SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Acknowledging its economic importance to the town, officials are looking at ways to bolster use of the harbor, a step they believe would generate additional revenue for both the town and community as a whole.
Selectmen met April 14 in a workshop session to discuss waterfront-related issues and get input from interested parties about the harbor’s future. Some see continued vitality around the harbor as crucial to sustaining a year-round community.
“You need that economic engine to have growth, and right now you have no growth,” Town Manager Don Lagrange told those in attendance.
The town has three public facilities on the shore of Southwest Harbor: the Lower Town Dock and Upper Town Dock on the Clark Point Road, and on the southern shore, the Manset Town Dock on the Shore Road.
More parking spaces and improvements, especially at the busy Manset Town Dock, are seen as paramount to the harbor generating more revenue, not just for the municipality but also for those whose livelihoods depend on the waterfront.
Voters in November rejected a proposal to buy the Knote property across from the Manset dock for $600,000. Town officials planned to develop an 85-space paid parking lot there for an additional $350,000. During public hearings preceding the vote, some residents argued it would be better for the town to purchase the waterfront Hook property, which abuts the Manset Town Dock.
Calls for purchasing the Hook property resurfaced at the workshop.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said Harbor Committee member Corey Pettegrow. “The Knote property is not useful.”
The town now leases the Hook property for $8,000 a year. The owners have not responded to previous attempts by the town to see if they would sell the lot. Town officials are concerned about losing use of the property if the annual lease were not renewed.
Lagrange said the town has had the line between the Manset dock and the Hook property surveyed, and a boundary line agreement has been drawn. The legal agreement will be sent to the owners to sign. This could open the door to negotiations about purchasing the property, Lagrange said.
Purchase of the Hook property could clear the way for a more ambitious project on the Manset shore.
“If we get the Hook property, my suggestion would be to build a fishing pier,” Lagrange said.
The Manset dock is used by commercial fishermen, marine-related businesses and by recreational boaters. Building a separate dock for fishermen would ease overcrowding at the existing dock, Lagrange maintained.
A representative from Beal’s Lobster Pier, which, along with Southwest Lobster, is one of two fixed-base lobster buying businesses on the shore of the harbor said he was concerned about the town focus on the Manset dock, where many fishermen are selling their catch to out of town lobster buyers using trucks.
“It sounds like the goal of the town is to increase fishing at the wharf,” he said. This “could have an impact on our business,” he said.
One resident said he hopes the town isn’t planning to fund improvements to the harbor by raising user fees. Lagrange acknowledged that was the goal.
“I think we can get alternate sources of revenue than raising fees for fishermen,” Lagrange said.
One source of additional revenue for the town would be to increase the number of moorings in the harbor. The town charges a fee for each mooring. According to Harbormaster Adam Thurston, there is currently room for 80 additional moorings in the harbor. However, town officials have maintained more parking is needed for the moorings to be useful to boaters. To Lagrange, that means the purchase of two properties.
“You need the Hook property, and you need the Knote property,” he said.
One resident opined that the number of cruising yacht owners that once were plentiful on the Maine coast has been dropping and questioned whether any focus on recreational boaters would generate significant revenue. Lagrange disagreed, saying the emphasis would be on attracting small boat owners and kayakers. Waterfront access, he added, also could encourage families with children to move into town.
“This would really bring in the middle class,” he said. “It might even bring in families.”