At a meeting Dec. 2, the City Council tentatively approved an Inner Harbor layout plan that allocates areas of the limited deep water in the harbor to different stakeholder groups.

After the meeting, City Manager Joe Slocum said the council took the matter up Dec. 2 as a first reading, and will reconsider the plan at the Dec. 16 meeting. He said it would be a "monumental achievement" for the council to adopt a plan.

"The reality is the harbor has never been as busy," he said. "More and more people want space in the harbor, and often they want the same space."

He said without a council-approved plan in place to guide Harbormaster Kathy Pickering in assigning mooring locations in the well-protected inner harbor between the Armistice Footbridge to the Red Nun 6 channel marker, anyone could accuse her of assigning spaces arbitrarily or unfairly.

Pickering said she would prefer the council make the decision about what areas are for which stakeholder groups than to be in the position of having to make that call herself. “These are public waters, and for the city to approve this plan would be the first step to make things better, ” she said.

There are currently 17 stakeholders who own 30 moorings in the inner harbor. Slocum said Front Street Shipyard has brought more boat traffic to the harbor over the past few years and this has increased competition for space. The shipyard is a major taxpayer and employer in the city, so it must be accommodated, he said, but a balance must be struck so fishermen and other important stakeholders have the space they need as well.

The plan proposed by Camden-based engineering firm Gartley and Dorsky was presented to stakeholders at the Hutchinson Center Nov. 13. It increases the number of boats that could be moored in the inner harbor from 12 to 50, by replacing single-point moorings in most areas with floats that could be shared as demand increases.

Will Gartley spoke Dec. 2 and responded to questions about the accuracy of the plan's depth data. He said he was confident the data obtained through a bathymetric survey is accurate, as is the line representing six-foot mean low water on the layout plan map. He explained that the mean low water is calculated from tidal data over 19 years and represents an average of the low water heights over that time, not the lowest water the location could see. Water depth can fluctuate by a foot an a half from mean low water on any given day, he said.

During the public hearing and public comment period, four people spoke about the plan. Fisherman David Black said dredging and putting in a breakwater is necessary. He urged the council to ensure that people who currently work in the harbor and whose moorings will be displaced by the plan will have new acceptable mooring locations for their boats.

Capt. Jon Fingers of Rockland spoke about potentially setting up a new charter business with a 96-foot boat called Timberwind and wanted to know if there would be space for his boat in the harbor. Jim Black noted other vendors who would like to do business in the harbor have not come forward during the feedback process and space would need to be made for them. Fisherman Wayne Canning recommended a limited dredge along the plan's six-foot mean low water line which he said can be anywhere from four to six feet deep.

The harbor advisory committee endorsed the plan but also raised some concerns, and  Pickering provided the council with comments on slight changes she would make to the plan as well. Both agreed that water depth is not adequate in northeasterly areas for some proposed floats and that dredging and a wave attenuator or breakwater would be beneficial. They were concerned that not all those who would like to use the harbor for commercial purposes had provided feedback and that there was not space reserved for other commercial users.

The harbor committee recommended the city contribute toward the cost of floats, which J.B. Turner of Front Street Shipyard said cost $4,000 to build, not including mooring gear and installation. Councilor Michael Hurley suggested a two-tier harbor fee, one fee for people who incur the costs of building and mooring their own floats, and a higher fee for those who use floats that were paid for by the city.

During public comment, Canning suggested the city pay half the cost of the floats, which could be reimbursed over time. He also suggested saving some areas of deep water for the city to rent out to bring in revenue.

Councilor Neal Harkness said, “We're talking about doubling rental income for the city, going from 30 to 60 permits. I am uncomfortable with fishermen footing the bill [for the floats] and putting the economic onus on existing permit owners.”

Pickering responded that the permits only bring in a small amount of money for the city. They are $60 or $120 each.

Several councilors agreed the plan should be implemented in stages. Pickering said they would do as much as they could do in stages, taking care of the people who are currently using the harbor first, then those on the wait list, and then others.

Councilor Eric Sanders asked about the feasibility of dredging. Pickering said it would be very expensive to do, and if the city were to seek funding from the Army Corps of Engineers, the need must be justified. She said the soonest a dredge could take place would be five years. Gartley said the dredge materials would need to be tested for contamination, and a suitable dump site found. He said there is a rapid change in depth between the channel to the six-foot line and dredging that small area would be beneficial.

Regarding earlier comments on potential damage to boats tied to floats during storms or extreme low tides, Councilor John Arrison suggested consulting with the city's insurance company or marine insurance companies for guidance.

Pickering told the council they hoped to have a plan approved by the end of the year so stakeholders could prepare for the spring. In particular, Front Street Shipyard would like to send out contracts for seasonal float rentals in January.

Hurley said: “There's no reason to delay starting down this road. People need answers. It is a working plan, and it works for me.”

“I don't think it stinks,” said Sanders, prompting laughs from Gartley and the audience.

The council tentatively approved the layout plan for inner harbor with direction to the harbor committee to research questions raised and report back to the council.

Slocum said after the meeting he was happy with the comments and public discussion.

"We are starting to form a consensus, but we are not there yet," he said. "Basically we will implement the plan in stages, and revisit it after each stage to check how we are doing."

Harbor fee increases, charter boat approvals

The council also approved new harbor usage fees for 2015 as proposed by the harbor committee. Several fees have been slightly increased because of the length of time since the last increase. Individual mooring permit fees will increase from $60 to $70. Occasional-use charter vessel contracts will increase from $100 to $200 per season. Tender tie-up fees will increase from $60 to $75 on land, and from $100 to $200 on city docks. Winter slip rental fees on Thompson's Wharf will increase from $4 to $5 per foot per month. Private launching fees will increase from $4 to $5 per launch or $25 per season, for those who do not pay boat excise taxes to Belfast. Trash fees will increase from $2.50 to $5 per bag, and shore power will increase from $2 to $3 for 15 amps, from $5 to $10 for 30 amps and from $10 to $15 for 50 amps.  Shower fees will increase from $2 to $3 per shower.

The council approved contracts with charter vessels Miss Nina, a 61-foot motor sail boat of Coast to Island Charter; a 28-foot lobster style vessel owned by Belfast Bay Company LLC; and 72-foot schooner Bonnie Lynn of Bonnie Lynn Charters. The harbormaster will discuss with Fingers and Lance Meadows about where their vessel Timberwind might be accommodated.