SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Sparked by an Appeals Board decision to allow a charter fishing boat operator to continue disembarking passengers at one of the town docks, the town’s Harbor Committee is taking time this winter to review the language in the town’s Coastal Waters and Harbor Ordinance.
John Dittmar is the owner of Acadia Fishing Tours, the company involved in the recent appeal process. Passengers board his boat, Vagabond, at a private dock owned by Beal’s Lobster Pound and disembark at the Lower Town Dock.
In September, he received a letter from Harbormaster Adam Thurston saying he is not allowed to use the Lower Town Dock for disembarking passengers.
In the letter Thurston cited Section II C(3)(a) of the ordinance, which also states a vessel for hire shall not originate or operate from any municipal pier or float.
“Dropping passengers off at the town float is considered as operation from the pier,” Thurston wrote.
Dittmar appealed the decision, arguing the ordinance clearly states no embarking from a town dock or float but says nothing about dropping people off.
“There certainly isn’t any doubt that Mr. Dittmar is disembarking passengers at the town pier, that’s not a point of contention,” said Appeals Board Chair Lunn Sawyer during the Oct. 7 hearing. “This whole thing revolves around the interpretation of the ordinance as written (and) some interpretation as to the intent.”
Two members were absent from the Oct. 21 Harbor Committee meeting in which the members present were updated on the Appeals Board decision.
“The Appeals Board did not find on our recommendation, but had two suggestions,” said Harbor Committee Chair Anne Napier. “One suggestion: correct the ordinance to include disembarkment as well as embarkment.
In his letter to Dittmar, Thurston included a reminder that use of the town dock is limited to two hours in a 24-hour period.
“It’s not just addressing John,” said Napier at the Harbor Committee meeting. “It’s addressing the issue of this kind of commercial business.”
Dittmar explained to the appeals board he uses the hose at the Lower Town Dock to wash off his boat after returning from a fishing trip. Fishermen told members of the Harbor Committee that Dittmar’s cleaning impeded their use of dock equipment when unloading their catch at the end of the workday.
The Appeals Board’s other suggestion, Napier said, was to consider adding limits on how long boats can tie up at the busiest section of the dock, where both the hose and the hoist are located.
“He can be there for two hours in a 24-hour period, as anybody can,” said Selectman Ryan Donahue, who is the liaison from the Board of Selectmen to the Harbor Committee.
“If that messes up the use of the hoist and on- and off-loading of traps on that bulkhead, then that’s something you as a Harbor Committee have to decide. Whether the better use of that side of that float is to consider something else (is) up to you guys.”
Committee members debated whether to recommend changes right away or take some time to work on them. Thurston suggested waiting until all members of the Harbor Committee were present and more of the ordinance could be reviewed for possible changes.
“You also have to think about when we wrote that, it was so we could still have windjammers unload on schedule once in awhile, one of the water taxis can drop somebody off there,” Thurston explained to the committee.
“If you just say no pick ups or drop offs whatsoever … I think we should add, not on a regular schedule. You know, random pickups and drop offs would be fine.”