Two commercial bay scallopers in Aquinnah are facing punishment for fishing without a permit in November. Selectmen voted at their Dec. 14 meeting to fine George Baird $200 for scalloping two days on Menemsha Pond without a license, but referred a complaint against Wilde Whitcomb to town counsel.

Mr. Baird said he did not have the money to apply for the $200 license until after he collected on his harvest, but the check is now in the hands of the town treasurer. He noted town shellfish warden Brian (Chip) Vanderhoop only told him the license was necessary a week after the reported incident. The shellfish committee recommended revoking Mr. Baird’s license for six months; however the selectmen found the punishment was too harsh.

“Should this happen again, and as long as I’m here, we will follow the rules and terms,” selectman Jim Newman said of the fine Mr. Baird has to pay within 60 days. “Please don’t let it happen again, because we are here to try and help you but at the same time we have to uphold rules and regulations and that’s the bottom line.”

The shellfish committee also recommended revoking Mr. Whitcomb’s license for at least one year because he was not a resident of Aquinnah. Mr. Whitcomb argued he is a town taxpayer and registered voter but was not able to obtain housing in Aquinnah.

“I feel as though I have been unfairly singled out and this action has adversely affected my livelihood,” Mr. Whitcomb said. “I have paid the town for permits, I don’t want a refund; I would like to earn my quota of scallops for the season.”

The question lies in the determination of what a continued residence consists of, and Mr. Newman moved to have town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport write a legal opinion on the matter.

“We’re quite sympathetic with the situation that it’s very difficult to find rental housing in town,” selectman Camille Rose said. “I signed his application because I regarded Wilde as a continued resident of the town.”Mr. Whitcomb has permission to continue scalloping until Mr. Rappaport comes back with a final clarification.

In other news, Ms. Rose voiced concern over unfair equitable assessments in shared costs between the three up-Island towns at a Dec. 7 meeting.

“It just really isn’t fair that we’re paying that much more than the same services for other towns,” Ms. Rose said in reference to splitting the bills evenly as opposed to an equalized valuation formula. “We really need to determine a policy where we ask people who are responsible for voting on these budgets to tell these organizations that they need to have a new formula.”

Ms. Rose said one unfair bill was for the Comcast lawyer who was hired by all six towns to negotiate a new contract for the Island, arguing there weren’t as many cable users in Aquinnah as there were in down-Island towns.

“We are the poorest town, it is not fair we’re subsidizing the people in Edgartown or West Tisbury,” she said. “This is the last time it’s going to be an equal shared assessment as opposed to equalized valuation.”

“I think it’s something you need to negotiate, you can’t just say you’re not going to pay,” Mr. Newman said.

“We can’t keep paying these things,” Ms. Rose said. “I think it’s responsible for people who are negotiating these agreements. We need to have a new way of doing this.”

The selectmen also approved next year’s tax rate at $3.86 per one thousand, an increase of seven cents over this year’s rate.

by Remy Tumin