AP NEWS

Selectmen pass Greenwich harbor plan

July 14, 2017 GMT

GREENWICH — The Board of Selectmen approved a Harbor Management Plan for Greenwich Thursday, a day after it was endorsed by the town’s Harbor Management Commission.

The plan now needs the approval of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which has been working with the commission on the document for roughly three years.

Several times state officials have told commissioners to change drafts of the plan. In particular, they have called for policies in the document to be more specific.

“We believe the town has addressed the issues and concerns we raised,” DEEP Spokesman Dennis Schain said Thursday.

The plan provides a formal structure for making decisions about the use and preservation of Greenwich’s navigable waters and intertidal areas.

One of the sticking points between DEEP and town that remained as recently as this spring was the degree to which the state must abide by decisions of the Harbor Management Commission once the plan is passed.

“We argued if DEEP could override all or any of our decisions, what’s the point of having an HMC and home rule?” Harbor Management Commission member Lile Gibbons said this week.

An agreement was reached, reflected in the plan, that DEEP would be bound to Harbor Management Commission decisions as long as they are directly pursuant to policies outlined in the Harbor Management Plan, according to local officials.

Harbor Commission Chairman Bruce Angiolillo said throughout the discussions with DEEP, the town’s commitment to home rule was “zealously pursued.” He said the state pushed back a bit as to how much deference it should give to Harbor Management Commissions but after an “extended negotiation” the compromise was struck.

Commission members believe the compromise gives Greenwich the ability to handle matters regarding water uses without the state.

One particular area of concern on the part of the state was language in the plan regulating the installation of private docks.

Greenwich could have more control over local decisions if its plan were more precise on items like acceptable dock sizes, state officials said earlier this year. Because the language in the Greenwich plan regarding docks was vague, the state would not be bound to abide by Greenwich’s recommendations on permit applications, DEEP officials said.

It was not entirely clear this week whether the language in the plan regarding docks removes the chances of clashes with the state in the future.

The town’s 26 miles of coastline make it unique, with different harbors, rivers, estuaries, peninsulas and islands, Angiolillo said, adding the plan has to reflect that.

“What may work in some other areas just doesn’t work here because you can’t do a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” Angiolillo said. “That’s what we heard from the community. ... We tried to build in a series of criteria that would be considered in approval of docks in the future.”

If DEEP approves the plan, it will go to the Representative Town Meeting for adoption, likely in the fall.

“I think we all recognize we need to have a Harbor Management Plan in place.” Selectman John Toner said Thursday. “Is it perfect? Nothing’s perfect. In 1789 we put a Constitution in place and as soon as it was in place we started making amendments. Let’s put this in place. Let’s see how it works. Let’s see how we have to tweak it and let’s move forward.”

One issue brought up by Selectman Drew Marzullo involved the authority of the harbormaster, which is a state position. Current Harbormaster Ian Macmillan has clashed frequently with the commission as well as town officials, in part because of disagreements over the position’s authority.

“What we’re trying to avoid here is, once the plan is adopted, a back and forth with the harbormaster versus the commission,” Marzullo said.

First Selectman Peter Tesei said the plan cannot supersede the “statutory authority that governs how the harbormaster does its job.”

Angiolillo said the plan addresses the ongoing problems by bringing clarity to the situation.

The commission cannot overturn harbormaster decisions, but the harbormaster’s duties are specifically defined in the plan as being responsible for issuing mooring permits, collect mooring fees, determining mooring locations, and ensuring “safe and efficient operation” of the plan’s policies for Greenwich’s waters.

Macmillan did not attend the selectmen’s meeting but said afterward he felt the plan did provide needed specifics on issues including the handling of moorings, but he said it still needs improvement in regard to matters about his duties within the town as a state employee reporting to DEEP.

The three-year drafting of the plan has been at times a rocky process.

“We met with the various constituencies in the community within the town government and non-profits as well as waterfront commercial owners, yacht clubs, schools, rowing clubs, beach facilities, various waterfront property owners both residential and otherwise as well as interested parties,” Angiolillo said. “And, most importantly, since everything kind flows downhill into the Sound, everyone who’s interested in water, conservation and the environment as well as public works.”

Ultimately the plan had the approval of all members of the commission, a body that has not always seen eye-to-eye on all issues.

“The commission has worked well,” said Toner, who as the Board of Selectmen’s representative to the commission serves as an ex-officio member. “It has had its low points. It has had its high points. We’re at a high point right now.”

A full copy of the plan is available online at http://bit.ly/1II2VUC; hard copies are available from the town if requested.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com