SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Keeping track of town-owned moorings with an electronic system and acquiring the Manset shorefront parcel known as the Hook property are two of the goals in the town’s Harbor Management Plan that have been met since 2016 when selectmen initially asked for the plan.
A draft of the 47-page document is now complete, pending approval by selectmen. The plan gives the town a basis from which to understand its assets, improve its harbor facilities and make changes that maximize its greatest resource for residents and visitors alike.
Areas of focus include making places along the water more accessible to people with disabilities and operating a more sustainable waterfront that is financially viable for the town, versus operating at a deficit from year to year. In the last couple of years there has been about a 15 percent deficit between the town’s waterfront revenues, which hover around $85,000 and expenses in the harbor budget, which are about $100,000.
Southwest Harbor has 12.5 miles of shoreline from Valley Cove to Ship Harbor, but the inner harbor is where most of the action is for both commercial and recreational vessels. There are about 640 moorings in the town’s four mooring fields: Inner Harbor, Greenings and Boathouse Cove, Claremont Area and Norwood Area. Two of those four have limited access to the shore where boaters can park vehicles on land or travel by foot into downtown.
In October 2017, residents of the town approved the purchase of what has been called the Hook property and is adjacent to the Manset Town Dock. Owned by Carolyn Hook, the property consisted of two parcels totaling 0.43 acres. The town leased the land for at least 25 years before purchasing it for $335,000.
Reasons given for acquiring the property included being able to expand and improve the facilities for recreational boaters as well as upgrade the harbormaster’s headquarters there.
Even though 75 percent of the mooring leases are for recreational boats, the town’s lobster fishing industry recorded an $11 million take in 2016. That number was up more than 40 percent from the 2006 figure of $5 million, according to the management plan.
Much of the town’s harbor revenue comes from the fishing industry. Fees and permits for trucks collecting the day’s catch at the shore and fishermen using the town’s hoists to unload their boats at the end of the day are main sources of revenue. Fishermen do pay mooring fees to keep their boats in the harbor, but the recreational boats take up more of those spots, especially during the summer season.
Within the harbor management plan, there are suggested configurations for maximizing harbor space around moorings, docks and wharfs. According to Harbormaster Adam Thurston, changes have been made in the past to try and increase harbor use, but those changes have brought some unintended consequences. Increasing moorings cuts down on space for dinghies, which then exacerbates the parking issue on land for those using the water.
“We’re figuring out we’re pretty much at capacity,” Thursday said. “I’ve been against raising more fees since I got on… but that’s all I have.”
There is a three to five year waiting list for a mooring in Southwest Harbor, which means the town is taking in all it can through this revenue stream. One suggestion in the plan is to acquire more property in town, specifically in areas near the Norwood Cove and Claremont areas where boaters could park vehicles and access their boats.
Other ideas include expanding the mooring field, which, according to Thurston, would require building a breakwater farther out from the harbor.
Before the beginning of last season, Thurston was able to bring Online Mooring, a mooring management software program, into his operations managing the waterfront. While it is an easier way to reserve moorings, pay permit fees and track activity in the harbor, Thurston said the biggest challenge has been getting the long-time boaters on board with the change.
“A lot of them don’t want to go online to pay their bill,” he said. It isn’t that they don’t want to pay, it has more to do with the lack of online activity the majority of them engage in, in general.
Accommodating these clients is easy enough with a paper bill, Thurston said. There are several perks to the program that were discovered throughout the initiation phase last season.
“I think it will go more smoothly this year,” said Thurston. “I can add information as I go.”
As for the harbor management plan, selectmen asked for a full copy at their last meeting earlier this month. Once approved, it will be an official town document and may be used in future grant applications. The plan was on the agenda for the Tuesday night select board meeting.