The city council approved an inner harbor mooring layout plan Jan. 20 after a compromise was struck between Front Street Shipyard and the Harbor Advisory Committee over a disputed amendment.

The council, hesitant to permanently limit the shipyard to the number of floats currently allocated to it, also amended the plan to include a yearly review with the shipyard.

A harbormaster's responsibility

The harbormaster must keep track of the federal, state and municipal laws governing public waters, in that priority. "All lines of delegated authority converge on them," says a harbormaster handbook from the State of Maine Harbormasters Association. It states the primary federal concern is to keep waters open to commerce, and for that reason The Army Corps of engineers requires that all navigation channels are free of obstruction. Maine's Department of Environmental Protection regulates environmental issues and the state's Bureau of Public Lands regulates the erection of structures on submerged lands. But since moorings are exempt from federal and state permitting procedures, their management falls on local municipalities.

After a judge ruled in a Freeport court case in the '80s that harbormasters have the sole authority to assign moorings and local governments could not enact ordinances, appeals process or a harbor committee to advise the harbormaster, legislation was enacted which gave municipalities those powers. Section 7 of Chapter 38 of Maine statute gives municipalities the authority to develop a process to assign mooring privileges, set mooring locations, construction standards and fees, and establish committees to oversee the duties of the harbormaster and a process to appeal a harbormaster's decisions.

Due to increased demand for limited space in the inner harbor, the city hired Camden-based engineering firm Gartley and Dorsky in April 2014 to develop an Inner Harbor Improvement Plan with a new layout of moorings. The plan presented in November 2014 was based on assessment of existing conditions in the inner harbor and consultation with harbor stakeholders. The new layout using moored floats would allow for 50 vessels between the area of the outer turning basin and the Armistice Footbridge where there are currently only 12 moorings.

Based on comments made in two public hearings on the proposed plan, Harbormaster Kathy Pickering proposed an amendment at the Dec. 16, 2014, council meeting designating two floats — originally shipyard floats — as city floats to be made available to transient users and small businesses needing harbor space. At the following meeting, Jan. 6, Front Street Shipyard owner J.B. Turner told the council the amendment would leave him with only five floats because another two shipyard floats in the plan were unusable due to their proximity to travel lifts which large boats would be entering. The shipyard has seven approved mooring permits for the inner harbor.

Pickering told the council Jan. 20 she recently met with the Harbor Advisory Committee and the shipyard to work out a compromise. The committee proposed keeping Pickering’s amendment and moving the shipyard floats that were unusable to a line of floats — designated for “fishermen and others” in the plan — at the north of the harbor, near the footbridge.

Turner requested that instead, one of the unusable floats be moved to where the committee suggested and the other be added as a third float in the line of proposed city floats along the outer turning basin. Pickering did not agree to Turner’s request because it would bring the floats too close to the swinging radius of adjacent moored boats. Furthermore, she said she wanted to maintain a gap there to allow for navigation between outer harbor and the city channel.

The Harbor Advisory Committee ultimately recommended keeping Pickering’s amendment and moving the two unusable shipyard floats along the inner turning basin to the northern line of floats near the footbridge, its original proposal.

Councilor John Arrison said he was at the committee meeting and got the impression the recommendation was a “generally accepted compromise, even if not perfect.” Councilor Eric Sanders asked Turner, who was in the audience, if he was satisfied with the plan and he appeared to find it acceptable but not ideal.

Though the mooring layout plan shows the floats in the area where the shipyard floats would be moved as slightly smaller than the ones at the inner turning basin, Pickering said in an email there is no reason they can not be the same size.

Having city-managed floats available for small business owners would be important, Pickering told the council, because she anticipated businesses needing to use the two city floats right away this season and the inner harbor would be getting even busier as the economy stabilizes and more people purchase boats.

Councilor Mike Hurley said, “I like this plan and the flexibility it allows for. I like that those are city floats. But if the shipyard gets to a point where they need more space, I’d like to hear that too.”

Councilor Mary Mortier proposed an amendment to include an annual review of the plan with Front Street Shipyard. She suggested it take place in the fall so the shipyard's plans for spring work would not be delayed by uncertainty regarding possible changes in the harbor plan.

Toward the end of the council's discussion, concerns were raised about limiting the shipyard's ability to do business in the inner harbor and to grow. Councilors noted the shipyard had brought a lot of jobs and new business to the city.

Pickering responded to the concern about stifling the shipyard's growth by saying she has to manage the public waters for everyone using the harbor and the money Front Street Shipyard is making there can not factor into her equation.

“I understand that, and I also understand that people have to work within the community,” Mayor Walter Ash said. “People are getting paychecks every week down there and there will be more to come. There’s growth in the area and I don’t want to stifle it.”

He said any other permit holders in the inner harbor can be moved to areas with deep water further south. Though not as protected, he said during the season when the businesses and fishermen would be using moorings there, the weather is generally not an issue.

Sanders expressed concern the Harbor Advisory Committee might not be working as well with the shipyard as the city has been able to in its partnership in the Harbor Walk project, and urged that the shipyard be included in the committee’s discussions.

The council unanimously approved the Inner Harbor Improvement Plan with the recommended amendments by the Harbor Advisory Committee, and with an amendment that it be reviewed annually with Front Street Shipyard. The layout plan will be redrawn to reflect the changes and added to the city's ordinances.

Commercial user definitions

The council also approved ordinance amendments recommended by the Harbor Advisory Committee to provide definitions for resident and non-residential commercial businesses, non-resident commercial fishermen and non-resident commercial businesses.

Pickering said the ordinance had established priority for commercial use in the inner harbor by individual, vessel and mooring, but was inconsistent. Creating definitions of commercial use would help her determine who can be issued commercial permits and be added to the waiting list, she said.

"Ten years ago in the inner harbor there was no demand to speak of," she said, so it wasn't as important to have clear definitions.

She said the definitions separate fishermen and commercial users, and defines commercial uses, divided into residential and non-residential, as water-dependent uses that need to be on the water and need to have moorings. Definitions have also been added for shorefront uses and other commercial uses.

The harbor committee will also meet Feb. 11 to discuss allocation of permits and determine whether renting moorings out for the season would be considered commercial activity. The council had designated the harbor a commercial harbor, so individuals can not own moorings for private recreational vessels in the inner harbor. Regardless of the committee's decision, for the current season, Front Street Shipyard will be allowed to rent out its moorings to recreational users when they are not in use for servicing boats.