Lobster, wind and recreation vie for waterfront property
Port Clyde — Some residents have been raising questions about the well-situated, but empty and apparently unused, waterfront property on Port Clyde Harbor.
The town has gradually begun to develop a concept for use of the property with help from a consultant, Noel Musson, of Southwest Harbor-based planning firm The Musson Group. The current vision-in-progress would split the property between a recreational portion for the public, and commercial space.
Some of Port Clyde’s commercial fishermen, however, have their own ideas, and said they would at least like to have access to the property in a town where wharf space and the lobster-buying business have been consolidated into the hands of just a few owners.
The town of St. George bought the parcel in 2015. Positioned next to the town landing, with one concrete and one earthen pier, deep-water access, and an expansive view of the harbor, town officials said it seemed like a desirable long-term investment for St. George. Voters agreed by nearly two to one at the May 2015 town meeting, and the town paid $810,000 to buy the spot from the Ulbrich family, who had previously been leasing it to the Mosquito Island Lobster Co. for use as a lobster-buying station.
A building used by Mosquito Island has since been demolished. An earthen pier that is sinking down will have to be repaired and shored up, repairs that would cost $350,000, according to a 2014 Prock Marine estimate previously reported in The Courier-Gazette.
An exploratory plan drafted by Musson shows gaps between the town landing and the earthen pier and between the earthen pier and the concrete pier, filled in, effectively creating a larger property, with 18 parking spaces and crosswalks. Both Harbormaster David Schmanska and Select Board Chairman Richard Bates described the concept for the recreational space as “passive.”
Schmanska remarked on the beauty of the spot, which looks out directly into Port Clyde harbor, and said that during the summer people seemed to gravitate toward the property, despite the closed gate and no-trespassing sign. “I’d go down there just about every time, and there’d be somebody sitting down there just spacing out, taking pictures, having a cup of coffee. It’s a nice place, and, you know, that is something, it sounds crazy on the surface, but maybe that’s all it is. Simple as that. Just a place to go, for folks in town and folks from out of town,” he said.
According to this notion of 10 Cold Storage Road’s future, the recreational portion of the property would serve as space for a picnic, a walk, somewhere to tie up a boat, and as parking space to take some pressure off Port Clyde’s narrow streets.
As for the commercial half of the property, Schmanska said he keeps an open mind. “We may very well end up with something down there that I haven’t even thought of, and that would be fine with me,” he said.
For some time since the town purchased the parcel, a few fishermen have asked that some or all of the property revert to something akin to its former use, as a place to load, unload, refuel, and buy and sell lobster and bait.
Christopher Chadwick and Josiah Wilson are among some commercial fishermen in Port Clyde who are anxious to access and use the property.
Chadwick said commercial wharves in Port Clyde had dwindled from five or six when he was a child, to four in more recent years, down to two currently – one owned by Linda Bean and another run by the Port Clyde Fisherman's Coop. Aside from those buyers, Port Clyde lobstermen’s only other option is to sell their catch in another town.
“There are very few places in the coast of Maine that are just commercial,” he said. “It was and it is commercial property and should stay that way.” Chadwick also said more competition would be good for Port Clyde’s lobstermen and good for the town. And he said it would cost the town less to simply let fishermen use the property than to embark on a new project.
As a Port Clyde resident, he said, “I think there’s need for a recreational side, too,” but, “I don’t think that should be written in stone.”
“For me, I would like to have something on the property sooner rather than later,” said Wilson. He said the two commercial wharves currently in operation are “slammed” in the early morning, and that opening a third wharf could alleviate some of the congestion.
In a letter to the Select Board, Wilson wrote that accessing the town’s two overcrowded wharves is costing fishermen time and profits. “As lobster fishermen we need to be focused on hauling, setting, and baiting traps, so as to continue the harvest of a sustainably profitable resource,” he wrote. “I support a new full-time wharf, and think we should be able to use this property right now, as taxpayers, and citizens a locked gate on our property is disheartening to look at.”
Schmanska and Bates said they had just the opposite perspective. Both said the town wanted time to design the best use of the property on a long-term basis, and that Port Clyde’s fishermen are currently well-served without a third wharf. And both said it could be too difficult and costly at this juncture for the town to fairly police lobstermen’s activities on the wharf.
“It’s not just as simple as opening the gates and saying, ‘Here, go at it!’” Schmanska said. He raised issues of maintenance, utility costs, equipment storage, insurance, fuel and bait spills, among other potential complications of having a town-owned commercial fishing wharf. “It costs a lot of money and a lot of time to run a wharf right,” he said.
On top of all that, Schmanska and Bates said the town had, from the beginning, stated an intention to avoid competing with other businesses in town.
Chadwick argued that that was unavoidable. “The minute you buy a piece of commercial property, you’re competing,” he said.
What’s more, Chadwick and Wilson said they had already observed people accessing the property, adding to the sense they were being unfairly locked out of a parcel they, as townspeople and taxpayers, feel they own.
“We’re not sure who’s using it or why,” Wilson said, but he knew someone was already there. “So can we please use it?”
Schmanska said Island Transporter and Art Tibbetts have agreements with the town under which they pay for use of the property. He said they were low-impact uses that result in minimal traffic in and out of the lot, with none of the potential complications of fishing activity.
In Island Transporter’s case, Schmanska said the company had built and used a boat launch there long before the town bought the property, and moors one of its smaller vessels, which transports cargo to islands.
The Art Tibbetts agreement is new, but Schmanska said the contractor uses the space for a similar purpose -- loading up material to bring it somewhere else.
There is one other commercial use under discussion – 10 Cold Storage Road could become the landfall for electrical cables from the proposed Aqua Ventus wind project, which would put two floating wind turbines near Monhegan.
At this point, there are more questions than answers regarding that possibility, including what the project would require, whether it would preclude or conflict with other uses, how much the town could ask in return for use of the property, and whether the turbines will be erected at all. At least some Monhegan residents have voiced opposition to the project, and Sen. Dana Dow (R-Lincoln) has introduced legislation to keep the turbines further from the island.
In the meantime, discussions continue over how St. George can best make use of 10 Cold Storage Road. Schmanska has asked Chadwick and the other fishermen for a proposal indicating what they would want from the property. He maintained that he was open to all possibilities, that there could be some way to work with the fishermen’s priorities, and that the best way to find the right solution was to gather information.
There will be informational meetings on the Aqua Ventus project Feb. 28 at 2 and 7 p.m. in the Fire Department meeting room. The Harbor Committee has been discussing the issue at Wednesday night meetings as posted on the town website. The Select Board is likely to discuss the property in the near future at its twice-monthly Monday night meetings. And potential uses or expenditures for 10 Cold Storage Road could eventually come to a town meeting vote.
Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.