Based on information gathered over the past six months, engineers have developed a master plan for Belfast's inner harbor that recommends a new float and mooring layout to maximize space for users.

Will Gartley of Gartley and Dorsky Engineers and Belfast Harbormaster Kathy Pickering presented the proposed new Inner Harbor Master Plan to about 30 people at the Hutchinson Center Nov. 13.

Because of increasing demand for space in Belfast's inner harbor, unique for its currents, freshwater influx from the Passagassawakeag River and limited deepwater areas, the city in April hired the Camden-based engineering firm to assess existing conditions and suggest a new layout.

From tugboat captains to fishermen, yacht yard owners to the city itself, different users of the harbor have different needs — but most require deepwater mooring or docking locations and are concerned about being able to maneuver among a new layout of floats and moorings.

At stakeholder meetings conducted in June, some fishermen said they need six feet of water for their lobster cars, used for storing lobsters, because freshwater from the Passagassawakeag River makes the surface unsuitable for lobster storage. Front Street Shipyard needs deepwater docking options for large boats. Both identified the area adjacent to Belfast Boatyard, where Front Street Shipyard has floats now, as ideal because it is well-protected.

The engineers compiled the stakeholder comments in their Inner Harbor Improvement Project report.

Gartley and Dorsky also surveyed existing conditions and current water depths in the inner harbor, reviewed options for moorings, float types and methods of managing hardware, and studied the inner harbor channel to find the optimum location and width.

Gartley said the goal was to maximize the limited deep water in the inner harbor between the Red Nun 6 channel marker and the Armistice Footbridge. Pickering said the new layout attempts to use space better in the inner harbor without making current users move too much, and emphasized that input is necessary at this time.

City Planner Wayne Marshall said the layout includes more mooring spaces than are currently used to allow for future growth. City Manager Joe Slocum said the goal is to have a plan approved by the end of the year so that people will know what to expect as they prepare for spring.

Gartley explained the biggest change in the plan is a proposal to add shared moored floats in the area from the footbridge to the outer turning basin, to allow for up to 50 vessels. With the current layout that uses single-point moorings, only 12 boats can be accommodated in the area. Different sections of proposed new floats are designated either for fishermen or for Front Street Shipyard.

The floats would be set up in a series, sharing moorings between them, and two boats could be tied to each float, Gartley said. The float owners would be responsible for moorings and equipment.

To the northeast, beyond the proposed floats where mean low-tide depths are only four to five feet, double-point moorings or small floats could be added for small boats. Gartley suggested using the area upstream of the footbridge for additional moorings or temporary moorings for storm events, because there is 10-foot-deep water at low tide in the area.

The area from the outer turning basin to the outer harbor would be designated for single-point moorings for fishermen, with the layout reorganized to allow for three to four more moorings than are there at present. The plan indicates six existing moorings would have to be moved.

The engineers also suggest smoothing out a sharp point in the channel, and limiting the width to 170 feet toward the outer harbor where it currently expands to 200 feet. Gartley said Red Nun 6 channel marker could be moved (by the U.S. Coast Guard) to the north edge of the channel  because it is in the wrong location and does not mark the edge of the channel as it should, a safety concern for visitors unfamiliar with the harbor. The edge of the channel throughout the inner harbor would be clearly delineated by the position of floats, he said.

Stakeholder response

The added expense of setting up to new moorings and floats could be great for fishermen. Fisherman and harbor committee member Jim Black asked Gartley if he had done a cost estimate on the floats that people are going to be required to buy and set up; Gartley responded he had not. Fisherman T.J. Faulkingham said for the proposed float moorings there would be miles of chain underwater, and more chance of breakage. He estimated setup would cost $10,000 to do it yourself.

Newly elected Councilor John Arrison questioned whether a line on the plan marking six-foot depth indicates mean low water or low low water. Gartley said it was mean low water. Arrison said there is a big difference between the two and that could affect lobster cars and floats. A glance at tide charts for the area shows that low tide can be up to 1.8 feet below mean low water depths.

Faulkingham also questioned the method of determining depth along the six-foot line, saying that measuring by a marked pipe has shown shallower depths. Gartley said they, too, had used a marked pole to verify the bathymetric measurements. Faulkingham disagreed with listed depths in other areas as well.

Faulkingham was concerned about fishermen sharing floats and moorings, and therefore access to all their equipment.

Gartley said float sharing won't need to happen right away, but added it does happen in a lot of different harbors and people are able to get along sharing floats.

J.B. Turner, owner of Front Street Shipyard, said he'd like to see a 25-foot setback maintained around the outer turning basin, where the plan had floats proposed, so 150-foot boats can maneuver there safely.

Faulkingham said he thought 30 feet between floats was too tight, and that it would take a great deal of skill to pass a boat through there when the tide is running.

"On that paper it looks good, but set it up down there and it's like putting 20 pounds of stuff in a 10 pound bag," he said. "It's gonna be tight."

Slocum said if it looks too tight, it would not be full right away, and boats would not need to navigate between floats.

Faulkingham also expressed concern about tugboat prop wash, which silts up areas to the east, where fishermen's moorings are located. Combined with silt coming off the river, silting from the tugboats makes the area rougher and rougher each year.  Damage could occur in storms for boats tied to floats rather than single-point moorings in rough areas. He said that pulling boats out of the water in advance of storms is expensive and disruptive if they can't get them back in the water right away.

"If you're not on a single-point mooring, your boat's taking hell," he said.

John Worth, owner of the tugboats, agreed that boats on floats can "take a beating." He said the tugs have been in the harbor since 1920, and are in the safest place for them to be kept. He said he worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the channel past the Red Nun about 15 years ago, and recommended a dredging plan for the inner harbor to make more room.

"It's going to get shallower and shallower and shallower," Worth said. "And we're going to be fighting over smaller and smaller increments of the harbor as we go forward."

Fisherman Dave Black agreed that dredging is necessary, saying, "Dredge baby, dredge!" He also advocated for installing an inner harbor wave attenuator.

Steve White, a partner at Front Street Shipyard, suggested the city hold a meeting with fishermen and let them choose their new mooring or float locations from what is available.

Dave Miller agreed. "Everyone wants deep water, access, and protection," he said. "I'd like to see Steve's idea get tried."

A public hearing on the Inner Harbor Plan will be held at the City Council meeting Dec. 2.