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

ROCKLAND, Maine — Representatives of a Rockland marina seeking to expand its footprint in the harbor say the expansion plan will include opportunities for increased public access to the property.

The Rockland City Council held an informational meeting Wednesday night on  the proposed expansion plan from Safe Harbor Marinas, which bought an existing marina in Rockland Harbor earlier this year. The expansion was proposed several years ago, under the marina’s previous ownership, but has since been scaled back in response to public concerns regarding view corridor impacts and interference with a channel in the harbor.

Project representatives told city councilors Wednesday that they have amended the plan to take those concerns into consideration, and that they intend to do the same when it comes to increasing the opportunities for public access.

“We’ve heard time and time again with all these public meetings that we’ve had, that citizens would like to have more public access to this property,” Bill Morong, a Safe Harbor Marinas consultant, said Wednesday. “The public has been granted access via the boardwalk over this property. We don’t intend to change that […] our goal is to improve it.”

Specifics of the public access possibilities would be brought forward when Safe Harbor Marinas goes before the Rockland Planning Board when it seeks to make changes to the land-based portion of its property on Ocean Street. Morong did not say when Safe Harbor Marinas would submit an application to the planning board for those developments.

Morong said the public access would include continued public use of the existing boardwalk — a main portion of the city’s harbor trail — that crosses the Safe Harbor Marinas property, the potential construction of a deck that would serve as a viewpoint and improved access to a nearby beach. He also said that they intend to make improvements to the boardwalk, which is in need of some repairs.

The proposed expansion plan is currently being reviewed by the Maine Department of Environmental  Protection and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which handles submerged land leases, like the one held by Safe Harbor Marinas in Rockland Harbor. The Bureau of Parks and Lands will continue to take public comment through Friday on the plan.

The expansion would more than double the docking capacity at the marina. Additions include new floats, pilings and fixed piers that would result in an increase of 3,500-square-feet of docking space, according to Mike Sabatini, an engineer working with Safe Harbor Marinas on the project.

When the plan was initially proposed, it sparked controversy in the city. While there are still some people with concerns, the public discussion around the proposal was split Wednesday night.

Those against the proposal said they feel it would effectively privatize a portion of the harbor and take away from the view from shore as well as impede on public access of the harbor. However, others in support of the project said it will be an economic boon for the city in terms of the boaters it would attract.

Through the Bureau of Parks and Lands’ review process, the agency will consult with city officials to determine if the project detracts from things like public access or public views of the harbor.

If it is determined that there is a negative impact, city councilors are considering asking the state to require that Safe Harbor Marinas compensate the city by allowing public pedestrian access of the marina’s property as well as financial compensation for any mooring balls that must be relocated within the harbor because of the expansion.

Rockland City Councilor Nate Davis brought forward the idea, though the city council postponed voting on the matter to give the council — and Safe Harbors Marinas — more time to consider it. Davis said he feels the revised plan is an improvement from the original proposal, but that he wants to ensure the city is taking steps to protect public interests.

“An assumption of future goodwill is not a good means of safeguarding the public interest,” Davis said.

Morong stressed that the kind of public access being sought by the city has already been taken into consideration.

“We are, in general, for the access that the city is requesting,” Morong said.