Camden Harbor Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

The town of Camden is considering partnering with a private marina in a development project that would add dockage and increase public access to the outer part of Camden Harbor.

Lyman-Morse ― a Thomaston-based boatbuilding firm which currently operates a marina in the inner part of Camden Harbor ― is asking the town to be a financial partner in the project by amending an existing tax increment financing program to allow property tax dollars to be used for harbor infrastructure projects.

While the town is only in the early stages of considering the proposal, town officials feel the partnership could be a good trial of how the town can work with private entities to incentivize infrastructure upgrades as the town tries to make its waterfront resilient against sea level rise.

“We’re at a point where we all know that we’re going to need to make investments into our harbor so it can be resilient,” Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell said. “This gives us the opportunity to look at the harbor more broadly and see if there is an opportunity for public-private partnerships that are improving the harbor infrastructure.”

Lyman-Morse has already received a $1.5 million federal grant for the outer harbor development, which they estimate will cost between $3 million and $4 million to complete, according to Lyman-Morse Special Projects Director Joshua Moore.

A rendering of the outer harbor marina being proposed by Lyman-Morse in Camden. Credit: Courtesy of Lyman-Morse

The outer harbor marina proposal includes a 148-foot long pier that will connect to a dockage system which will be used by travelling boaters. Under the proposal, the marina will be operated by Lyman-Morse but owned by the town.

The marina would be built around Steamboat Landing, which is the site of an existing public boat launch. However, the launch is not protected from the effects of open water, meaning that storm surge has begun to degrade the ramp and waves can make it challenging to launch a boat there. Building a marina around the ramp could offer some protection, Moore said.

The outer harbor marina would also allow for more vessels to visit the harbor because it will be located in deeper water. Currently, many larger vessels cannot dock without risk of grounding out at low tide in the inner harbor because the water is only 10 to 12 feet deep, Moore said.

“The ramp is used a lot, but it gets hammered by waves,” Moore said. “The idea is that this can provide shelter for the ramp.”

A rendering of the outer harbor marina being proposed by Lyman-Morse in Camden. Credit: Courtesy of Lyman-Morse

In addition to the in-water infrastructure, Lyman-Morse is also proposing to construct a harbor walk along the area of Steamboat Landing which would strengthen public access in that area.

Aside from the outer harbor development proposal, Lyman-Morse is currently working on redeveloping the waterfront site at its inner harbor marina after buildings on the property sustained significant smoke damage during a fire last summer.

Camden isn’t the only town in the region to consider partnering with a private marina to make needed harbor infrastructure improvements. In 2018, the Rockland-based marina Yachting Solutions partnered with city officials to develop a conceptual plan for redeveloping the city’s inner harbor as the marina planned a separate expansion of its own. However, a lack of funding prevented the Rockland inner harbor development plan from moving forward.

The potential partnership between Camden and Lyman-Morse is still in the very early planning stages, and much of the design is still conceptual. Caler-Bell said the process for moving forward with the proposal will involve consideration by multiple town boards and would ultimately have to go to voters for the town to amend its tax increment financing program.

In recent years, Camden has made preparing for the effects of climate change a top priority. Given that the town’s downtown is built around its harbor, sea level rise is front of mind for many town officials and property owners. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects a sea level rise across coastal New England of 1.7 inches in five years, 3.6 inches in 10 years and 5.6 inches in 15 years.

But funding upgrades that will better protect waterfront and harbor infrastructure can be costly. Incentivizing public-private partnerships could be one possible solution, Caler-Bell said.

“This is really critical to all waterfront property owners, in terms of how we can create an incentive structure through our [tax increment financing] district that is encouraging those waterfront property owners to prepare for sea level rise,” Caler-Bell said. “I think if we do that correctly with Lyman-Morse, it’s going to set up the potential for partnership with all those entities or individuals who are going to be affected by sea level rise around the harbor.”