Town backs Cabral Pier parking & mooring
|Photos Mary Ann Bragg
Vaughn Cabral win town support from the Board of Selectmen in their case before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
By Pru Sowers
PROVINCETOWN — The Board of Selectmen here voted Monday to support the Cabral family in its efforts to continue operating a parking lot and moor the barge Provincia at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Robert Cabral and his son Vaughn, part owners of the wharf, have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to continue operating an unlicensed 200-car parking lot on the deck, as well as permanently moor the Provincia on the west side of the pier. As part of that process, the Army Corps asked for public comments on whether a permit should be granted.
The Cabrals had earlier asked the selectmen to write a letter of support to the Army Corps and Monday’s public hearing was an effort by the selectmen to gauge town opinion on the matter. The issues have been both practical and emotional, as denial of the permit would result in a significant loss of revenue for the pier owners at a time when they are trying to sell the wharf, plus eliminate 200 downtown parking spaces that the town badly needs in the summer.
Like the Provincetown Harbor Committee, which was also asked for support by the Cabrals, the selectmen split emotionally. However, the board voted to support both measures. A motion to support the parking lot passed unanimously. The motion to support the permanent mooring of the Provincia, however, passed by a 3-1 vote with one abstention when Selectmen David Nicolau said, “I just can’t make up my mind.”
Nicolau and Selectman Sarah Peake were both concerned about whether the selectmen could dictate where the Provincia was moored, since it is tied up at a private dock.
“I think this is outside the realm of our jurisdiction. I feel this is a personal property issue,” Peake said.
Selectman Michele Couture said that the town should support the permanent mooring of the Provincia because of the possible benefits of using the barge for community activities.
“One of them was for breeding lobsters, a form of aquaculture. There’s good potential there for all sorts of things,” she said.
The issue of supporting parking on the pier was a slam dunk for selectmen. They agreed that the loss of 200 parking spaces would have a negative impact on local tourism. However, the selectmen also agreed that they could only support continued parking as long as it is consistent with all environmental regulations and concerns.
The Cabrals have never had a permit for the parking lot, which has gone unregulated for approximately the past 20 years. One of the concerns the Harbor Committee had was that there is no drainage built into the deck and, as a result, any gas spills from cars would drain into the harbor.
Despite support from the selectmen, the Army Corps could still deny the permit request. Dave Keddell, Army Corps project manager for the Fisherman’s Wharf, said that the agency has received between 60 and 70 comments from town locals so far. The public comment period ends on Aug. 26.
Of those comments, approximately 50 were a form letter in support of the Cabrals, Keddell said.
“They have the same date, the same words, the same misspelled words. They have different signatures but none have any return addresses,” he said.
Keddell added that he has also received a handful of letters arguing against granting the permits.
“Some people are into enforcement and just want to see people punished,” he said.
Of all the comments received so far, Keddell said that a handful raise legitimate issues.
“I’ve got about five or six with valid concerns. Those [concerns] will have to be responded to,” he said.
The Cabrals will have 30 days after the public comment period to respond to issues that the Army Corps considers valid. After those 30 days, the Corps will then have another month to make its decision.
A large contingent of residents and Fisherman’s Wharf employees turned out Monday night at the public hearing to show their support for the Cabrals.
“This Board of Selectmen should be proud of [Robert Cabral] and what he’s accomplished. I don’t think Provincetown can afford to lose this facility. This board cannot overlook what the marina contributes,” said Kenneth Dutra, who has moored his boat at Fisherman’s Wharf for the past 34 summers.
“As a business owner, we can’t survive without 200 parking spaces in town,” said Tim McNulty of the Lobster Pot restaurant, which does not have parking for its customers.
Alice Brock, a member of the Harbor Committee who voted against supporting both parking and the Provincia, spoke as a private citizen at the hearing. Her primary concern, she said, was that the Cabrals never received a permit for the parking lot and shouldn’t be grandfathered simply because parking has been available for the past 20 years.
“If, in fact, there isn’t a valid permit for the parking, then it’s illegal. It doesn’t matter when you’re caught, it’s still illegal,” Brock said.
Robert Cabral complained that Brock was spewing “bags of poison.”
“She should be arrested for a hate crime,” he said.
Cabral added that the town has insulted and humiliated his family because of insinuations that he has been operating an illegal parking lot on the wharf. He promised that if the selectmen did not support him, he would close the lot in the spring and fall and limit parking in the summer to people who have business on the wharf.
“We will shut it off because it simply doesn’t pay. You talk about [extending tourism into] the shoulder season. We will definitely close it in the shoulder season. We have no choice,” Cabral said.
Vaughn Cabral said that Fisherman’s Wharf has never needed a permit for parking from the town because it extends out past the high water mark into state waters. He argued that the wharf has always been allowed to operate a parking lot on the deck because no agency has ever told them that they couldn’t.
“Not one of our permits since 1917 has said that you can’t park cars on that wharf,” he said.
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