Wednesday’s Harbor Management Commission meeting started off with a bang. The synopsis of 75 minutes of heated debate on a request from Parks & Rec for $2,900 to upgrade buoys is short: Bicker, Bicker, Vote, Vote Again. Deny request.
The commission, which has been meeting for months to draft a harbor plan for Greenwich, struggled with the broad nature of the task, and along the way hired consultant Jeff Steadman for assistance. At the Nov. 23 Board of Selectmen meeting, HMC chair Frank Mazza estimated the plan wouldn’t be done before the end of 2015. For years the Town of Greenwich has been collecting mooring permit fees, though not everyone has paid and there is no enforcement. There are Greenwich boats with unpermitted moorings in shellfish beds, some of which may even technically be in Stamford waters. With much to sort out, and a plan to write, fees continue to accumulate. At the Aug. 26 HMC meeting, Mr. Mazza said the funds in reserves amounted to $233,600. During that discussion of budgets, expenses and permit fees, commissioner Michael Von Oss described the HMC as hamstrung. “We have a budget, but without a plan, we don’t have the authority to spend it,” Von Oss said. The phone bill of Greenwich Harbor Master, Ian MacMillan, who wears a phone ear-bud to be accessible to the Greenwich boating community, was submitted for reimbursement, but declined after Mr. Mazza questioned its total which for several months amounted to hundreds of dollars, describing it as “a red flag.”
Fast forward to the Jan. 21 meeting. Just after 6:00pm, HMC chair Mr. Mazza called the meeting to order and immediately acknowledged a controversy among the commission that had played out earlier in the week. He said that following his own email on Tuesday, Jan. 20, alerting commissioners of a Parks & Rec request for $2,900 to replace anchors for navigational buoys that aren’t adequately weighted, there had been a flurry of emails both in favor and opposed.
“They’re asking for funding out of our budget for $2,900 to put new anchors in on moorings on 5 places in Greenwich,” Mazza said, of a request from Jeff Freitag, Parks & Rec Superintendent for Marine Facilities and Operations, for heavier anchors for navigational buoys for five critical navigational buoys: Jake’s Reef, Finch’s Rock, Salt Rock, Sugar Boat and the wreck of the Kevin B at Captain’s Island. All five buoys have been known to drift, resulting in potentially hazardous situation for boaters, and a concern of the harbor master for many years.
“I’d like to hear arguments from commission members, and the harbor master, about why you think we can’t,” Mazza said.
Right now all the navigational buoys have 75 lb anchors, which is the maximum weight anchor Parks & Rec are able to put in place, to 200 lb anchors are ideal to prevent them drifting.
Peter Quigley was the first to respond. Not only did he insist that the commission has no authority to vote on requests from Parks & Rec without having first completed a Harbor Management Plan, but he objected to the lack of basic meeting protocol resulting from introducing new business by email a few days before a meeting.
Protocol for New Business
“New business should be addressed in a previous meeting so that we can know and prepare, and subsequently discuss and vote at the following month’s meeting,” Quigley said. “It was a strange exchange of emails including a strange FOI request from somebody — I don’t know what that was all about.”
Commissioner Lile Gibbons said she agreed with Mr. Quigley’s point. “When we have new businesses, there should be one month and there should be discussion and there should be voting after a month.”
“Why hasn’t the harbor master’s issue of telephone expenses been dealt with,” Quigley asked. “I don’t think we have the authority or the responsibility for this. It should go to the BET. Why wasn’t this put the capital plan for Parks & Rec?”
Gary Silberberg, a harbor commission alternate sitting in for commissioner Bruce Angiolillo, said he agreed with the need for heavier anchors, but agreed with Mr. Quigley.
“It’s not part of our plan, because we do not have a plan,” Silberberg said. “I don’t think we have the authority to spend funds. The buoys are not ours…other than us to say that we are in favor of Parks & Rec doing it. If we had a plan with a budget, I’d be all in favor.”
Mr. Mazza asked the harbor master to comment.
Greenwich Harbor Master, Ian MacMillan, who recently stressed the urgent need for heavier anchors for navigational buoys in an interview with Greenwich Free Press, said there were actually a total of nine buoys that Jeff Freitag and Bill Bennett wished to have upgraded with adequate ballast.
MacMillan added that Tom Drake, Commodore of OGYC, was present to testify to the need for upgrading anchors for four channel markers in Greenwich Cove. “You’re dealing with aids to navigation that, because they’re off station, qualify as hazards to navigation,” MacMillan said of the four buoys in the cove.
“No, I was really asking you, Ian, why you were one of the people that said we should not be funding this,” Mazza replied to MacMillan, referring to the $2,900 request from Parks & Rec to add ballast to five buoys.
MacMillan responded that he didn’t feel the commission had the authority to do anything more than come up with a plan.
“We’re here tonight to decide whether we can appropriate money,” Mazza said. “We have a budget and there’s nothing that says we can’t fund five markers. We do have a budget. There are items in that budget we are allowed to spend money on.”
At that point, MacMillan asked why it was alright to fund the Parks & Rec request but not reimburse his telephone expenses.
“Why hasn’t Parks & Rec put this into their own budget?” Mr. Quigley asked, acknowledging the problem with the buoys was a longstanding one.
“I think we can probably legally do it, but I don’t know if it’s a good practice,” commissioner Lt. James Bonney said, referring to the precedent it would set.
“We’ll start getting requests for money from people from every corner of the planet before we even have a plan made. …We should just write the plan. It’s not a good practice to decide who gets money and who doesn’t before we have a plan,” Lt. Bonney said.
“Either we can or can’t appropriate the money,” Mazza said.
“We have to go before the BET,” Quigley said.
“We don’t have to go before the BET,” Mazza insisted.
Mr. Freitag said that Parks & Rec Department’s use of concrete anchors is adequate in some places, but that they receive reports from police and others of navigational aids being off-station. He said his research with buoy makers indicated that in some instances, 200 lb anchors are necessary, but that his department doesn’t have adequate equipment to install anchors heavier than 75 lbs., and would need to hire a vendor. Mr. Friday said he had spoken to Old Greenwich Marine Contractor, Mr. Columbo, who said he could do the job.
Mr. Freitag pointed out that the improvements would benefit all boaters. “It’s not just Parks & Rec boaters. It benefits anyone who drives a boat in Greenwich Harbor, be it a visitor, a Parks & Rec customer, yacht club member, or anybody.”
“I actually spent $1,200 to buy all new stickers for these buoys to keep them current, fresh and bright,” Freitag said. “I was under the impression the HMC had money for marine equipment. We consider these buoys marine equipment. Bill Bennett went to Peter Tesei and John Crary, who said, said you have money in your 300 line item to cover this.”
“Are you just coming here because you didn’t put it into your own budget?” Mr. Quigley asked Mr. Freitag. “This commission is only authorized to write a harbor plan,” Mr. Quigley continued, insisting that a request like Mr. Friday’s must go before the BET.
“But every year we haul the harbor master’s boat to Catalanos to be serviced and the harbor commission pays for that. We saw this as going into a partnership… There are hundreds of thousands of dollars in the harbor management fund. You can’t spent $2,900 for navigational aids? I find that questionable,” Mr. Freitag said.
Bill Bennett said he and Mr. Friday had done a great deal of homework before proposing the $2,900 request. “If this is not a harbor improvement, I don’t know what is,” Bennett said. “We went from 9 marks with serious problems down to 5. If you people feel you don’t have the authority, or can’t spend the money to do all nine, who does?”
“You guys, to feel good about collecting money for seven years, need to do the right thing and spend the money. You are sending the wrong message to voters. Because, damn it all, that’s what this money was collected for!” – Bill Bennett
“I understand you consider this an emergency,” said Lt. Bonney to Mr. Friday. “It’s needed to be done for many years. The Parks & Rec dept is in charge of that.”
“If you had voiced your concern or wrote a letter or talked to Joe Siciliano or talked to the First Selectman, they would have had to fix it. It’s been like that forever. It wasn’t that dangerous that the Parks & Rec tried to fix it. But now we have money…” Lt. Bonney said. “Parks and Rec is in charge of navigational aids, not this commission. Yet.”
“You’ve collectd 300K for harbor improvements,” Bennett said.
“Only for mooring -related and harbor master related purposes. That’s all we’ve done with the money so far. This is the first time you’re asking us to spend money outside that realm. Where does it stop? What if they say we need a bigger boat that can drop bigger moorings. We want you to buy us a boat?”
“Is this a harbor improvement or not?” Mr. Bennett said.
“It’s not the money or the merit,” Quigley said. He asked why, if the problem was longstanding, hadn’t Parks & Rec put it in its own budget? “Why didn’t you put it in your own operating budget rather then just go to where the money is?”
“A lot of money has been collected, and it has been sitting We constantly hear it’s to be used for improvements. This committee, once it passes its plan will cover Greenwich jurisdictional waters. that’s everything inside of the islands. This falls inside the islands. This will benefit every boater in Greenwich and every boater coming to visit.” – Greenwich Police Lieutenant John Brown
“This is a small dollar amount to show forward progress, to show the committee can actually get something done,” Lt. Brown said. “If the harbor master had come before you and to say this was a serious issue out on the water and we need these for the safety of our boaters, would it be different than if it came from a private citizen that’s not on the committee?” Lt. Brown asked, going on to inquire who would be responsible if a boater were to be injured as a result of the off-station buoys. “This is a possible cheap fix, that this committee can approve. Move forward. Get some good press for a change. And benefit every boater out there… It’s my opinion, but this is something this commission should seriously consider approving.”
Lile Gibbons made a motion to revisit the $2,900 request at the next monthly meeting. Mr. Quigley suggested amending the motion, but Ms. Gibbons rejected his suggestion.
“I don’t want to argue about this for a whole month,” Lt. Bonney said.
The motion to wait a month to decide on the request was voted down with three in favor (Ms. Gibbons, Mr. Mazza and Mr. Von Oss) and four opposed (Mr. Kinner, Mr. Silberberg, Mr. Quigley and Lt. Bonney).
Lt. Bonney made a motion to decline the $2,900 request. Mr. Kinner seconded the motion. The vote was four to three, with Mr. Kinner, Mr. Silberberg, Mr. Quigley and Lt. Bonney in favor of declining the $2,900 request, and Mr. Mazza, Ms Gibbons and Mr. Von Oss against.
“Frank what do we do now? Mr Bennett asked.
“Go see the Selectmen,” Mr. Mazza said.
“This is a black eye on you,” Mr. Bennett said to the to the commissioners several times.
Jan. 4, 2015 Greenwich Harbor Master’s New Year’s Resolutions!
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