Onset Pier rebuild moves ahead after voters OK $250,000 for engineering plans

By Matthew Bernat | Apr 23, 2018
Photo by: Andrew W. Griffith Lisa Morales urges voters to not fund a $250,000 survey of Onset Pier until more research is down.

Plans to rebuild the Onset Pier are moving forward after voters OK’d spending up to $250,000 in Community Preservation Act funds on Monday for an engineering study, but not before some questioned the legality of such a move.

Each year, the Community Preservation Committee allocates money to projects through the Community Preservation Act in four categories: open space, historic preservation, affordable housing and recreation. The money is raised through a surcharge on property tax bills. The state then matches a percentage of the town-raised money. Funds must be approved at Town Meeting.

The approved funds will be used to develop engineering plans for repairing Onset Pier in a bid to get the project “shovel ready” and primed for grant funds, according to Wareham Department of Natural Resources Director Garry Buckminster. He noted that projects that have the necessary engineering work already done receive priority regarding grants.

Buckminster said a survey was done on the pier in 2014 that revealed structural issues, such as loose fasteners and failing siding. The same survey estimated an overhaul would cost $4 million. While the previous survey revealed the issues facing the pier, the new engineering plans will layout a path forward for making those repairs.

The request met resistance from Onset activist Lisa Morales, who said the request didn’t follow state guidelines.

“The percentage of the pier’s commercial use and use as a town office for the harbormaster makes Community Preservation Act fund use questionable,” said Morales.

Under state law, Community Preservation Act funds must be used for projects related to one of the four categories. She also said approving the funds would be “illegal.” She said state law forbids Community Preservation Act funds from being used for rehabilitation on projects that weren’t originally built using act money.

Officials disagreed, saying it is up to the town’s attorney to determine whether a project meets Community Preservation Act requirements and thus can be voted upon st Town Meeting.

“To say this is illegal is simply untrue,” said Selectman Peter Teitelbaum.

He and Community Preservation Act Chair Sandy Slavin noted state law was changed a few years ago to allow cities and towns to use funds for projects not originally built using act money.

Morales and others said that the pier, because sightseeing boats dock there and requires a parking fee, is commercial, not recreational, in nature.

Town attorney Richard Bowen disagreed. He noted that if a fee was charged to use the pier at all then that would have changed his determination.

“What we have is a clear admission that recreational activity does take place on the pier,” said Bowen. “I’ve heard no one suggest you can’t go on the pier unless you pay a fee.”

Opponents also said renovating the pier would be a violation of a 1916 court decree that keeps the beaches free of development and open for public use. Again, officials noted that the decree specifically exempts the pier, originally described as a wharf, from the decree.

“The court, back in 1916, said the wharf, which is the pier, had public value,” said Bowen. “And is not subject to the restrictions of the decree.”

Comments (4)
Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 24, 2018 06:09

Thank you to all who came out to perform their civic duty.

I'm fairly careful about using terms like illegal and unlawful, I don't think that is attributable to myself but another speaker. I also do not believe repair of the existing pier is disallowed under the Decree. I believe it cannot be expanded to cover more land. Had the town responded to inquiries made before last night's meeting some or all of the confusion may have been avoided.

Voters approved a grant they did not see, because it was not shared publicly. That is of course their perogative. For all the paper distributed last night, the 4 pages could have been included. You can see the grant application at https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NXbRhdvdofM8h4Tx6jwmJVJahUSH4kNj because we obtained and posted it. The CPA language posted in last night's warrant must be the "old law" changed "several years ago." The FinComm statement of support for a newly built pier in the warrant was also deemed incorrect.

The grant application and the TA cover sheet to it specify a $5.5 million dollar project. I for one would prefer more tranparency and less confusion around such an expense.


Lisa Morales




Posted by: WWreader | Apr 24, 2018 07:03

The Onset Pier is badly in need of repair. We were told that the courts previously ruled on the decree and that the pier is not restricted. Voters listened to both sides including the lady who falsely claimed many people got an opinion from that coalition guy.  One selectman actually did call him and was told no one else called. That didn't help your argument. By the way, all taxpayers pay into CPC funds and those of us who don't live in Onset will also be footing this bill. That's why the people who think parking funds should stay only in Onset get voted down. One town. Shared expenses.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 24, 2018 12:13

Mr. Slavin did identify the person who called that coalition office, and shared what she was told. I don't recall anyone saying "many people called." Nevertheless, the bill for $5.5 million will indeed be shared.

Posted by: Theresa ONeill | Apr 26, 2018 08:15

A redo of Onset Pier to make it more user/pedestrian/recreation/boat friendly would be welcome. Right now the big parkinglot is a great waste of what could be a beautiful community resource.

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