Belfast has $200,000 to build a new commercial fishermen’s dock, but according to city officials, legal issues must be resolved before the project can move forward. Meanwhile, the city’s fishermen are starting another season without what some say is a long-overdue improvement to their working conditions.

The $200,000 dates to an agreement between the city and the owners of the former Stinson Seafood property. According to City Planner Wayne Marshall, the ownership group Belfast Bridge LLC, agreed to a number of “performance guarantees” in 2005 as part of a contract rezoning of the waterfront property, on which the developers hoped to construct a condo, retail and marina complex called Wakeag Landing.

One of the performance guarantees required the developer to build a segment of what is now referred to as the “coastal walkway” — a pedestrian and bicycle path proposed to stretch from the footbridge to Steamboat Landing — and to make improvements to Front Street. The guarantee was backed by an irrevocable letter of credit through Machias Savings Bank.

Another provision of the rezoning agreement required the developer to provide temporary mooring facilities to the five mooring owners displaced during construction of the marina, Mashall said.

Wakeag Landing was abandoned in 2006. At the time, the developers had set pilings in the harbor for the commercial fishermen’s dock, but the dock remained unfinished. In December 2008 Machias Savings Bank notified the city that it did not plan to renew the letter of credit, at which point the city successfully requested payment on the letter.

Several months earlier, the City Council had approved a rezoning amendment that shifted the performance guarantee from the walkway and Front Street improvements to the construction of a commercial fishermen’s dock. However, Marshall said, Belfast Bridge LLC never signed the amended contract, leaving the city uncertain as to how the newly claimed money could be spent.

City attorney William Kelly declined to comment about the status of the money.

Among fishermen, there is skepticism about the future of the dock.

Jim Black, a lobsterman who also serves on the city’s harbor committee, said he believed the city planning office — a strong proponent of the coastal walkway — had stood in the way of the construction of the commercial fishermen’s dock, though he did not claim to know why.

“All they need to do is reach into the pocket, pull out the money, hire a contractor and build it,” he said. “We can’t get any commitment as to what’s going to happen and when.”

Currently, the city’s lobstermen must share a single utility dock at the public landing at the foot of Main Street. Black said it’s possible to get three boats around the lone dock, provided the fishermen work well together, which, according to Black, they mostly do.

Lobsterman Mike Dassatt painted a bleaker picture of the day-to-day logistics of fishing out of Belfast Harbor.

“Since 1990 we’ve been trying to get this seen to,” he said, “but there are people who just don’t want it.”

Dassatt said the work of commercial fishermen doesn’t coexist easily with the recreational boating and tourist scenes. Over the last 20 years, he estimated that the number of fishermen had increased threefold, while new waterfront restaurants and bars have opened up, creating competition for use of the streets and parking spaces at the foot of Main Street.

And with more fishermen sharing a single float at the public landing, the water is no less crowded, he said.

Sheila Dassatt, Mike Dassatt’s wife and executive director of the Down East Lobsterman’s Association, said the addition of a commercial fishermen’s dock away from the crowds at the public landing would make loading and unloading traps safer, and remove the smell of bait from the tourist areas. The move would also benefit the fishermen, who would have to steer clear of and field questions from fewer curious onlookers.

“They think, ‘How quaint,’ which is fine. I like talking to the tourists. But there’s work beyond the quaintness that they don’t realize,” she said.

She gave the docks in Lincolnville and Stonington — stationary wharves with hoists for loading and unloading equipment — as examples of the type that would benefit Belfast fishermen.

That a dock seems no closer to a reality than it did several years ago, coupled with the city’s apparent willingness to spend money on a recreational public walkway in the same vicinity has irked some fishermen. The issue is made more complex by the fact that the $200,000 letter of credit was originally earmarked to build a section of the coastal walkway, a project that Mike Dassatt said would only make sense if there were a tourist draw at the north end of the harbor.

Given the interest that he’s seen from tourists, Dassatt said the commercial docks could be just such an attraction.

“I can almost agree with the walkway,” he said. “But if they’re going up that way, that’s what [the tourists] are going up there for [to see the fishermen]. They’re not going up there to walk across the $3 million footbridge.”

Marshall said the city still hoped to build the dock and marine lift as they appeared in the Wakeag Landing plans, but added that the city was uncomfortable spending the money from the letter of credit, because it made representations to Machias Savings Bank that the money was to be spent on the walkway and Front Street improvements.

“We’re clearly taking extra precautions,” he said, “because we don’t want it to become a challengeable action.”