Residents voice support for working waterfront

Wed, 05/10/2023 - 8:45am

    The Boothbay Harbor town hall was close to capacity for the May 8 selectmen’s meeting, the first for newly elected members Mark Osborn and Mark Gimbel. A crowd came to show support for a working waterfront and the fishing community in light of recent struggles to find space in the harbor.  

    A decision by the appeals board on April 27 halted progress on Eastside Waterfront Park, which would include space for lobstermen to use. This move was one of the latest in a years-long conflict between Boothbay Harbor Waterfront Preservation and park abutters. 

    Commercial fisherman Devyn Campbell spoke on behalf of his peers at the meeting. He said he was frustrated with the process of securing useable waterfront space. He said the permitting process, including appeals and legal action, is taking too long.  

    “At the end of the day, no matter what, we have a dockage crisis,” said Campbell. “It seems to me that this a failure of good government. I just don't understand how we can be thrown through this so many times. There's all these guys here. They've got to have somewhere to go ... we need to do something.” 

    Selectman Michael Tomko, reelected chair during the meeting, said he listened to some of the lobstermen beforehand. He voiced support for the community and noted the constraints selectmen are under in the issue.  

    "The select board has your back. They hear the concerns, and they want to be able to keep fishing viable,” Tomko said. “We have to follow the rules and there is nothing that this board, as much as I would like to say, can do to put more floats in. There's a process and it leads either through the courts or planning board. I will do everything I can to help with that process as an individual. Other than that, I'm not sure what else this board can do." 

    If Boothbay Harbor Waterfront Preservation reapplies to the planning board, the process could potentially be expedited, according to Tomko.

    Former selectman Denise Griffin also spoke in support of the fishermen. Between low catch numbers and rising costs, the town has an issue, she said. She called for the selectmen to raise their hands to show “that you’re going to do your utmost to rectify this problem before the next board meeting.” 

    Selectman Kenneth Rayle, reelected vice chair during the meeting, said the board is committed to lobstermen and the process. “We’re going to incrementally do what we can because God knows we do not want this to go backwards,” he said. “It is extraordinarily important to our heritage and our livelihood that it succeeds.” 

    In public forum, the issue was raised again by Thomas Minerich of the planning board. He said fishermen and lobstermen are the lifeblood of the community and what the town was founded on. However, he said the issue is not about them or appeals from the park’s abutters.   

    “This is all about the park,” he said. “They could have changed what their request was to get their permit through, and those wharves would have been in already. So, I really want us to be careful when we try to say 'Gee it's somebody here or it’s somebody there that caused this,’ when it's not. This was all known way in advance. I wish people would step up, be honest and do things properly."    

    In other business, Town Manager Julia Latter said the new pump out boat has arrived and will begin operation May 15. She added, two interviews for a harbor master were set for the week of May 8.  

    Progress is being made on the footbridge renovation, still on track to be completed by the end of May, according to Latter. Selectmen approved a wharves and weirs application to remove the town pier and install six pilings and three floats. The installation will triple the docks’ available space and make it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Tomko and Latter. 

    Latter reported the memorandum of understanding from Lincoln County commissioners for the Sheriff’s Department to assist Boothbay Harbor has been signed and approved by both parties. It runs through September. Latter and Police Chief Doug Snyder said the deal is working well.