Rockland Harbor mid-winter in February 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre

For the past two decades, Rockland has been changing. With the departure of fish processing plants came the influx of art galleries and restaurants — making downtown Rockland a cultural draw for both Mainers and tourists.

But as the city’s landscape underwent a renaissance, relatively little was done to develop the harbor.

City leaders talked about upgrading the area of Harbor Park, but there was — and still is — no money to make big changes to harbor infrastructure to better accommodate Rockland’s growing status as a coastal destination.

“There has been talk for years but nothing has happened,” said Louise MacLellan, chairwoman of the Harbor Management Commission. “For Rockland, [the harbor] is our revenue maker. But it has not been perceived or looked at as a revenue maker for years.”

In recent months, talks of harbor development have rekindled, spurred by the proposed expansion of a private marina located in the south end of the inner harbor.

Planning options

Two plans involving harbor development are currently being discussed. The first is the expansion of Yachting Solutions, which was awarded approximately $1 million in federal funding last year for the expansion.

The second plan focuses on the city side of the inner harbor, addressing issues of congestion at the public landing and deteriorating or inadequate infrastructure. But this long-term plan is purely conceptual, has no funding and is far from a done deal.

“What we want is feedback from the people who use the harbor down here and the people who live here, and to see what their thoughts are on [the plan] to move this concept forward,” harbormaster Matt Ripley said. “This is just conceptual. We are in the beginning stages of this.”

But residents are expressing concerns over both plans in terms of how the view will be affected by the marina’s expansion and how further reorganization of the harbor would change its accessibility and feel for locals. A petition to halt the plans is currently circulating.

“I have lived in Rockland for 35 years. I really love the city, it’s a wonderful place. Nothing has happened in all of those 35 years that was more [of] a threat to the character of our community than this proposal,” Joseph Steinberger, a former city councilor, said at the first public presentation of both plans Wednesday.

Yachting Solutions expansion

There has been public misunderstanding about what is being planned by Yachting Solutions the larger redevelopment concept that the city is working on, in partnership with the marina and other stakeholders.

“We’re talking two things, one is reality,” Mayor Valli Geiger said during the presentation Wednesday. “The second is the first of many, many conversations that our city will have about our [inner harbor].”

Yachting Solutions’ boat basin in Rockland Harbor provides seasonal and transient dock space for boaters with vessels of up to 250 feet, according to its website. The expansion that Yachting Solutions proposes is relatively the same project that went through the planning process in 2008 but never came to fruition.

The expansion includes tripling the marina’s current dockage capability, according to Yachting Solutions owner Bill Morong. The expansion proposal also includes increasing electrical infrastructure for the marina and the addition of a marina office and a lounge space for transient boaters.

This expansion would force the relocation of seven moorings, Ripley said. A frequently used unofficial channel next to Yachting Solutions would not largely be affected.

Last year, Yachting Solutions was awarded just over $1 million for the approximately $3 million expansion plan from the federal Boating Infrastructure Grant Program. Morong said Yachting Solutions intends to pay a portion of the remaining cost and is working with other investors to come up with the total funding.

The permitting that Yachting Solutions obtained in 2008 from the city’s planning board, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers lapsed, so it will need to restart the permitting process. Morong said he expects permitting to take about a year. If all goes as planned, he hopes the expansion will be complete in two years.

The expansion plan results from an increased demand for summer dockage.

“We’re turning away traffic all summer,” Morong said. “Rockland has done a fantastic job over the course of the last 10 years of making the city more desirable as a destination.”

In recent years, Yachting Solutions has accommodated large yachts, Morong said. However, currently the marina does not have the space to take more than one at a time.

Inner harbor development concept

The long-range development plan that seems to be causing the most waves among residents is not a Yachting Solutions proposal, but rather a “wish-list” that city officials — including the harbormaster — and stakeholders — such as the city’s annual festivals — have identified as areas that could use development.

“It’s all just on paper [right now] to have the public weigh in on it to see, ‘Do you really want to see an improved harbor or not?’” said Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell.

The long-term plan came about last year after Yachting Solutions won federal grant. Stuart Smith, who owns the land for which Yachting Solutions has a long-term lease, told Morong that the city wants to address infrastructure in parts of the inner harbor.

So he reached out to Ripley and Luttrell, in order to make sure that the city and Yachting Solutions weren’t stepping on each other and to explore ideas about collaboration in developing the inner harbor.

A partnership with a private stakeholder could help Rockland obtain grant funding, Luttrell said.

The conceptual plan that resulted includes the already funded Yachting Solutions expansion, but focuses on the city-owned infrastructure in the inner harbor.

The plan focuses primarily on the public landing located near Harbor Park, and another city-owned pier, known as Middle Pier, that is located in front of Buoy Park. Also included in the design is a wave-attenuating fence located in front of Yachting Solutions that would protect the inner harbor, which is currently completely exposed.

The plan calls for repairing and extending Middle Pier. While most harbor traffic now comes in through the public landing, the long-range plan would shift some of that traffic to Middle Pier, including the relocation of the dinghy dock and docking for small cruise ships that carry about 125 people.

Ripley said this reconfiguration would help people who have difficulty getting to their boats during festivals, which take place in Harbor Park, and ease congestion that occurs when the smaller cruise ships are in port.

Many of the infrastructure upgrades will also likely have to occur in the near future. “We manage with what we have,” Ripley said. “But in the near future we’ll no doubt have to put some money into that infrastructure.”

While the wave attenuator would help calm the harbor, it would close of the unofficial “Southern Channel,” a plan that has drawn heavy local opposition. However, Ripley said the channel could be shifted.

The concept plan would also affect upwards of 22 moorings, on top of the moorings that will need to be relocated due to Yachting Solutions’ expansion.

Steve Hale, who runs a touring lobster boat in the harbor, said Wednesday that he’s concerned about the plan as it stands. He fears that it shifts the focus of the harbor away from its fishing town roots and favors the increase of yachters.

Hale is weary of the channel being cut off and is worried that city residents will lose views from proposed docks. “It just needs a lot more thought,” he said. “People need to get together, sit down and talk about it.”

City officials say they welcome input from Hale and others who have expressed concerns as public discussions shape the long-term plan. Ripley said the city wants to continue gathering public input to help shape the plan before it looks to pursue funding.

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