ELLSWORTH — City councilors are considering opening Ellsworth’s marina for year-round use, but not until they see a lot more information.
That was the word after a council meeting on Oct. 21 in which interim Harbormaster Chad Brackett came to councilors with a proposal from the Harbor Commission to extend the boating season past Oct. 22, the date at which all boats must be out of the water.
“The city installed ice eaters at the harbor last winter and it proved to be very successful in keeping the ice from the slips,” Deputy City Manager Tammy Mote wrote in a memo to councilors before the meeting.
“The Harbor Commission is interested in providing this winter berthing service,” Mote wrote, “in order to recoup some of the costs associated with running the ice eaters in the winter.”
Brackett told councilors that he knew of two boat owners interested in a season extension this year, one boat that would stay in until December and a 30-foot sailboat whose owner is interested in staying all winter.
But councilors, and members of the public, were skeptical of the proposal. They were particularly concerned with the city’s liability in the event of an accident or damage to the docks or ice eaters.
“I’d say you have a pretty darn good challenge to get [a boat owner] to foot the $50,000 or $100,000 bill to have Prock Marine come up and reset those things,” said Councilor John Phillips. “It’s pretty toothless claws.”
Councilors also questioned whether (and how much) staff time would be spent keeping the docks clear, responding to emergencies and ensuring the machines are working properly.
“I have an issue with putting a city highway employee with a shovel down there,” said Councilor Gary Fortier, who also wondered whether there would be enough electricity to power the ice eaters and a vessel’s bilge pump.
Under the proposal brought forward last Monday, an owner would pay $140 per month or $800 for the winter season to keep a boat at a slip on the marina. The owner would be required to provide the city with proof of insurance and check on the vessel weekly.
But resident Stephen Shea was wary of the idea.
“What’s in this for the city?” Shea asked during a public hearing. “You’re assuming all these risks and all these potential problems, and what’s in it for you? I would say it’s a pretty easy answer. Zero.”
Councilors said they simply didn’t have enough information to make a decision, and tabled a vote on the ordinance change until a special meeting on Friday, Nov. 8, at 8 a.m.
“The bar to convince me that there isn’t a lot of risk — that’s pretty high right now,” said Councilor Dale Hamilton.
Chairman Marc Blanchette agreed.
“There are too many questions of liability, too many questions of safety, too many questions of damage,” Blanchette said. “Unless I can be shown where other areas do this successfully and have all the bases covered I couldn’t support it as it is right now.”
The harbormaster has discretion to allow boats to stay in past the end of the season, Phillips pointed out, which could allow those interested in winter slips some time to consider other arrangements until they have an answer from the council.
“That’s another option,” said Phillips, “extending the dates and still requiring the boats to be out of there by the time we have issues with ice.”