SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A year after selectmen decided that charging commercial landing barge operators $5,000 a year to use the town’s facilities was too much, the Harbor Committee is again requesting the fee be increased to that amount.
“They can easily pass on this fee to their customers,” said Harbor Committee Chairman Nick Madeira during the June 22 Board of Selectmen meeting. “They’re the biggest contributors to the damage and wear and tear on our facilities.”
In the fall of 2019, the Harbor Committee proposed this same increase, which was eventually met with some pushback from the two landing barge companies that operate out of the Manset Dock. Historically, commercial landing barges were charged a per-use fee that topped out at $800 for resident barges and $1,600 for nonresident barges. There are two barges based in Southwest Harbor that regularly use the dock.
“It’s a drop in the bucket for what they’re doing,” said Madeira, about the barges that are used to transfer fuel, construction materials and other large items to the town’s outer islands.
In 2020, after pushback from the barge operators regarding the new fee, town officials agreed to reduce the increase to a high of $880 for resident barges.
Another increase previously proposed, but rejected, was charging $10,000 for passenger ferries to operate from the town’s facilities. Before last year, when selectmen decided to set a fee for the ferries at $2,500, the ferries were charged a fee per passenger throughout the season, according to former Harbormaster Adam Thurston. Members of the Harbor Committee are once again asking for the fee to be changed to $10,000. The change, if implemented, wouldn’t go into effect until the 2022 season.
“I do think, in a way, they do bring commerce to town,” Selectman Chad Terry said in response to the increase, indicating the price might drive the ferry business out of town.
“We’re not trying to drive them out,” said Harbor Committee member Donald Sullivan.
Fee increases were three of seven items the committee brought before the Board of Selectmen at the meeting.
“I know we’re in a search for a harbormaster,” said Madeira, about one of the other items on their list. “We also want to make it a priority to find an assistant harbormaster. It’s been an issue in the past of the harbormaster being overwhelmed.”
Jesse Gilley, hired in January to be the town’s harbormaster, resigned in June. Gilley has agreed to work on a very part-time basis until the town finds a replacement, where he will mainly focus on paperwork, according to Interim Town Manager Dana Reed.
Another request from the Harbor Committee was not to allow overnight parking in the Manset and Lower Town dock parking areas.
“We really want to make a point of taking care of our town’s facilities,” said Madeira. “We think there’s a little bit of overuse of the overnight parking.”
When members of the Board of Selectmen pointed out there was a fee to park overnight at the Manset Dock, one harbor committee member said it didn’t make any difference.
“We don’t want a parking fee because it’s not enforced,” said John Stanley. “The overnight enforcement would be a lot easier than two-hour enforcement.”
A police officer who attended the meeting suggested posting signs to help the public be more aware of parking restrictions and fees.
“It there’s overnight parking there, there’s a need,” said Selectman Carolyn Ball. “It’s a public parking lot. It’s not a lot where people have to have a pass.”
Members of the Board of Selectmen said they would look over the proposed fee changes and revisit them at a future meeting.
“I guess as a recommending committee, we want to know how you want those facilities used,” said Madeira.