The Rockland marina owned by Safe Harbor Marinas, pictured with Archer’s on the Pier at right, would be expanded on either side of the pier. (Photo: Ethan Andrews)
The Rockland marina owned by Safe Harbor Marinas, pictured with Archer’s on the Pier at right, would be expanded on either side of the pier. (Photo: Ethan Andrews)
The Rockland City Council will hear public comments Wednesday, October 13, at 5:30 p.m. on a proposed marina expansion by Safe Harbor Marinas that aims to attract more large recreational boats to the city.

SHM, based in Dallas, Texas, bought the pier that extends from behind Archer’s on the Pier restaurant along with five acres of shorefront land from Rockland Harbor Park LLC in December 2020. The property has been the subject of several redevelopment plans dating to 2000. An expansion of the marina toward the shore was approved in 2008 but only partially built.

Under the current proposal, SHM would add a row of docks to the interior and four 150-foot finger docks to the side of the pier that faces Penobscot Bay. Existing timber docks would be replaced with floating concrete docks.

The landward end of the dock leading to the marina would be extended to separate it from the front of Archer’s.

Plans submitted to the state Bureau of Submerged Lands included estimate of 115 timber or steel piles driven into the harbor floor and additional piling that would rest on concrete bases. A 3.2-acre area around the pier would be dredged to a depth of 6 to 13 feet below the low-water mark, removing an estimated 12,520 cubic yards of material.

Marine life that would be affected by the dredging, according to a checklist submitted by SHM in its submerged lands lease application, is limited to marine worms with “occasional” mussels, kelp and rockweed.

The application notes that a marina expansion has been contemplated for at least 10 years, “and the need for transient dockage has only grown during that time.”

“… Rockland, with its downtown museums, restaurants, and shopping, is an ideal stopping point for transient boaters heading to destinations further down east and in the Canadian Maritimes.”

If the project is completed before September 2022, SHM will be able to make use of a federal Boating Infrastructure Grant of more than $1 million awarded SHM’s predecessor, Yachting Solutions, in 2017.

Safe Harbor Marinas owns a network of 115 marinas around the U.S., including one in Harpswell for boats up to 70 feet long.

The expansion of the Rockland marina would create dockage space for five large vessels and 30 smaller boats. Notably, it could make Rockland a destination for a larger class of yachts, up to 200 feet, according to SHM’s website.

Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser said the proposal is the latest step in an evolution of Rockland Harbor over the last 30 to 40 years from a working waterfront to a mix of marine uses that increasingly tilts toward recreation.

In interviews with the Bangor Daily News after the sale of the property in February, Maine tourism officials expressed excitement about SHM’s investment in Maine. Interest from a national company, they said, was a sign that a city with predominantly locally owned businesses had graduated to a higher level of prestige.

Glaser said an influx of large yachts coming to Rockland in the future probably wouldn’t bring tourism money to the city because the boats tend to be self-contained operations. “What they do,” he said, “is change the reputation in the yachting world as far as what Rockland has to offer.”

That can create opportunities for businesses that serve the yachting set. The number of such supporting businesses has been growing in Rockland to the point where Glaser described the city as having hit “critical mass.”

This week’s council meeting comes in response to some opposition to the marina expansion project from residents who are concerned about the environmental impact of dredging, ongoing public access to the waterfront boardwalk and the possibility that megayachts may one day obscure the views from Harbor Park.

“That kind of ostentatious wealth irks some people,” Glaser said.

For them, Safe Harbor Marinas offers plenty of raw material. The company’s promotional imagery features couples and families in nautical stripes taking their leisure on yachts at sunset. In a short video, company CEO Baxter Underwood speaks of “the intersection of luxury and adventure.” Another video on the SHM website features company executives who traded their private marinas to SHM in exchange for stock to avoid paying capital gains taxes.

Maine carries on with its low-key wealth. On Saturday, a handsome man in boating attire steered a wood-hulled motorboat up to the Safe Harbor dock. From a worker he collected a key to a Safe Harbor company SUV then drove to Knox County Regional Airport to pick up the boat’s owner, who was arriving on his private plane en route to his house on Islesboro.

SHM’s marina expansion is under review by the state Bureau of Parks and Lands and Department of Environmental Protection. The public comment period for its submerged lands lease application closes Friday, October 15.

The October 13 City Council meeting will be broadcast live on Spectrum cable channel 1303 and livestreamed on the city’s website, rocklandmaine.gov.