decade to get a mooring.
The harbormasters were not the only ones against boat slips planned for the Tool Company site.
Robert Morris of the commercial fishing vessel Spirit has had a mooring in Rockport since the 1980’s and has been fishing out of Rockport for decades.
Morris said there is an important historical context to moorings in Rockport.
Between 1993 and 1994, another marina effectively barred mooring permit owners from access to their vessels.
”We (fishermen, pleasure boaters and citizens) fought tooth and nail to preserve Pigeon Cove Harbor in the public trust,” he said. “This new proposal definitely displaces both commercial and pleasure moorings.”
During that time, fishermen and recreational boaters were shuttled in from a skiff from Granite Pier to their moorings in Pigeon Cove Harbor, the two are about one mile apart.
Morris said those shuttled in risked “life and limb,” through snow storms and bad weather
Morris said 800 people were passionate enough to keep Pigeon Cove publicly owned, in the 1990s, when residents and mooring permit owners marched across Granite Street.
”We don’t believe his rights and his wishes extend out into that harbor,” he said.
Morris noted that Pigeon Cove Harbor is a federal anchorage, and taxpayer money was responsible for many of the improvements.
“His proposal has stirred a great amount of passion,” Morris said.
“I would say that in my opinion, that would be off the table,” Erin Battistelli, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, said of displacing moorings. She added that officials do want to see the project proceed, but do not want to give up a resource in the process.
The debate over the moorings as one aspect of the project followed a closed-door meeting held Monday among some town officials, local fishermen and Rauseo.
The meeting included members of the Board of Selectmen, Conservation Commission, Rights of Way Committee and the Planning Board. Since there was no quorum of officials from any one body of town government, however, it did not qualify as an open meeting.
Battistelli said the idea stemmed out of the Department of Environmental Protection Chapter 91 public hearing, which drew a large response in Town Hall last week.
”It was a good first step,” Battistelli said of Monday’s closed-door talks.
She said that, while people do need to voice their concerns at a public hearing, the Monday night meeting was arranged as a chance for officials from different boards to meet with Rauseo — all in one room at one time.
Zenas Seppala, one of the residents who brought the closed-door meeting up during the public comment period at a Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday, noted that, while other official meetings such as workshops do not allow public comment period, people can sit in on them. That wasn’t the case Monday
The plans call for 13 single-family homes throughout 14 lots in addition to commercial space, 3,600 square feet of seasonal dock space in Pigeon Cove Harbor and 15 permanent pilings.
A public hearing about Pigeon Cove Harbor plans with the Conservation Commission was set for last night.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.