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Westbrook is in desperate need of a harbor master.
“We’ve had notices out in various places: Westbrook Events, the town website. We’re not finding anybody,” said John Rie, chairman of the Harbor Management Commission (HMC).
According to the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP), harbor masters are responsible for general care and supervision of harbors and navigable waterways, are authorized to move anchored vessels or obstructions to protect navigation, and are responsible for removing abandoned and derelict vessels.
Town harbor masters are appointed for three-year terms by the governor, but candidates are put forward by the town’s HMC. The state’s harbor master program is administered by DEEP. The position carries a $750 annual stipend. The harbor master must provide his or her own boat.
Westbrook’s deputy harbor master, Dave Russell, also serves as a marine patrol officer and cannot take on the role of harbor master as well, explained Rie, who expressed grave concern about public safety as well as environmental issues in the town’s waters.
One of Rie’s main concerns is the placement and maintenance of private moorings in Westbrook waters.
There are two sets of moorings in Westbrook. Those on the Patchogue River are rented on an annual basis, so are owned by the town. The annual mooring fee of $250 includes maintenance.
“Every four years the moorings are pulled out and maintained and put back in,” Rie explained. The fee “doesn’t make money for anybody—the estimated cost of the maintenance should come out pretty near even.”
The other moorings are installed on the beachfront and are owned and maintained (or—too often—not maintained, Rie said) by the individuals who’ve installed them. Boaters are required to apply for a permit and provide the proper tackle, and the location must be approved by the harbormaster.
The registration fee is very reasonable, said Rie.
“The goal is not to collect a whole lot of money—it’s 20 bucks a year. The money goes into a fund so that if we find derelict moorings or moorings that are unsafe, we can hire someone to remove them,” he said. “It doesn’t go back to the town.
“If we get enough of these registered, we’ll have a bit of a fund we can use to hire someone to get rid of the ones that shouldn’t be there,” he continued. “That’s the goal.”
Members of the HRC have met with beach association leaders to make their case, and they’ve been persuasive: There’s been little pushback from that quarter. A properly regulated beachfront will be safer and more pleasant for everyone who uses it.
As of now, the situation is frustrating for the HRC.
“People put the mooring in and don’t care if they’re in the middle of a channel or blocking something,” Rie said. “We don’t tell people where to put them, but we do want to control it enough so they don’t put them in dumb places.
“We’re aware of some people who drop a cinderblock and clothesline and use it for their jet ski,” he continued.
Some of these cinderblocks are placed in shallow water—when the tide goes out, the beach is littered with cinderblocks. It can be impossible to track down who is responsible, particularly when they’re installed by people visiting the town in the summer.
HRC members have done what they can to fill in for the vacant harbor master position. The commission has announced that all beachfront moorings must be registered with the town. Registrations, which are not limited to Westbrook residents, are for specific boats; moorings cannot be rented out to other boaters. Tackle requirements as well as the permit and registration applications are available on the HRC’s web page.
“Last spring, a bunch of us on the committee got in our own boats, counted moorings and where each was [located] using GPS…We counted 111 moorings in the water and by the end of the year I think we were able to [register] 65 moorings,” Rie said.
“My worry is people are putting up moorings and their boats break loose because their tackle does not meet minimum specifications,” he said.
Other boaters then end up pulling a boat off the beach that was stranded because of insufficient tackle.
“Or they put up moorings and abandon them. The mushroom anchors have a shank sticking up—someone is going to hit it,” Rie said. “It’s a safety hazard. Somebody’s going to be hurt or killed.”
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