Periodically the Board of Selectmen invites department leaders to one of their regular Monday evening meetings to provide an update on the operations of the department and to highlight issues that need to be addressed. This past Monday both the Harbormaster and the Director of Parks and Recreation were on the agenda for their respective updates. I will focus on a critical waterway issue here and discuss P&R challenges next week.
A waterways issue that will be pursued this winter concerns the large number of boats that are anchoring off of Long Beach in Sandy Cove and off of Black Beach. While these two areas have traditionally been popular gathering spots for boaters, record breaking crowds were seen this summer. Over the Memorial Weekend, over 300 boats were off Long Beach at one point and over 200 boats were off Black Beach. Numerous other weekend days saw over 200 and 100 boats respectively in the two areas Our small harbor patrol staff cannot manage such large crowds.
These numbers present real safety concerns as well as causing negative environmental impacts. Swimmers and propellers are a dangerous mix as is drinking alcohol and operating a boat. Excessive speed and the wake that is generated also pose dangers. Serious injuries were sustained this summer when a boat full of people rammed into Half Tide rock near Sandy Cove. Other injuries were sustained on a number of occasions when large waves caused by fast moving boats tossed about people on smaller boats. Anchors dropped into eel grass beds, destroying these endangered plants that are a critical habitat for a host of marine life.
These situations must be corrected. One possible solution is to installed transient moorings in the two coves and limit the number of boats that are allowed at any one time. The moorings are designed so as not to harm the eel grass. Each mooring can accommodate a number of boats thus some 100 boats in total could be accommodated. Of course, once the limit is reached no more boats would be allowed. There will be some who object to being told they cannot use the area due to them not arriving before the maximum limit has been reached. Extra patrolling will be required to enforce the number limitation. (Extra patrolling is needed regardless of what specific measures are or are not take!)
Another idea is to expand the no-wake zone. Currently the no-wake zone includes Sandy Cove and the channel but waves from fast moving boats just outside this area in Manchester Bay negatively impact boats from our harbor to Misery Island. Should a larger no-wake zone extending beyond the channel to House, Misery and Chubb Islands?
Can these problems be solved by increasing patrolling alone? To some extent perhaps but sea floor damage by anchors will only be solved by installing permanent moorings and by limiting our solution to just more policing presence means we will be required to constantly expand this effort as crowds continue to grow.
Over the course of the next few months, the Harbor Advisory Committee will be hosting public forums to gather public input on possible solutions to the crowding problems occurring off our shoreline. The HAC will be asked to advise the Selectmen on a preferred course of action. A similar effort was undertaken a few years ago with the recommendation being an educational outreach effort that was implemented. The crowds have continued to grow and the degree of compliance with safe boating practices is not keeping up with the crowds we are seeing.
Stay tuned for the forum dates and times. The HAC, Harbormaster Bion Pike, and the Selectmen look forward to hearing your ideas for how we best keep our treasured waterways safe and fun to use.