Thompson's Wharf expansion in question after committee vote

By Dan West | Feb 20, 2014

Belfast — The Belfast Harbor Advisory Committee has voted unanimously that the city's plan to expand Thompson's Wharf does not meet the standards set up in its own ordinances.

The committee, which acts as an advisory body, will send a recommendation to the Planning Board that it deny the City's application.

At its regular monthly meeting Feb. 19 the harbor committee held a public hearing on the proposed Thompson's Wharf expansion at which one member of the public spoke. Fisherman Wayne Canning asked whether the expansion would cause the City to move his mooring, which is located on the opposite side of the channel from Thompson's Wharf.

The wharf itself would not expand into the area where Canning is moored; however, the committee agreed, due to the narrowness of the channel at that point and the curve in the channel in front of the wharf, it could potentially cause a dangerous situation for boats navigating the inner harbor.

The proposed rebuild would would push the wharf out to the channel buffer and effectively double the amount of slip space from the existing 400 linear feet to 800 linear feet. It would also add four new slips and would deepen the existing slips.

The committee voted unanimously that the expansion did not meet Section 82-204(A)-4 and -6 of the Shoreland Ordinance that states the facility cannot be larger than is consistent with the existing use and conditions in that area and that it would not impede access to existing mooring and berthing areas.

Committee member David Black spoke against giving the expansion plans a positive recommendation, saying that repairing the current wharf, while keeping the existing footprint, was the better option.

"My biggest concern is it is in the most congested spot in Belfast Harbor," Black said. "This dock is too big for the area and we should not be recommending it."

The committee also found that at least one of the new slips proposed on the plan would not have enough water at low tide to allow a vessel to use it.

The Harbor Committee had approved the plans for Thompson's Wharf last fall, and even recommended an ordinance change at its January meeting that would have expedited approval of the project. However, Chair Jim Black said the plans that had been approved did not show how narrow the channel is in that area — around 65-feet wide.

City Manager Joe Slocum said he was not sure how the City would proceed, as bids for the project were due Feb. 20. Slocum said it may require the City to put the project back out to bid, but that he would need to seek legal counsel on that issue.

Slocum also suggested the committee meet with the City Council so the two groups could discuss how to move forward with the project.

"Somebody has to explain to the City Council why this committee supported this project and then decides it is unacceptable," Slocum said.

The City will not be able to award a contract until it can determine if it must re-bid the project, Slocum said. The Planning Board will consider whether, based on the harbor committee recommendation, it should grant Belfast the necessary permits to construct Thompson's Wharf at its March 12 meeting. The City is also seeking permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

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