At a meeting Dec. 16, the City Council discussed recommended amendments to the proposed Inner Harbor Improvement Plan and was updated on questions the council had had raised about the plan.

A number of clarifications and alterations to the plan were suggested by Harbormaster Kathy Pickering after public input had been gathered though meetings and hearings. First, she suggested all current permit holders should be relocated "in the best manner possible" and should be in place before new permits are issued. Next, those on the wait list would have the first opportunity to be issued new permits.

She suggested two floats in an area along the outer turning basin, previously designated for Front Street Shipyard, should be city floats instead. During public hearings it had been suggested that some floats in deep water be reserved for the city to be available for local marine businesses or transient visitors. The floats Pickering chose provide good access to the city landing.

Furthermore, Pickering said seven permits have been approved for Front Street Shipyard, and while those can be transferred to new locations, state law prevents her from issuing additional shipyard permits while there is a wait list. With the transfer of FSS permits to new floats closer to the shipyard, FSS would need new permits to continue using the floats near the outer turning basin.

Councilor John Arrison said he was fully supportive of that change. He suggested that with the city owning those floats, that small area could be considered an extension of the federal navigation area in the outer harbor, and as such could be included in a dredging project.

Councilor Mike Hurley asked if there should be standardized specifications set for float construction. Pickering said there should be minimum standards set, including the size of the above-water deck of the floats, but that the anchoring system for the floats still needs to be discussed. The granite blocks currently used to anchor floats would not be usable in shallow water because they would be a navigation hazard.

Pickering said the floats along the edge of the channel should all be placed at the same time to ensure proper spacing is maintained between them. A GPS device that is accurate enough for the task must be obtained.

Slocum asked if building and placing floats and moorings could be completed by spring without the city having to build any. Pickering said yes, that Front Street Shipyard and four fishermen would be able to build and install floats along the length of the channel by spring.

Floats, dredging questions answered

In the public hearings, commenters suggested the city consult with marine insurance providers regarding the potential for damage to boats tied to floats in storms or by vessels navigating between them. City Manager Joe Slocum said no liability would be incurred by the city if it adopts the proposed Inner Harbor Plan; nor would individual insurance policies of boat owners be affected by the use of floats, according to conversations he had with the city attorney and a local marine insurance salesman. Because a competent professional designed the float plan and because the captain is ultimately responsible for the navigation of the boat, the salesman told him, no additional liability would be incurred.

Pickering presented her findings on how to proceed if the city chooses to dredge the inner harbor. She said the city manager must first submit a dredge request to the Army Corps of Engineers. There are large initial costs for obtaining permits, for studies of the material to be dredged, and for determining a permissible dumping site. A permit is good for five years and maintenance dredges can be done beyond those five years. She said the process would take at least five years, but more likely 10 years, to complete.

Slocum asked Pickering to explain a "serious consequence" of accepting Army Corps funding for a dredge. She said that dredge areas would be designated a federal navigation project, with associated regulations including a ban on commercial rental or service moorings and on structures including moored floats unless they are city-owned.

Slocum said the Army Corps of Engineers informed the city that rental moorings in the outer harbor, which is a federal navigation area, that have been used by Belmont Boat Yard and subsequently Front Street Shipyard, are unlawful and must not be used after 2014.

Councilors said they would like more information on whether it would be possible to do the dredging without Army Corps funding, and what it would cost. Pickering said she estimates that dredging between the 6-foot low water line and 12-foot low water line for the length of the channel would require moving 17,000 to 18,000 cubic yards of material. If dredging is pursued, she said a dedicated staff person would be needed to stay on top of the permitting process and coordination.

The council expects to hear recommendations from the Harbor Committee at its Jan. 6, 2015, meeting.

"Then we hope to get a green light to start implementing some of this,"  Slocum said.

Pickering said in an email that the harbor committee approved her proposed alterations at its meeting Dec. 17. The committee also discussed anchoring systems, commercial user definitions, rental and service moorings, and dredging.