ROCKLAND, Maine — A disagreement over whether Rockland should continue to try to change its port designation boiled over during Monday night’s City Council meeting when a member of the harbor management commission accused the harbor master of lying.
Rockland’s mayor, however, said the commission member stepped over the line with her comments.
At issue was a meeting held Feb. 10 in Rockland between a representative of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, two members of a cruise ship committee and the harbor master. The meeting was held to continue the pursuit of Rockland’s port designation being changed to allow for passengers on foreign passenger vessels to clear customs in Rockland.
Cruise ships were a hotly debated topic in 2010 when Rockland’s Harbor Management Commission voiced concerns about allowing what it called “megacruise ships” to use Rockland Harbor.
At the March 5 council meeting, Louise MacLellan-Ruf, a member of the harbor commission, which is appointed by the council to advise it on harbor matters, criticized what she said was a lack of communication by the city about its pursuit of the revised port designation.
She maintained that the harbor master had misled the commission by telling it that a meeting with Pingree aide Jim Pineau was going to be held when it had already been held.
“Because of his [harbor master] own agenda, the harbor commission was left out of the loop,” MacLellan-Ruf said.
She said he and others were putting their interests above that of the overall community.
“At the least this was shady behavior. At most it was downright unethical behavior,” she said.
Harbor Master Ed Glaser stood up at the meeting and said he did not know how to respond when someone accuses him, in a public forum, of lying.
On Tuesday, Glaser said he disagreed with MacLellan-Ruf’s statements.
He said after the Feb. 10 meeting with Pingree’s aide, he wrote a summary of the meeting and presented it to the City Council at its next meeting the week after. He said he then informed the harbor commission later that week that a meeting had been held on the port designation issue.
MacLellan-Ruf, however, said not only did the harbor master mislead the commission, but also that the minutes of the last commission meeting, which were compiled by a secretary who was at the meeting, were inaccurate in quoting the harbor master as saying the Pingree aide meeting had been held.
Glaser said even well-intentioned people can hear things differently but that MacLellan-Ruf’s comments were out of line. He said she had not previously voiced her concern to him about being misled before the council meeting.
Rockland Mayor Brian Harden agreed with Glaser saying the commission member’s comments overstepped the line of acceptable behavior. Harden said he wished he had acted to stop her from making what he said was a personal attack.
Harden said he is willing to have the City Council attend a harbor management commission meeting but that he was not planning to invite the harbor panel to a council meeting to discuss the port designation issue.
The City Council voted unanimously in January 2009 to seek the change in port designations. Later that year, Rockland Harbor was visited by the largest cruise ship ever to stop in the harbor when the 962-foot Jewel of the Seas arrived in October with nearly 2,500 passengers and a crew of 760.
In 2010, the city debated the issue of allowing larger cruise ships to make port stops in Rockland.
“We want to be clear that we are not saying no to cruise ships; we are just requesting that the council take a careful and thoughtful look at the reality of the impact on our small town,” the commission stated in early 2010 in a report to the council.
The commission’s report stated that Bar Harbor and Portland have had a host of issues with the megacruise ships such as diesel engines from the ships that spew exhaust equivalent to 10,000 cars, sewer discharges that could harm the lobster industry, increased crime and people avoiding downtown when the ships are in port.
The commission had recommended a larger per passenger fee for the larger cruise ships than what ultimately was approved by the council. Local businesses and the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce had urged the council to not hike the rates from $1 per passenger to $6. The commission had recommended an $8 per passenger fee.
Mayor Brian Harden disputed that people were left out of the loop intentionally on the recent meeting between local officials and the congressional aide. He said that getting the port designation changed is a lengthy, slow process that had been in the works since 2009.
He said the issue of port designation is separate from the issue of larger cruise ships.
Harden said the council has to listen to the entire community not just people who make the most noise.
Rockland Harbor has been visited for several years by smaller cruise ships.
The American Cruise Lines’ newest ship the Independence will make stops in Rockland this summer and early fall with up to 150 passengers per visit.
On Sept. 28, the 593-foot Regatta from the Oceanic Cruise fleet, that can carry 684 passengers, will stop in Rockland Harbor.