Many, many more organized public conversations to follow

Rumors busted, sparks fade at Rockland harbor redesign presentation

Posted:  Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 9:45am
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ROCKLAND – It all comes down to this: When Yachting Solutions finally obtained grant money to fund the expansion project they’d been approved for in 2008, they offered the City a chance to add their infrastructure wish list to the blueprint. The grant approval came from a federally-funded boat-use program with a funding source from a tax on marine fuel, but only if the project was directly related to transient boating.

YS’s primary project focus, the expansion of docking slips jutting off of their current pier, meets the criteria. Everything else, including the desired wave attenuator, the expansion of the boardwalk pedestrian trail, and the relocations of the Harbor Master’s Office, the dinghy dock, and the south channel, are in concept mode only. 

“Let’s be clear,” Mayor Valli Geiger said: “Rockland has no money for what else can happen. This is an idea. There will be many conversations about what happens to the public landing and Buoy Park. None of that is changing without our city agreeing to what it ought to look like for our citizens.”

Rockland residents and harbor users packed into City Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 14, highly charged and ready to fight a redesign proposal by Yachting Solutions before details could even be addressed. One by one, they filed to the podium to tell Bill Morong, Jr., of YS how the city of Rockland “clearly doesn’t want this,” as one citizen stated.

Some aimed at the preservation of the community and the environment for future generations. Some worried about a further limitation to public access. Many worried about the view. Nancy Fitzgerald wanted to know why Yachting Solutions didn’t try expanding its marina in Owls Head, Camden, or Rockport instead.

Others looked to Council to keep the harbor from becoming a “playground for the wealthy.”

In the midst of accusations, Mayor Valli Geiger urged the audience to listen to the presentation, and eventually, despite some ongoing applauding and loud comments still in opposition, the residents’ defiance started to fade. Many of the rumors and facts that YS was accused of ended up being inaccurate, starting with many of the blueprint details assumed to be part of the immediate project proposal.

In fact, one initially defiant audience member turned around and asked the rest of the audience, should the sole redesign by the BIG-funded area, could the audience live with that? About a third of the audience raised their hands as a yes answer.

Ten years ago, YS attained approval by the Boating Infrastructure Grant program to expand the dock slips off of their pier in Rockland, according to Morong, a fifth generation Midcoaster. BIG is a federally-funded program used for boat-use only, he said. The program specifically awards transient dockage across the country. It is funded by the tax of marine fuel sales, not the everyday taxpayer.

“Those of us who are using the waterways, and are buying fuel, are paying tax on that fuel, and there is a fund to promote boating infrastructure that might not otherwise get built,” he said.

Any part of a project not supporting transient boating doesn’t qualify. It’s not for seasonal docking slips.

In 2008, approval came from all necessary entities, including the Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, and handlers of Submerged Land leases. But the permits expired before a current $800,000 grant was obtained, and YS will need to reapply.

Upon winning the grant, other people, including landowner Stuart Smith, encouraged YS to work with Rockland to see if it could accommodate some of the City’s wish list items despite the fact that the City has little say in what happens in the harbor. The harbor is controlled by the sttate. The bay is controlled by the federal government.

According to City Manager Tom Luttrell and Harbor Master Matt Ripley, both of whom spoke at the presentation, several wish list ideas were relayed as a result of past resident complaints.

People wanted alternative access points to the harbor during summer festivals, though some in the audience declared that they had no problem whatsoever getting themselves and their gear to their boats. They’ve complained about the wave action within the harbor, which, according to Ripley is worse when an easterly blow creates a lot of extra chop from the ricochet effect off the concrete.

Also, based on a 100-year flood plain assessment conducted two years ago, the Harbor Master’s Office will need to be moved approximately 14 feet, and then raised three to four feet. Some had believed that moving the ‘historic’ building to Buoy Park, and the dinghy dock to Middle Pier, would both preserve the building, and also ease the problems of parking and dinghy access.

At the end of the presentation, audience members were able to ask many more questions, which are being transcribed. The questions and their answers will be posted on the City website soon.

City officials intend to hold more forums regarding the harbor redesign.

Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com