Rockland postpones order regarding state Bicentennial plans

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 6:00pm

ROCKLAND — The Maine Bicentennial Commission is making plans for 2020 bicentennial celebrations in various communities along the Maine coast, and Rockland wants to join in. Or, at least, a loosely formed ad hoc committee is jumping at the chance to regenerate another event similar to last year’s Viking ship weekend, while also highlighting the community’s waterfront heritage.

Rockland’s Harbor Management Commission, however, is not on board. 

At the request of the ad hoc group, led by Dan Bookham, and joined by Rockland City Councilor Ed Glaser, Rockland City Council is considering the option of acting as the fiscal agent for the bare-minimum $73,000 price tag associated with inviting Tall Ships of America to the event.

#75 Authorizing City as Fiscal Agent for Tall Ships Challenge & Fee waiver

This authorizes the city manager to enter into a port host agreement with the State of Maine and American Sail Training Association, and to waive any docking fees associated with the Tall Ships of America and the local schooner fleet that may partake in the bicentennial event this summer in Rockland Harbor.

The council would have voted on the measure during the Dec. 9 regular Rockland City Council meeting. However, sponsor of the order Councilor Ed Glaser proposed a week’s postponement, but not to add involvement of the Harbor Management Commission.

Rockland’s particular contract with Tall Ships doesn’t give the leeway to back out if it looks as if it’s going to cost the City any money, according to Glaser. Therefore, “the contract will be sent back to the City attorney so that she has the opportunity to write it so that if it looks like we’re not going to make all of the money, we can back out of this,” he said. 

The ad hoc group wishes to add a Tall Ships visit to the conclusion of the Great Schooner Race, which usually finishes by the Breakwater Lighthouse the day before the Fourth of July, according to Bookham during the Dec. 2 council agenda-setting meeting. Bookham was heavily involved with coordinating the Draaken Viking ship visit. 

Ticketed vessel tours and community celebrations are also being considered.

We don’t know how exactly it’s going to go,” said Glaser. “We’re hoping for the best. But as you work through this process, you need a sort-of an anchor organization to take care of the money. If we get fed a state grant, we would like to have somebody who takes care of it, and using the City’s finance office will be a good place to put it.”

Bookham said his group could probably raise about $25,000 as sponsorships, That group includes Tom Peaco from Penobscot Bay Chamber, Joanne Billington, Gordon Page, and Chuck Krueger.

“There’s grant money available from the Maine Office of Tourism as well that we feel very confident we’ll be able to secure,” said Bookham. “We think we have a very compelling case to secure some of that. And then, there’s some general merchandise revenues selling T-shirts….

In return, if any revenue is generated, the group would donate it back to the City for maritime improvements, he said, for some use somewhere in the harbor, port authority, or down on the waterfront as a little lasting legacy of the event.

Glaser said that the ad hoc had approached the Harbor Commission with their bicentennial idea in the past. Yet, earlier in the Dec. 9 council meeting, Harbor Chair Louise MacLellan-Ruf stood before council to say otherwise. Plans were not submitted to the Commission, nor was the Commission’s input requested. The same thing happened prior to the Viking ship event also, according to MacLellan-Ruf.

“We’ve been here before,” she said. “Last year, the same group of people convinced the council to waive the Viking ship’s fee. Again, there was no discussion or input from us. Rather, I received an email the night before the vote asking for the commission’s input. Since I did not have the members present for the discussion, I wrote: ‘The HMC has a history of not supporting fee waivers. The ship came in, used our public landing, used our electricity, used our water, used our sewer system, used the harbor master’s office, and surrounding parks. The Viking ship charged $12 per head and made thousands of dollars. Taxpayers? Well, taxpayers made nothing. The taxpayers paid for the water. The taxpayers paid for the electricity. The taxpayers paid for the sewage. The taxpayers paid for the garbage. The taxpayers also paid for a year’s supply of toilet paper that was used at the harbor master’s office for that week. 

“An important job is protecting the City as a business, and trying to help taxpayers lessen their burden. Our detractors will say that we are not business friendly. It is the opposite. We are happy when our restaurants and stores thrive. But, we never, ever, ever forget, our City is our primary business.” 

Glaser stated that the ad hoc group intends to generate the $73,000 plus contract fee through fundraising efforts, as well as grants. However, with many other municipalities vying for grants as well, including Rockport for a March bicentennial celebration still in concept stage, particular grants are not a sure thing. According to Bookham, other communities known to be organizing celebrations include Castine, the Penobscot River towns, Searsport, Bucksport, Bangor, and Boothbay. 

When asked by Councilor Nate Davis if Rockland’s council vote could be delayed long enough to allow for the Harbor Management Commission’s input, Glaser stated a matter of time sensitivity. 

Councilor Valli Geiger stated that another option would be to go ahead, at the next meeting, to vote for the City to become the fiscal agent, and then send the proposal to the HMC to review.

Council will revisit the order on Monday, Dec. 16.

 

Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com