SOUTHWEST HARBOR — With the resignation of former harbormaster Oliver Curry, the third to resign from the position in less than two years, it has been said that chaos has arisen this summer in the state’s seventh top grossing port of Southwest Harbor.
Lack of municipal staffing, including a harbormaster, has limited the town’s ability to handle waterfront affairs during its busiest time of year.
The Select Board recently confirmed the appointment of U.S Coast Guard Officer Jarrod Kushla of Mount Desert as its next harbormaster. Kushla accepted the town’s employment offer July 19, with a start date of November due to an administrative process for retirement that he has to follow.
Over halfway through a second consecutive summer without a harbormaster, Harbor Committee Chair Nick Madeira said the waterfront has been “complete mayhem.”
“The monkeys are running the zoo,” said Madeira, who added that most fishermen, tourists and cruisers have taken advantage of the town facilities. Boaters have allegedly been seen speeding and overusing the town floats, as discussed at a recent Harbor Committee meeting.
“It’s unfortunately been becoming a repeat situation for Southwest Harbor where we cannot seem to maintain a harbormaster and I don’t believe the Harbor Committee has an answer for that,” Madeira said.
It has also been difficult for the Harbor Committee to record minutes of their meetings without the attendance of a harbormaster to document them. No recent Harbor Committee meeting minutes are available for the public to view, which, according to the Freedom of Access Act, is not in the spirit of the law.
Ongoing mooring use issues and waterfront parking complaints have also bled into the discussions at recent Select Board and Harbor Committee meetings.
“There has been minimal policing with managing the collection of payments for rental moorings,” Madeira said, who referred to the circumstances as a free-for-all. “Everybody seems to know that there’s no one in charge and no one has any authority.”
With only one surveillance camera at the busy port and one parking patrolman, it has been hard for the town, which is already short two police officers, to enforce parking rules. Select Board Chair Carolyn Ball explained that overnight parking at the Upper Town Dock and Lower Town Dock parking lots is making it difficult for local sternmen, who pay an annual fee, to park there. It has been noted at Select Board meetings that people are also parking alongside the road, which Ball said makes it hard for emergency vehicles and big boat haulers to get through.
Eilon Zboray was hired as deputy harbormaster to help with waterfront duties shortly before Curry resigned. While working part time, Zboray has been able to keep an eye on the activity in the harbor but, as a deputy, can only do so much.
“Eilon [Zboray] is wonderful but he doesn’t have any authority granted by the state to write a ticket or enforce the ordinance there because he is not a proper harbormaster,” said Madeira.
According to Zboray, who is also training to become a firefighter, mooring distribution is one of the more important waterfront responsibilities and can only be done by a state-endorsed harbormaster.
To assign someone a mooring in an appropriate area requires knowledge of the harbor’s GPS coordinates so boats can move around safely. In June, the Select Board voted unanimously that no more moorings will be issued until a harbormaster starts working.
“Harbormaster training is required to be taken and then an advanced harbormaster training needs to be completed,” said Town Manager Marilyn Lowell, who has been alternating harbor shifts with Town Clerk Jennifer LaHaye. She added that working two full-time jobs in less than 40 hours after Curry’s resignation made it initially difficult to locate information involving the harbor.
“It has definitely been hard without a harbormaster, but with the deputy [harbormaster], it has helped me and Jen try to keep things somewhat moving, but there’s always issues that do come up,” Lowell said.
Zboray has been working on the weekdays, while the rest is monitored by Lowell and LaHaye. Kushla will work Monday through Friday and be on call on the weekends. He accepted the job advertised as a 40-hour-a-week, year-round position, with a pay range of $24 to $26.81 per hour depending on work experience.
Though Kushla will have a lot to tackle after this summer, Madeira is excited for the harbormaster, who he said was recommended by the Harbor Committee.
“As a Harbor Committee, we try to do what’s best for our harbor,” he said.