Jul 28, 2014

No Pump-Out Boat For Tiverton

A motion to fund a pump-out boat for boaters in Tiverton waters failed in a 3-3 vote in Monday's town council meeting.

No Pump-Out Boat For Tiverton

There will be no pump-out boat in Tiverton, the Town Council decided in a 3-3 vote during its Monday meeting.

Tiverton's Harbor Management Commission says the boat is needed to retain the town's mooring fees.

Without the boat, Tiverton cannot guarantee water quality, a component that is necessary to garner the approval of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on the town's harbor management plan. Without this approval, Harbormaster David E. Vannier said the town could lose its rights to collect mooring fees.

"We do not have an active harbor management plan right now," said Vannier. "We are running on our 1993 plan. We are supposed to do our plan over every five years and we are in danger of losing our ability to collect fees."

Annually fees from the moorings collect about $55,000 - all from the harbor department, which costs about $21,000 to run.

To fund the pump-out boat, the town needed to come up 25 percent of the boat's cost, or $13,416, to match a state grant. The total cost of the pump-out boat was estimated at $53,665. In accepting the state grant, the town would have had to operate the marine pump-out for 10 years - a program that is not self-sustainable and would operate at a net loss annually. 

Without the pump-out boat, Vannier and Harbor Commission Chairman Bruce Cox said the CRMC can step in an deprive Tiverton of its mooring fees 

"The bottom of the water is owned by the state, so there is always that risk that rights can be taken away," said Cox.

Fogland beach was shut down to swimming and shellfish this summer due to an abundance of E. Coli bacteria. While it is impossible to decipher whether this pollution was caused by animals or boats dumping waste water into the Sakonnet River, Cox told the council that a pump-out boat could show the town's good-faith effort to improve water quality and gain CRMC approval on its harbor management plan. 

"A marine pump-out is the most cost effective way to provide this service," said Cox.

The pump-out boat, which would have charged customers $5 per 30 gallons of waste water, would have operated at a net loss over the 10-year contract necessitated by accepting the grant to pay for the boat. Cox argued the net loss was absorbed by the Harbor Department's revenues.

"To explain to you the importance of this document, you have in your income to the town mooring fees of about $55,000 on operational budget or about $21,000 and in order to retain this income stream, you need an approved harbor management plan."

Councilman Brett N. Pelletier agreed.

"With the second longest coastline in the state of Rhode Island we have a resource and an obligation to our taxpayers to protect it and restore it," said Pelletier.

Councilman James Arruda, who voted against the proposition, disagreed.

"Is it worth spending that money," asked Arruda. "The people that are going to dump, are still going to dump."

The decision comes in the wake of months of backlash from taxpayers who did not approve the funds at the 2012 financial town referendum and who resented the council's ability to pay out.

"This really boils me over because I feel as though the council is making a public expenditure without public approval," said Joseph Sousa, resident, as the council discussed the item at Monday's meeting.

Another resident, Barbara Pelletier, thought the discussion was missing the bigger picture. She worried property values along the shoreline could suffer if Tiverton waters continue to show high levels of pollutants.

"[The water] is one of the attractions that we do have in town and I think we would be awfully short sighted not to give that little assurance to people who pay prime property taxes and who depend very little on the town."

In an even split, the decision goes to the opposition in a council motion. councilors William Gerlach, James Arruda and Joan Chabot voted against funding the pump-out boat. Vice President Denise M. DeMedeiros was absent.

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