SOUTHWEST HARBOR — John Dittmar will be allowed to continue dropping passengers from his Acadia Fishing Tours off at the Lower Town Dock, the town’s Board of Appeals decided Monday.
The board found, by a 4-1 vote, that the use of the town dock is permitted by the town’s Coastal Waters and Harbor ordinance, overturning a decision by Harbormaster Adam Thurston. Board member Lunn Sawyer cast the dissenting vote.
According to the ordinance, picking passengers up from the town facility or operating a business there is not permitted. Dittmar picks up his passengers from the nearby, private Beal’s Lobster Pier. At the end of each trip he drops them off at the Lower Town Dock.
After several complaints from fishermen who use the Lower Town Dock and a recommendation by the Harbor Committee, Thurston notified Dittmar with a letter in September that he could no longer drop passengers from his fishing tour boat at the town-owned dock.
In the letter, Thurston cites the ordinance which says, “any vessel for hire such as a tour boat, day sailor or a charter vessel shall … shall not originate or operate from any municipal pier or float …”
“I think it was specifically limited to prevent repetitive use of the town pier as a business site for these types of vessels,” Town Manager Justin VanDongen noted at the meeting.
“The way I see it, I’m making a living and it’s bothering somebody,” Dittmar told the board. “I consider the use of the town dock a privilege. I minimize my use of the town dock as much as I can … A working man like myself is being discriminated against.”
Dittmar explained in his opening statement that former selectman Skip Wilson had told him at a meeting regarding use of town docks several years ago that he was allowed to drop off passengers but not pick them up from the town docks.
“You were operating it under the assumption that you had the approval to do it?” board member Jim Geary asked Dittmar.
“I’ve been doing it for years,” he replied. “All I do is drop people off. It takes about five minutes.”
VanDongen told the board that, according to the ordinance, Wilson did not have authority to make that decision. Only the harbormaster, acting under the orders of the town manager, has the authority to permit (or deny) uses of the town’s docks.
Rob Putnam, a member of the Harbor Committee, attended the meeting and explained the complaints that had come from fishermen. Dittmar’s boat, Vagabond, is often docked at the pier in a way that blocks the fishermen’s access to the town’s hoist as they finish their working day.
“There was real impact on the fishing community from his boat,” said Putnam.
In his letter to Dittmar, Thurston noted that tie ups to the town dock are limited to two hours within a 24 hour period, as stated in the harbor ordinance.
“We’re in the town dock in the afternoon when there’s a lot of activity,” said Dittmar. “I try to be as courteous to everyone concerned as I can when I use the town dock.
“After a fishing trip the windows are covered with blood, if we had a good trip,” he continued. “It’s kind of necessary for me to use that public hose that’s on the dock to clean things up.
“I’m there cleaning the boat off, I’m not spending a lot of time dropping people off,” he added. “When we’re running two trips a day I come in at the end of the day, around 6 p.m. when there isn’t very much activity so I’m not bothering anyone.
“I think the only time it’s an issue for the fishing community is when I’m there in the afternoon for a couple of hours. It’s a public dock. People come and go there all the time.”
Acadia Fishing Tours is a seasonal operation, typically running trips from mid-June through mid-September. During the peak season Dittmar can take up to 30 people out on the ocean to catch fish and pull up lobster traps.
Ted Fletcher, a member of the Board of Appeals, stated the appeal was being granted “based on the language of the ordinance.” Four of the five members agreed that Dittmar is not embarking passengers nor is he operating his business from the town’s pier.
Board member John Izenour said the town should consider amending the ordinance to clarify the ambiguity.
“The town has a means by which to clarify this ordinance and they should change it before the next season, if they so choose,” he said.