Tiverton accepts donated $175,000 pump-out boat, inspection pending


TIVERTON — Almost a month after it had rejected the purchase of pump-out boat for Tiverton basin, the Town Council by a 4-3 vote reversed itself, and decided to accept the gift of a $175,000 aluminum-hulled pump-out vessel from a former California marina operator.

Its acceptance was subject to an inspection of the boat. That inspection will take place in the near future said Harbor and Coastal Waters Management Commission (HCWMC) Chairman Bruce Cox last week.

The offer of the gift boat came three days after the Council's Jan. 14 rejection, and was "unforeseeable to us," Mr. Cox told the Council on Feb.11. "This is not something we went out and looked for. It came to us."

The gift was offered to one other community, but Tiverton's prompt acceptance ended consideration of the other town, said Town Harbormaster David Vannier later.

The donor, Charles Moothart, is the son of the former concession operator of the 900-boat Bidwell Canyon Marina on Lake Oroville, a man-made reservoir with 167 miles of shoreline about 70 miles north of Sacramento. Drought and low water levels on the lake, and the non-renewal in 2009 of the concession lease by the California State Parks Department, had led to litigation over the issue, a dispute that was only settled on the eve of trial last July.

Among the assets being disposed of by the marina corporation (Fun Time-Full Time) is the 30 foot, tri-hulled aluminum boat being donated to the town. Tax write offs are a significant consideration in the donation, according to town officials. Mr. Moothart could not be reached for this story.

The 16,200 pound vessel carries a 600 gallon holding tank, and has the ability, its specifications state, to "pump and discharge up to 80 gallons per minute up to 190 feet of elevation." In other words, it has the ability to serve as a fire boat as well.

"There is no vessel in this area," said Fire Chief Robert Lloyd in a Jan. 25 e-mail to Mr. Vannier, "that has the capabilities to provide a measure of fire fighting protection to the waterfront and the vessels that traverse the Sakonnet River." Having such dual capabilities — of serving as both a pump out and fire fighting boat, that can "assist all agencies as a donation is incredible," Chief Lloyd wrote.

Favorable action at the council's Feb. 11 meeting followed another lengthy airing of many of the same arguments, pro and con, that led to the rejection a month earlier by a 3-3 vote. Councilor Denise DeMedeiros was absent at the earlier meeting, and Councilor Bill Gerlach changed his vote from no to yes at the Feb.11 meeting attended by all councilors.

The unexpected circumstance, that the $175,000 boat was a donation — free, except for insurance and maintenance costs — may have made the difference.

Mr. Gerlach said his earlier opposition was driven by concerns about the "form and structure" of the previous boat deal. The earlier deal called for the purchase by the town of a $53,665 pump out boat from low bidder Bay Sails Marine, Inc. of Wellfleet, Mass. Funding would have come from a grant for $40,249 from the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and $13,416 from the town, a sum arguably not budgeted.

A condition of the grant would have required the town to operate the pump-out program for 10 years.

On the other hand, having a pump-out boat would seem to be required anyhow if a town wants to maintain moorings in its harbor. DEM requires every harbor to have one pump out station for every 300 moorings, and Tiverton has 450 moorings, says Mr. Cox. Even if you count a pump out facility at Standish Boat Yard, he said, another is required.

It's a domino effect. The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) approves the town's moorings. To get that approval the town needs approval of a Harbor Management Plan by CRMC, which includes a requirement that DEM issue a water quality certification, which in turn calls for the requisite pump out capabilities.

The mooring fields bring in about $50,000 yearly in revenue to the town, said Mr. Cox, which could be imperiled if moorings are not approved by CRMC. "The whole operation of the waterfront is a profit center for the town."

The donation of the pump out boat carried no strings. "All we have to do is certify that we can  accept it," said Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz. "There is no obligation for us to keep it."

About accepting the gift-boat deal (and in changing his own pump-out-boat vote), Mr. Gerlach said at the Feb. 11 meeting that, "I am not necessarily opposed to seeing the vessel, to operate it for one season, to see its impact from a water quality perspective, to see if it makes sense to continue it."

Debate on the pump-out boat issue at both the January and February meetings altogether consumed an estimated three hours of the council's time.

Last budget cycle as well, the issue was contested, with the budget committee and the town council taking contrary positions on funding a pump-out boat, concededly at a time when neither the possibility of grant funding or a donated boat was in the picture.

As the debate at the Feb. 11 council meeting ran its course, myriad differences and perspectives surfaced. Addressing the council, Harris Gruber, a member of the town harbor commission (the HCWMC) said of the donated boat, "it's not going to be very expensive to operate. This is a golden opportunity and I would urge you strongly to approve it."

"I think it's foolish not to consider operating costs," said Councilor Joan Chabot. She listed numerous features and expenses that would be involved in maintaining it, and said the aluminum hulls were not suitable for saltwater, a point which Mr. Gruber disputed.

"We as a town need to protect our waterfront," said Council President Ed Roderick. "Too many times we don't look into the future."

"I have doubts about how effective the pump out boat would be to preserve the shoreline,' said Councilor Joe Arruda.

Some councilors expressed doubts that boat owners would deliberately contaminate the water or would stop polluting even if the pump-out boat were available.

"I don't think we should be adding expenses to the town," said Councilor Denise DeMedeiros. "To me there might be a better way to spend this money."

"The idea that we can't find money to buy something this town desperately needs is poppycock," said Councilor Brett Pelletier. "I think this is an amazing opportunity." Then, agreeing with a perspective he said was offered in January by Councilor Jay Lambert, about relying heavily on the advice of town officials and commissions, Mr. Pelletier said, "I think we should take the recommendations of experts we ask to do this job. We have a waterfront that is underutilized, underserved, and under protected. I one-hundred percent support accepting this vessel. We'll have some explaining to do if we turn it down."

On a motion made by Councilor Pelletier to accept the donated boat, seconded by Councilor Lambert, Councilors Lambert, Pelletier, Roderick and Gerlach voted yes, and Councilors Chabot, DeMedeiros, and Arruda voted no.


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