Falmouth harbor panel OKs float replacement, wants to regulate boat rentals

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FALMOUTH — The Harbor Committee has given initial approval for emergency replacement of the entire float system at Town Landing.

It is also recommending the Town Council consider implementing an ordinance to prohibit short-term private boat rentals in the anchorage, excluding charters.

During the committee’s Nov. 16 meeting, Police Chief Edward Tolan outlined plans to update the float system, which was originally planned as a phased project, but which now must be completed in its entirety next spring.

Tolan said 90 percent of the float infrastructure was damaged beyond repair during the Oct. 30 storm that also knocked out electricity and downed trees all over town.

He said the town’s insurance adjusters and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been to the landing to assess the damage, and he is confident Falmouth will receive compensation from both for the damage done.

However, he’s unsure when that money might become available. That’s why Town Manager Nathan Poore has pledged to provide the funding up front, if necessary, Tolan said.

The town had originally planned to use a $50,000 small harbors grant, along with $110,000 in capital funding to replace about 15 of the aging floats in the harbor, but as a result of the storm damage, Tolan said it’s likely all the floats, including the commercial ones, would need to be replaced.

Planned improvements at the Town Landing include changes in float layout and gangway access “to make the facility more efficient, more accessible and safer,” according to Barney Baker, the town’s consultant on the project.

Tolan said Baker is now moving forward with the permitting required to replace the floats and he’s hoping the town can line up a contractor sometime this winter in order to have the float system ready by spring.

The initial hope was that some of the area trade schools could participate in the float-building process, but Tolan is no longer sure that will be possible considering the new time constraints on the project.

Tolan said the front floats would be moved to deeper water and there would be more room for dinghies. The new gangways would be ADA compliant.

There’s also some hope, according to Tolan, that there might be enough money to extend the boat ramp.

In addition to replacing the float system, he said, “we also have to find a way to dispose of the smashed up old floats,” which, as of last week, were still piled up in the parking area at the landing.

Boat rentals

There was unanimous agreement among committee members that what were referred to as “boat Airbnbs” shouldn’t be allowed.

Harbormaster Al Twombley said he’s most concerned about the increased demand on municipal services at Town Landing if people are renting out their boats. But the committee was also concerned about noise, boater safety, and liability.

Twombly said current ordinances in town only prevent houseboats from being anchored in the harbor and there are no specific restrictions on private boat rentals.

He was approached by several boat owners this past summer about the possibility of renting their boats, and last week Twombly told the Harbor Committee, “We’ll be opening the barn door if we don’t address it. I believe in getting out in front if we can, before this becomes a problem.”

Handy Boat, which offers mooring and boat club membership services, said this past summer it dealt with several issues related to people renting their boats privately. One, in particular, was a raucous bachelor party.

In discussing what the parameters of a new ordinance might be, Twombley told the committee it would be important to “be very particular about the language” especially when it comes “to the type of behavior you’re trying to impact.”

Committee member Richard Craven then volunteered to come up with a draft he would circulate to other committee members and Tolan could provide to Poore, who would then put it on an upcoming Town Council agenda.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

At least 90 percent of the float infrastructure at Falmouth’s Town Landing was damaged beyond repair Oct. 30.