Change In Agent Could Lead To Mooring Delays, Increased Costs

by William F. Galvin
Moorings removed from the AGL Mooring property in Yarmouth are being stored by the harbor department in Harwich. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO Moorings removed from the AGL Mooring property in Yarmouth are being stored by the harbor department in Harwich. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – There could be delays in accessing moorings for some boat owners this spring as the town works through a dispute over the issuance of a mooring service agent license for Round Cove, Pleasant Bay and Herring River.

The long-time agent, Chip Niehoff of AGL Mooring, is protesting the select board’s decision to give Lower Cape Marine Services a three-year license to service the three mooring fields. He said this week that he is considering litigation.

Lower Cape Marine Services was the only applicant to file for a license for the three mooring fields in a timely manner. AGL Mooring submitted its application to the town one week after the bid deadline. The filing deadline for bids was Nov. 2, and the town received AGL’s application by fax on Nov. 8 and in the mail the following day.

Niehoff is challenging the town’s decision, citing a lack of clarity on the deadline for filing the application. He said there was no due date on the application, nor was there one in the request for proposals on the town’s website. Niehoff said he thinks he was given the wrong filing date in a conversation with the harbor department.

He is also questioning adherence to the open meeting law during the deliberation process and the financial impact on nearly 200 mooring permit holders based on the rates Lower Cape Marine submitted. He said Lower Cape Marine’s fees are around 300 percent higher than his. Niehoff said about 100 permit holders have reached out to him and told him that they do not want to change agents.

“I try to provide a fair service and don’t charge a lot,” he said. “I never aggressively raised prices. I feel like I’ve abandoned them. I don’t know what to do.”

With the boating season approaching and AGL remaining in possession of approximately 150 moorings belonging to mooring permit holders, the town has taken steps to reclaim the ground tackle that has been stored in Yarmouth by AGL.

AGL’s contract with the town expired on Dec. 31 and Lower Cape Marine’s mooring service agent license became effective on Jan. 1.

In a letter to Niehoff’s attorney, Paul Revere, III, dated April 5, Town Counsel A. Alexander Weisheit of KP Law, wrote that AGL no longer has any legal authority to retain custody of the equipment. The town demanded that AGL Mooring turn over the equipment to Lower Cape Marine by Tuesday, April 9, or the town will seek injunctive relief in Barnstable Superior Court.

“He did respond. He couldn’t do it that day,” said Harbormaster John Rendon of Niehoff. “But he’s been cooperative. We went on Wednesday. He was there and they were ready for us.”

Working with Lower Cape Marine and members of his department, Rendon said 65 moorings were picked up last week and the remainder would be picked up later.

According to Weishiet’s letter, the town obtained permission from nearly all the mooring permit holders in the three mooring fields to transfer the equipment to the new mooring service agent.

“We’re late in the game and some of this equipment will need work,” Rendon said. “Lower Cape Marine has been reaching out to their customers. I expect there will be some delays in trying to get the work done.”

According to the lengthy challenge to the town’s decision sent to the select board by Revere, the waterways committee, which recommended Lower Cape Marine be granted the license, never posted an agenda for its meeting and discussions were muted for two-and-a-half minutes in the video tape of the meeting. Neither the waterways committee meeting or a select board meeting agenda of Nov. 27 indicated a vote would be taken, Revere asserted.

The financial impact on the mooring permit holders was also a centerpiece in the request to have the select board reject Lower Cape Marine’s license. Revere wrote that an increase of around 300 percent over AGL’s service fees is unprecedented.

“Doing so would save those mooring holders many thousands of dollars in total and relieve the harbormaster of any potential conflicts with customers who find the price increase unacceptable,” Revere wrote.

When the issues were discussed in a March 11 select board meeting, Select Board member Donald Howell dwelled on the financial impact on permit holders.

“My concern here isn’t the lateness,” he said, “but when you are making an award, you’re making the intrinsic judgment that it is a fair and reasonable price. I’m not sure that tripling the price is fair and reasonable.”

Howell said when acting on license agreements the board should ascertain what is a reasonable rate. “I’m not sure we’ve done that,” he said.

Select Board member Michael MacAskill said he did not think it was an exorbitant contract. He agreed that the board should look at providing permit holders with more than one choice based on location. Lower Cape Marine’s rates were within industry standards, Rendon said.

“Permit holders can either use the mooring servicing agent or they can put it in themselves, but they have to do it with the mooring agent,” said Rendon.

The fee schedule presented by Lower Cape Marine is $100 for inspection; $150 for installation; $150 for removal; $75 for mooring storage; $150 per hour for maintenance; and $150 per hour for diving. The AGL fee schedule, according to the document filed with the select board, is $25 for inspection; $100 covering both installation and removal of a mooring; $45 per hour for labor; and no charge for storage.

But “late is late,” said Select Board member Jeffrey Handler. Select Board Chair Julie Kavanagh added that the board is bound by the legal process. In the March 11 session, the board stood firm on the issuance of the license to Lower Cape Marine.