(Image courtesy Michael J. Sabatini P.E./Landmark Corporation Surveyors & Engineers)
(Image courtesy Michael J. Sabatini P.E./Landmark Corporation Surveyors & Engineers)
An engineer for the city and the company Yachting Solutions unveiled a draft plan to redevelop Rockland’s inner harbor at a meeting of the Rockland Harbor Management Commission last week. The proposal involves rebuilding the public landing pier, extending the harbor walk, building more transient boat slips, moving the harbor master’s office to Buoy Park, building a new city pier off of the middle pier at Buoy Park and rearranging and slightly expanding the floats in the harbor. Landmark Surveyors and Engineers developed the design in coordination with Yachting Solutions, which is currently working on its $3 million plan to expand its marina on the south end of the harbor.

“Ultimately it will go before the council, but we came here first to get support from the commission,” said Landmark engineer Mike Sabatini. “We’re thinking big, and there’s a lot of benefits to this. We hope you folks see that and hope the city sees that.”

The designers have not yet figured out the cost of the plan, bu real estate developer Stuart Smith, who leases property to Yachting Solutions, said it is an opportunity to pool private and public resources to improve the inner harbor.

“We’re not looking for any tax dollars to be involved, and no taxes will go up to pay for this thing,” said Smith. “But if we have a good solid plan and buy-in from the Lobster Festival and buy-in from the Blues Festival, all the people that are users, you can start raising money in other manners. If you don’t have a plan, it’s hard to get support.”

The planners say the public project would need the support of the Harbor Management Commission to move forward. “If they give us a thumbs down, we wouldn’t get too far,” said Sabatini. “If we get their blessing, we will put some energy into creating more of a presentation for council meetings or hold a separate meeting.”

Sabatini said the plan emerged from a series of meetings over the past year with harbor users, including the Yacht Club, the Chamber of Commerce and the Lobster Festival.

“Access to the public landing was a big thing that people talked about,” said Sabatini. “When there’s a festival going on or an event happening in Harbor Park it’s hard to get access.”

He said that establishing a new middle pier to accommodate small cruise ships and moving the harbor master’s office would make it possible to redirect ship passengers to Buoy Park rather than the public landing. He said that it would help make it easier to move from water to land during events on the public landing. Sabatini said the wave attenuation floats will also allow for boats to use it in the winter.

Harbor Master Matt Ripley said the proposal would involve rearranging moorings, which would be “an absolute pain,” but it would also help maximize space in the inner harbor. He added that the harbor will still need to build a bigger restroom to accommodate the number of people coming in from cruise ships, which is not in the current plan. Sabatini said the plan also needs buy-in from The Pearl, as the restaurant would lose some of their floats, but they would also gain with some of the wrap-around floats.

Commission member Peter Smith, who serves on the board of the Lobster Festival, expressed concern that moving the harbor master’s building would reduce the festival’s revenue because it currently puts its arts tent in Buoy Park. Sabatini said although moving the building would open up other space for the festival, the planners would be meeting with the Lobster Festival in the coming weeks to solicit input.

Smith also praised the proposed expansion of the boardwalk, which currently crosses his land from the south end, to the middle pier. “One of the pieces Mike didn’t touch on is the black line coming out from middle pier,” said Smith. “At the end of that is a big viewing area for public to access and you have a phenomenal view right out through the whole harbor.”

Rockland Becomes a Yachting Destination

One reason for the new project is the rapid increase in the number of transient vessels that are visiting Rockland Harbor. To accommodate the demand, last summer Yachting Solutions won a $1 million federal Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) to expand its marina. The Yachting Solutions plan, which includes private funding, would also convert the existing gazebo into a boater’s lounge and install a 3-phase power charging station and in-slip fueling. The BIG grant, which is administered by US Fish and Wildlife Service and funded through taxes on motorboat fuel and fishing and equipment, is earmarked for transient vessels.

Yachting Solutions owner Bill Morong said at the meeting that there is currently a waiting list for large seasonal yachts because permanent boats are filling up the existing dock space. Morong said that Rockland is a particularly desirable place for large yachts because it’s right in the middle of the cruising grounds between Portland and Mount Desert Island, and there is also nearby commercial air service to Boston as well as an airstrip to accommodate private jets. He said that adding 3-phase power will be an attractive feature because few ports in Maine have that level of power available.

“When I was a kid there was never a yacht that came into Rockland. Everybody came to Camden,” he said. “And now they’re seeing it as a destination.… I would say that our transient business has probably quadrupled, if not six-fold, of yachts coming into the harbor. So creating a destination for those yachts and creating more opportunity for transient traffic to come in is what we’re about.”

Harbor Commission Chairwoman Louise MacLellan-Ruf and member David Leon, who have expressed concerns about the increase in large cruise ship traffic, spoke more approvingly of the transient boat trend.

“It’s kind of jammed, but in some ways I think it’s better economically for the city versus the big cruise ships, because you’ve got yachters actually going ashore and buying food and supplies,” said Leon.

Morong said the company is currently applying for the state and federal environmental permits for its project. While the city has not appropriated any funds for harbor redevelopment, Morong said it could apply for a BIG grant or perhaps get some financial support from American Cruise Lines, as the plan includes accommodations for their boats.

“We’ve got a little over a two-year window to get a permit and start construction on our side,” Morong said. “Originally we were looking at a much less costly project to build, but I think the benefits of creating a much more concise inner harbor that benefits everybody is great collaboration.”