A few great ideas have made it up the town meeting runs

Apr 24, 2024 | Over the Bar

over the bar

By John Pappalardo

Most people consider the season upon us to be spring, but on Cape Cod spring can be an iffy proposition, so I like to refer to it with more certainty as the season of town meetings.

These are annual rites of passage not to be taken for granted. They remain the purest form of democracy and public participation imaginable, which means they can be frustrating or boring at times but in their plodding ways also inspiring, even exhilarating and fun.

Sometimes when I sit through the proceedings, looking around the auditorium, I think about how our citizenry has pooled together almost like that other remarkable rite of passage this time of year, herring making their way back from all kinds of places to school in a pond. The fish gather to perform their crucial act of survival, we gather to make crucial decisions that define the coming year.

OK, yes, it’s a little embarrassing, but given the big regulatory fights we’re waging, I’m seeing herring everywhere these days.

What I’m also seeing are multiple moments when this year’s town meetings will have opportunities to support our fishing community.

The most visible and dramatic is in Orleans, a proposal to approve an $8.3-million investment to rebuild the commercial side of Rock Harbor.

If ever there was a vital project long overdue, this is it. Rock Harbor is the town’s only access to Cape Cod Bay, and the area where commercial boats are supposed to tie up, load and offload, has become so dangerous that even the best captains try to avoid it. Bigger tides (even beyond the usual bay surges of more than 10 feet) have added to the problem, but really it’s about old infrastructure falling apart. The town has strong plans to create more and better berths, add offloading support, plus create an area where the public can safely meander and see what’s going on, like Chatham’s popular observation deck.

What’s most encouraging is that Orleans leadership has embraced this proposal with or without $3 million in support that looks promising at the state level, selectboard and finance committee wholeheartedly backing local fishermen who have been eloquent about the need. The rationales include historic, environmental, and economic arguments, but most of all pushing to the very heart and historic nature of the town which now needs recognition and support.

The meeting is May 13. This is a big one, and hopes are high.

Speaking of Chatham – full disclosure, I sit on the town’s finance committee – there is another great proposal coming to town meeting included in six initiatives pulled together under a bond authorization for $11 million over five years.

This one would authorize the town to move and rebuild its upweller, where shellfish are grown and then distributed around town. The existing one is holding on for dear life, marine duct tape and many hose clamps playing a crucial role to provide a crucial resource. So a new pier and location would serve the town well, with a great added attraction: The old Coast Guard station would be brought back and repurposed as the upwelling hub. How cool is that?

This piece of the bond package is around $4 million, spread over a few years. Again, the meeting is May 13, and again, this is a big one, with high hopes.

These are just two examples of how long, careful conversations and planning craft ideas that then must take the final step, and appear on town meeting floor for whatever debate might emerge. That’s how it is, and that’s how it should be.

So here I go again, thinking about herring:

Maybe the better analogy is that it’s the cluster of warrant articles, as much as the people, who have made an arduous trip to school at the meeting.

(John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)


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