The City Council did not approved the proposed Inner Harbor Plan at a meeting Jan. 6 because of a disagreement between the Harbor Advisory Committee and Front Street Shipyard over an amendment.

In April 2014, the city hired Camden-based engineering firm Gartley and Dorsky to assess existing conditions and suggest a new mooring layout because of increasing demand for limited space in the Inner Harbor. The firm consulted with harbor stakeholders over the summer and fall and presented its Inner Harbor Improvement plan to the community at a public hearing in November 2014. A second public hearing was held at the City Council meeting Dec. 2.

Harbormaster Katherine Pickering recommended amendments to the plan at a council meeting Dec. 16. One amendment, to designate two floats that had been shipyard floats as city-managed floats, was based on comments at public hearings advising some deep-water moorings be reserved for the city to have available for transient and small commercial users.

Pickering said she chose two floats along the outer turning basin to be city-managed floats because of the deep water at that location and their proximity to the public landing. She also said the shipyard has only seven approved permits, but it was allocated nine floats in the original plan. At the Dec. 16 meeting she said she had not yet consulted with shipyard owner J.B. Turner about the proposed amendment.

At the Jan. 6 meeting, Turner told the council he had concerns about that amendment because two other floats designated as shipyard floats in the plan are unusable, so he was counting on being able to use the two along the outer turning basin. Without those he would have only five usable floats.

He explained that two shipyard floats in a line of four proposed for the edge of the inner turning basin would be in the way of large boats maneuvering to enter travel lifts on the land side of the basin. If a 195-foot boat, the longest that can be hauled in the larger lift, were to attempt to get in position to enter the lift, Turner said, any boats on the two floats at the apex would be at risk.

"If we put anybody's boat on these floats we might as well sue ourselves," he said, "because we're going to get sued."

Harbor Advisory Committee chair Jim Black said at the meeting he was frustrated by Turner's objection.

"As you know, it's a lot of work for a committee to develop a plan," he said. "If we had known the turning basin was a problem [earlier], we could have made that change or we could have done something different. But this is the eleventh hour."

He noted during negotiations over the original plan the shipyard requested the line of floats along the inner turning basin be positioned farther back from the edge of the channel to allow for more maneuvering room, and the committee made that accommodation.

Councilor Eric Sanders said he would like to see more consensus with the plan before approving it, to which Pickering responded: "They're not going to agree. You're never going to have a harbor where everybody is happy, you're just not. At some point we're just going to have to bite the bullet and say this is what it is."

She also noted that "spring is right around the corner," implying that getting a plan approved is important so harbor users can prepare for the season.

Mayor Walter Ash suggested giving Front Street Shipyard the space it needs and then finding deep-water locations for everyone else out of what is left.

"I'm just tickled to death that we're able to have a problem like this in this community, cause that's business," he said. "They've got to have room enough to do their business, that's the bottom line."

Councilor Mary Mortier reminded the council there are smaller businesses that aren't represented in this process who need harbor space as well.

Councilor John Arrison suggested adding a shipyard float in the area along the inner turning basin where the two city floats would be located and designating the northernmost float (currently designated for fishermen) for the shipyard. Those would make up for the two floats the shipyard stands to lose in the proposed amendment, he said.

The council requested the parties meet and work out a solution before the next council meeting.

Pickering also updated the council on progress of the Harbor Advisory Committee regarding other aspects the plan. The committee approved of the other amendments she proposed, including widening shoulders of the channel where it meets the inner turning basin.

The committee reviewed mooring types and recommended using helix moorings — auger-style moorings that screw in to the sea floor — because their low profile makes them ideal for shallow water. Pickering said the moorings are generally flush with the sea floor. They also have a better life expectancy than the type of granite-block moorings commonly used in Belfast Harbor, she said. She estimated the cost would be around $600 for a mooring and $600 for installation.

Pickering said positioning the floats along the channel line needs to be done all at once and with high accuracy. Will Gartley of Gartley and Dorksy will provide an estimate for the work of positioning those floats.

The committee also began its discussion over the definition of commercial users and about the allocation of commercial and rental permits, which will affect who can be on the waiting list for harbor permits. Pickering said the committee planned to continue the discussion at a meeting Jan. 13 and will present their recommendations to the council Jan. 20.