Tiverton Harbormaster Vannier to step aside March 31

David Vannier at Monday's Tiverton Town Council meeting. David Vannier at Monday's Tiverton Town Council meeting.

David Vannier at Monday's Tiverton Town Council meeting.

David Vannier at Monday’s Tiverton Town Council meeting.

TIVERTON — It’s been a good four-year run, says Tiverton Harbormaster David Vannier, but this summer he’d like to get out on his own boat for more than the four days he managed last year.

So Monday night, the town council received Mr. Vannier’s letter of resignation. He’ll stay through March 31 to handle the voluminous paperwork for moorings and other things that are part of the job, but after that he is moving on to other pursuits.

“We have a boat that we moor at Fogland and this summer I’d like to get out there, do some fishing, enjoy the water,” he said. He had come to realize that that wouldn’t happen so long as he kept the harbormaster job.

Several people took time to praise Mr. Vannier’s work at Monday’s Tiverton Town Council meeting.

“He has brought that position a very, very long way,” said Town Administrator Jim Goncalo. He said he has asked Mr. Vannier to reconsider, and “he did reconsider, and came to the same conclusion.”
“I’m deeply saddened,” said Councillor Brett Pelletier. “There’s no way that the small salary he gets paid justifies the work he’s done.”Council President Ed Roderick, speaking to Mr. Vannier in the audience, said, “you’ve brought a high level of professionalism to the position.”Harris Gruber, a member of the Harbor and Coastal Waters Management Commission, told  how Mr. Vannier had “saved the life” of a Standish Boatyard worker last summer, after a boat had fallen on the man’s chest. “Dave literally lifted the boat himself” off the man, said Mr. Gruber.

The 'new' Tiverton harbormaster boat that Mr. Vannier helped obtain from the state.

The ‘new’ Tiverton harbormaster boat that Mr. Vannier helped obtain from the state.

Over the past year, Mr. Vannier calculated that he has devoted 1,500 hours to the part time job that pays $5,000 a year. The year before that he put in 1,700 hours.

When the Times called Monday to learn more about his resignation, it reached him in a shed where he was grinding out and filling cracks in the harbormaster boat. And over the weekend he fielded calls with harbor-related questions that he gets any time of year, any time of day and evening — such things as ‘How do I get permission to put in a dock? ‘Can I move my mooring 15 feet to the left?’

“I knew going in the sort of time it would involve and I was fine with that. But I’ve accomplished most of what I had hoped to do” and it’s time to move on, he said.

Mr. Vannier has thrown his hat into the ring for the Bristol harbormaster job but said he will be quite content “just to get out on my own boat and making the most of the summer.”

His letter lists accomplishments that he is happy about.

He has identified moorings that were not being paid for, thus bringing in more revenue to the town. He took delivery of the new (used) harbormaster boat from the state Department of Environmental Management, a big step up from the old one (for which he oversaw the successful sale). He drafted changes to the Harbor Management Plan (that were approved by the council Monday) and obtained a matching grant for the purchase of a pumpout boat to handle boat septic waste.

He had meant to stick around long enough to see that last item through but that hope fell through at a town council meeting two weeks ago.

“We had a state matching grant (the state would pay 75 percent, the town 25 percent — $13,000).” Although the town had agreed to and signed the grant and Mr. Vannier had sought bids and selected a low bidder, “they rejected it.” That happened, he said, after a couple members of the budget committee said there is no money in the budget for such a purchase.

It was disappointing, he said, especially in light of the fact that the harbormaster office brings in $55,000 worth of revenue a year on an expenditure budget of just $21,000.”

He holds out hope that one other task left undone will be addressed in this year’s budget.

He will put in for money, as he has every year before, to pay a harbormaster assistant “so our new harbormaster can get some time off and not get burned out as I have.”

Done right, Mr. Vannier said the harbormaster office could help Tiverton make the most of its waterfront — “a magnificent asset with some of the most underutilized waters of the state … We seem to ignore the importance of this wonderful asset.”

With more time and money devoted to the task, the job could be much more than handing out tickets to speeders and collecting mooring money. He’d like to see a more active harbormaster presence on the water — like routine patrols by an assistant on summer Sundays — and more of an emphasis on safety and boater assistance.

And he thinks the town could profit by making its harbor more welcoming and available to transient boaters who might then visit local restaurants and shops.

“We have no town-owned transient moorings or docks,” and a visiting voter who calls for the harbormaster probably does so in vain.

While he is leaving as harbormaster, Mr. Vannier, a Tiverton resident who works as a supervisor at the Brayton Point Power Station, intends to stay involved in harbor issues. He is especially active in the effort to rebuild and improve the old Stone Bridge along with the public dock that was once attached to it. He also urged townspeople to support the efforts of the Harbor Commission to updater the Harbor Management Plan and improve public access to the water.

“That will be a tremendous improvement that I think people will be really excited to see,” he said.

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