Issue 48: Citizens’ Forum March 1 on Yachting Solutions Plan

By: George Chapelle

A citizens’ forum is to be held Thursday night for residents to review the proposed harbor expansion plan and to voice their thoughts and feelings about the project.

The forum is being hosted at 6 p.m., March 1, in the Rockland City Hall council chambers by Sensible Harbor Infrastructure Plan (SHIP), an organization formed recently in response to a harbor expansion plan.

Yachting Solutions of Rockland, a marine sales and service company, announced it had received a $1 million federal grant in November to develop the expansion of the harbor.

Since receiving the grant, Yachting Solutions has held two public meetings, one for the relocation of small boat moorings and one on Feb. 14 on the project itself with the Rockland City Council.

At that meeting, Rockland Mayor Valli Geiger said the city does not have the authority to stop the project.

But SHIP said that residents, i.e. the people of Rockland, could stop the project.

The expansion is an extension of a 2008 plan for the harbor. That plan includes a lease of 63,846 square feet of submerged land in 2010 to Harbor Park, LLC, adjoining the property of Stuart G. Smith of Camden. Smith owns the former MBNA building and boardwalk at the harbor and is the principal in Harbor Park, LLC. His signature is on the lease, which he holds until 2029. He leases part of his property to Yachting Solutions.

In a Feb. 14 public meeting, Yachting Solutions was asked to explain its federal grant that would privatize the harbor and bring in large boats that would block the view of the islands to local residents and drive away small boats from their moorings.

The meeting was well attended by residents concerned about the proposed changes, particularly the elimination of the view of the islands and the harbor.

Steve Hale, owner of the Captain Jack touring lobster boat, spoke Feb. 14 to the City Council on the proposed marina expansion by Yachting Solutions.

“This plan needs a lot more thought,” Hale said. “This used to be a fishing harbor. Now, it’s going to be a multi-use harbor.”

One of his objections is the construction of a proposed 860-foot pier to accommodate large yachts.

Some residents recalled previous comments by Smith that he wanted to build a hotel on the site that would also block the view of the harbor.

Another part of the proposal would relocate the harbormaster’s building to nearby Buoy Park.

Yachting Solutions co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Bill Morong said Feb.14 that the project was still a concept. Morong, engineer Michael Sabatini of Landmark Corp., and Rockland Harbormaster Matt Ripley talked about potential long-term changes on the waterfront, including jobs creation.

The harbor is the site of three major events each summer that bring people to Harbor Park overlooking the harbor: the Lobster Festival, the Blues Festival and the Maine Boats, Homes and Harbor Festival. In addition, the harbor is home for 56 small boat moorings that would have to be moved farther out in the harbor if the Yachting Solutions proposal were approved.

In response to the news of the proposal, local artist Christos Calivas met with a group two weeks ago and formed SHIP. The group wrote a petition opposing the proposal, which is now circulating.

Calivas, who said he practiced law for 35 years, also wrote to City Manager Thomas Luttrell and members of the City Council about the Feb. 14 Yachting Solutions presentation in which he stated that questions raised at the meeting were not answered.

Calivas said there is also a line item in the application’s budget calling for $380,000 to build a concrete wharf for parking. He said no one has told him where the wharf would go or why it would be necessary to create additional parking.

He asked for an additional meeting for giving the public an opportunity to share its views, “and not as a further opportunity for Yachting Solutions to repeat its case.”

Calivas also has pointed out the presence of investors as part of the Yachting Solutions’ grant application:

The three investors are Yachting Solutions, Dimillo’s Marina and Yacht Sales of Portland, Maine, a marina offering boat sales and services, as well as dock space for super yachts up to 250 feet, and Virgil Capital of Darien, Conn., an investment firm that specializes in real estate and angel investing. Each firm has committed $245,980.33 to the project, according to the federal grant application.

Their contribution totals $737,000 in addition to the $1 million in federal funds, leaving unanswered where the remainder of the $2.7 million in projected expenses would come from, a member of SHIP said.

Angel investment, one of the services offered by Virgil Capital, includes looking for opportunities for investing in businesses with a potential for a profitable return, a solid management team and business plan, and leadership, according to the Virgil website.

In a separate meeting on Feb. 20, the U.S. Coast Guard met with local officials to discuss the installation of a large ship anchorage out by the Rockland breakwater.

Commander Andrew Meyers and other USCG representatives met with Rockland Harbor Management Commission members to talk about the proposed anchorage for large ships. Meyers said there is no definite plan for the anchorage.

The Penobscot Bay and River Pilots Association had written to the USCG last July requesting a meeting to talk about the anchorage because of a “double digit growth” of cruise ships coming into Maine, he said.

“We have not decided to move forward on a federal anchorage,” Meyers said, adding that there would be a public comments period before a decision were made.

Other changes in the offing in the harbor include more than $1.5 million needed in repairs to the city’s fish pier.

“That fish pier is in rough shape,” said Ripley after the meeting with the Coast guard in City Council Chambers. His plan is to apply for grants to pay for the repairs.

 

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