ELLSWORTH — A commercial dock for aquaculture and fishing vessels to unload their catch.
New fuel tanks, including diesel.
A larger boat to patrol the Union River.
A combined building with bath house and harbormaster’s office.
These are just a few of the goals members of the Ellsworth Harbor Commission laid out for City Council members at a planning workshop on Monday evening.
One of the group’s longer-term objectives is to move toward “more of a commercial working harbor-type environment,” said Harbor Commission Chairman Mark Remick.
As part of that vision, which Remick said is “newly developing,” the city would eventually add a commercial pier just south of the existing boat ramp.
“The next step towards a working waterfront is giving the fishermen a place to unload and reload,” Remick said.
Two members of the audience stood up unprompted to support the idea.
“We’d like to make Ellsworth Harbor our home,” said John Noll, co-founder of Pemetic Sea Farms, which cultivates oysters in the Union River Bay and is expanding this summer with two new leases in the area.
“The fresh water is easier on the boat,” Noll said. “It’s completely protected, it’s proximate to the Mount Desert Island area and it’s located near the service center.”
In a capital improvements request form, which is a rough projection of what it could cost to complete a project, the commission estimated that installing a commercial pier would cost around $600,000, money the commission anticipates coming from grant and bond funding.
But more pressing concerns, said Remick, are the city’s gas pump and fuel tank, which are “both expired,” Remick said.
“We are operating on borrowed time. They are also so aged that they are not going to get certified.”
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is aware of the expiration, Remick said, and gave the city time to fix them, “but that grace period could arguably have been over a couple of years ago.”
“The fuel is an immediate,” Remick said. “We’ve got to get this done as quickly as possible.”
The city did solicit for bids to replace the tanks last year, Remick said, but rejected the two it received because they were over budget.
The project was originally estimated to cost $160,000, money that would come in part from a grant and in part from a bond anticipation note approved by councilors in January 2018.
But on Monday, City Manager David Cole told the council that the project will likely “be more expensive than what was originally anticipated,” and that he was looking into additional funding from the state to help defray the cost.
Another Pemetic Sea Farms founder also supported the new tanks.
“Towards the end of the season the gas pump was not functioning properly and a $130 total was ringing in as $10,” said Anne Bowden. “It was annoying and disruptive to our operations.”
Remick also reported to councilors that “The harbormaster’s boat has now become a safety issue. We’re taking a heck of a gamble just putting that thing in the water.”
The boat is too small, with a 15-year-old motor, no anti-skid (resulting in topsides that are slippery when wet), and no working gauges, Remick said.
The cost to replace it would be around $35,000, according to the capital improvements request form, funded through general tax revenue.
The old boat could possibly be repurposed for use in Branch Lake, Harbormaster Adam Wilson wrote in the request form.
“I’d feel safer if I know that they’ve got a better boat,” Bowden chimed in.
Other projects the commission would like to eventually accomplish include an additional floating dock for recreational use, repairs to rotting cribbing (the foundation of the marina’s main float), sidewalk improvements, reconfiguring the parking lot and combining the harbormaster’s office and bath house.
“The future of the harbor is mixed-use,” Cole said.