Letter to the Editor: “Harbor Laws Mis-Understood by Town”

Submitted by Michael W. Finkbeiner, LS, Lic. Land Surveyor (CT &NY) Earth Image Dot Net, LLC

Last Friday’s Board of Selectmen meeting was another case of mis-direction on understanding the relationship of Federal, State and local laws for the management and administration of the harbors and navigable waters of the Town of Greenwich, CT.

The 45 page legal review by Harbor Commission member and attorney Angiolillo started with the premise that the Town Parks and Rec. Dept held all necessary authority to manage the harbors and moorings. This upside down approach to the order of authority – Federal, State and then local law, resulted in a wrong conclusion.

Chairman Mazza attempted to tell the Selectmen that the authority for the Harbormaster position was theirs to return to Parks and Rec. Humpty Dumpty can not be put back on his wall. Neither Mazza nor the Commission have authority to sell stickers, collect fees or engage in harbor management without an approved plan. The plan, when approved, will only share authority that the Board of Selectmen have had since 1949 – but it will not give them authority and control over the harbormaster.

During the public hearing on this question on Oct 16th, I attempted to show from history and State Law that the authority to station vessels, and therefore place moorings, was exclusively the purview of the State’s Harbormaster, under direction of the State Commissioner of DEEP – the Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection, in cooperation and co-ordination with U S Army Corps of Engineers, US Coast Guard, CT DOT and local home rule under the Special Acts of the State Legislature. Although Channel 79 unplugged my remarks from broadcast, the simple fact is that just as a ship has only one captain, a harbor has a single authority to make on-the-water decisions. Some of these actions are in storms in the middle of the night, or during other states of emergency on the water.

The Town has been very fortunate to have a dedicated individual like Ian Macmillan, the present State Harbormaster, available by personal cell phone 24/7 to respond to emergencies as well as common questions.

When the present Harbor Commission does their duty to prepare a management plan that can be approved by the levels of oversight mentioned above, plus the Board of Selectmen and the RTM, then and only then the Harbormaster’s duties will include carrying out policies under the plan. This will still be under and consistent with Federal and State law and authority.

The First Selectman finally acknowledged last Friday that this “arranged marriage” must be made to work.