Proposal to create a federal anchorage area in Rockland Harbor for large ships not a done deal
ROCKLAND – An application by the Pen Bay and River Pilots Association to have an area of Rockland Harbor classified as a federal anchorage site is still being deliberated, according to a representative of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Commander Andy Meyers, of Coast Guard Station Portland, said that if and when the application committee decides to move forward with the federal rulemaking, the process might still take two to three years. Within that process will be a lengthy public comment session, he said.
Meyers told those who the estimated 50 people who’d gathered for a meeting of the Rockland Harbor Management Commission, Tuesday, Feb. 20, in City Council Chambers, that the proposal was not a done deal; In fact, there remains a question as to whether the anchorage designation is necessary.
“I want to make it clear that whether or not a large cruise ship is coming to Rockland, they do have the right to anchor in that Broad Cove area, or really anywhere in federal waters,” he said. “Just because there is not a federal anchorage area on the chart does not mean that they can’t anchor there.”
The July 6, 2017 proposal to the U.S. Coast Guard was made by the Association, “to improve deep draft vessel anchoring options in Rockland Harbor,” according to November 2017 minutes of the Association meeting. “Specifically, the proposal requests the creation of a formal federal anchorage near Owls Head. Having a larger, dedicated anchorage area will serve all mariners with a clear illustration of where vessels may safely anchor. The request follows the positive results of the 2016 NOAA survey and the elimination of a charted wreck off Owls Head.”
The distinction, as Meyers and Rockland Harbor Master Matt Ripley said, would direct future foreign vessels, as well as cruise ships, into approved resting zones.
The Queen Mary II is one of the cruise ships scheduled for Rockland in the future. According to Ripley, where the vessel anchors is up to the captain and the pilots, and usually isn’t determined more than a week in advance.
“I’ll contact them, or they contact me on a general area,” he said. “Sometimes they can give me a pretty good GPS coordinate, but again, it depends on the weather for that particular day.”
Captains of smaller boats, who hear of a large vessel anchoring, would know what area to avoid.
For the local fishing community, the designated site would mean that fishing gear within its boundaries would be at risk of getting run over or destroyed.
“Right now, as I see it, any ship can anchor outside or inside Rockland Harbor, seeking refuge from a storm, or transiting to a different port,” Ripley said. “There’s a whole host of reasons why a ship may anchor in the area.”
The reason for the federal anchorage designation would reduce any ambiguity for the larger ships coming up the coast, said Meyers.
The question was raised about whether it made sense to create the anchorage area so that the ships would be forced to use it and therefore delineate better for lobster gear and others where the larger ships would be contained.
It was noted that Broad Cove has a lot of lobster gear there now and it was suggested that a designated anchorage area would be where the Navy frigate now uses, closer to the Breakwater.
Rockland Harbor currently has three anchorage sites; however, according to Ripley, two sites are not conducive to handling the 900-foot-long or larger vessels.
The seasonal arrival of large cruise ships in Rockland Harbor, and the discharge of passengers onto municipal docks, has been met with concern by some citizens questioning the effect on local resources.
Currently, there are no limits on the number of cruise ships allowed to visit Rockland Harbor, and the city does not have the power to preclude vessels seeking harbor. But the city does have control over its docks and traffic from the ships.
“As far as capping the amount of people or capping the amount of cruise ships, all that I can see is being able to limit the amount of people coming over the public landing,” Ripley said.
When asked about other federal anchorage designations recently made by the Coast Guard, Meyers said the only other current special designation request is from Belfast for smaller vessels. The federal anchorages are listed in the federal registry.
Having overseen the harbor for two years, Ripley said, “we haven’t had any, knock on wood, issues to tender 2,100 people a day from the public landing.”
He added: “I would speak to the restrooms. It is definitely an issue we need to talk about.”
He said access by locals to their personal crafts when large vessels require security clearance at times were hampered.
Rockland Mayor Valli Geiger cited a concern that the Pen Bay and River Pilots Association application process with the Coast Guard might have been approved without the City’s knowledge. She described a lack of transparency when the community isn’t included in actions concerning the area they represent.
Meyers said that the public comment requirement in the formal federal rule making process would make the application known to citizens.
Owls Head resident Judith Anderson, who has lived in the Midcoast for almost 40 years, expressed concern for her town, which borders Rockland, including the sharing of Rockland Harbor waterfront. Living near Broad Cove, she said she hears the noise of those large vessels, as well as the officers’ announcements, while she’s in bed.
“It’s terribly disturbing,” she said.
“My shire town is Rockland,” she said. “I shop here. I volunteer here. I walk here. I go to the library here. This is my town, too, and I feel that Rockland really needs to protect my town, Owls Head. I think that would be a reciprocal thing to do. Owls Head is really very vulnerable.”
For local business owner Rhonda Nordstrom, the question is whether local businesses benefit from cruise ship passengers. She said she wants to see transparency and real numbers about how many businesses do benefit from the ship traffic.
She said Main Street was chaos last fall with the visit of passengers of one of the major ship. She characterized the result along Main Street as chaotic with people everywhere, including in the street.
The Coast Guard representatives at the meeting again described the public comment process that would be employed should the federal rule making continue for creating a designated anchorage spot for ships in Rockland Harbor.
Meyers said they will continue to deliberate the necessity of the application for the next month or two. After that, if they decide to recommend the request to the federal registry, they will send out notifications of local public comment forums as well as ways to submit written comments.
He also said they would track down the application letter from the Pilots Association that accompanied the proposal for anchorage in Rockland Harbor and determine how the city could obtain it.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org