PROVINCETOWN — The select board has appointed the owner of a fishing business and a former town administrator now living in Provincetown to the board of the Public Pier Corp., which manages MacMillan Pier. There were seven candidates.
The board’s unanimous choices were Beau Gribbin, owner of High Pressure Fisheries, who will serve until July 29, 2022, and David Colton, who has decades of municipal experience as town administrator in Easton and Milton as well as Quincy commissioner of public works. Colton’s term goes to July 29, 2025.
The new members must deal with the public outcry over hikes in dockage fees for most pier users. The increases were approved by the Pier Corp. board on Feb. 15. Since then, boat owners and the Provincetown and the Truro select boards have criticized the Pier Corp. for adding financial burdens during a pandemic.
But the fees were raised because of the dire condition of the pier, which was rebuilt 20 years ago with a federal grant but has badly deteriorated.
This year, the draft warrant for the town meeting includes $530,000 in requests to taxpayers to support wharf improvements, said Scott Fraser, a Pier Corp. member. Fees to users bring in only about $400,000 annually, Fraser said.
If Provincetown taxpayers are putting in that much, then the users themselves must also step up, he said. According to the 2015 memorandum of understanding between the town and the Pier Corp., “Taxpayers of the town should be called upon to fund routine operations and maintenance of the pier only as a last resort.”
The loud protests about the higher fees opened a can of worms about the condition of the pier and its management.
In an attempt to insulate the pier from politics, the town leases the wharf to the Pier Corp. board of directors, who are appointed by the select board. The Pier Corp. is tasked with running the pier. It strives to “ensure that the pier is economically self-sufficient and that those entities that operate for-profit businesses on the pier pay their full and fair share of the operations and maintenance,” according to the memorandum of understanding.
Robert Davis, one of the candidates for the Pier Corp. board, said the management structure is “not functional.” Davis, whose business experience involves the restructuring of resorts and hotels during real estate transactions, said a more straightforward system of cash flow and expenses would be better.
Other candidates had less specific ideas, but Fraser said the caliber of all seven impressed him.
“It’s really heartening to see people who are committed to coming on the board during this difficult time,” he said.
The Pier Corp. board lost two members due to term limits, Ginny Binder and Carlos Verde. Fraser’s term is up in July.
Fraser told the Independent that Gribbin “is one of our critics, but he is a really smart experienced guy, and he’s one of the largest operators on the pier and with a great depth of understanding.”
“His relationships will really be important,” said select board member Lise King.
As for Colton, with his municipal experience, he will build the Pier Corp.’s credibility with town government, Fraser predicted.
While many people urged the Pier Corp. to postpone fee hikes for a year or two, Colton suggested, in his interview, a cooling-off period of two or three months and the creation of a user-group advisory board.
“I have the utmost respect for anyone who serves on a town board and I’d never second-guess the decisions that they made — I was not in the room,” Colton told the select board. “But I do think that a reset is in order. I think we need to lower the temperature and freeze rates for 60 to 90 days to do a review of the capital planning.”
Fraser said the Pier Corp. is in fact discussing a postponement of the rate increases at their board meetings. The next is set for Thursday, March 25 at 2 p.m.
The other candidates who applied for the Pier Corp. board were Max Cliggott-Perlt of Provincetown, Clinton Kershaw of Truro, Eastham lobsterman David Young, Mass. Maritime Academy student Caitlin Townsend of Truro, and Barbara Dyett, who lives in New Jersey and Provincetown.