Rockland wrestles with portable toilet problem

Posted Oct. 20, 2011, at 8:03 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — As the community grows in popularity, more and more people are flocking to its attractions — especially the granite Rockland Breakwater, which stretches almost a mile into the harbor and is home to a historic lighthouse.

But not a bathroom.

And as more and more of those walkers find themselves in need of toilet facilities, people who live near the three portable toilets installed by the city near the breakwater say that something’s rotten in the city of Rockland.

About a dozen people, including park neighbors and city officials, met Wednesday afternoon at Rockland City Hall for the first meeting of the “Porta-Potty Working Group.”

“The breakwater is a curse in a way,” said Marianne Hamlin, who lives at Jameson Point. “It’s a great thing for Rockland, and all of us, but it certainly has created problems.”

Others who came to the meeting referred back to the complicated history of the portable toilets, which have been a bone of contention in the city for almost a decade. Eight years ago, officials placed the portable toilets at Marie “Sis” Reed Park near the path that leads to the breakwater. After residents of the Jameson Point housing development near the park complained about the noise, smell and trash, officials moved them to a position near parking for the park. More complaints caused yet another move about three years ago, this time to a small portion of land that belongs to the Samoset Resort.

But this summer, a few outspoken residents of the development asked resort officials to have the city remove them immediately. The request ultimately led to the formation of the working group, which is helmed by Rockland Harbor Master Ed Glaser.

“If you’ve got a complaint, let the City Council know,” he told the attendees, most of whom are residents of Jameson Point. “There are solutions to almost every problem.”

But resident Gene Kenniston said he feels that the city has forfeited its right to have public toilets at that location because of a lack of maintenance. He also believes the portable toilets are heavily used at night by people who are not tourists.

“I believe it to be a younger crowd. I believe it to be people who have visited pubs,” he said. “The city simply didn’t do its job. You have already demonstrated that the city cannot maintain what it has. It’s like rotten garbage. It draws the flies.”

After the workshop was over, he said that for him the solution is obvious.

“They don’t clean it up. They’ve neglected it,” Kenniston said. “I would have to look hard at eliminating [the portable toilets].”

But not everyone felt that the toilets could be flushed so easily. Audrey Lovering, Rockland’s new community development director, said that with more foot traffic at the breakwater and a long harbor trail in the works, it’s just not feasible to have no place to go to the bathroom at that location. She suggested that the city might be able to make its public bathroom into another tourist draw.

“A scenic bathroom might be another reason for Rockland to become a destination,” she said.

Lovering described a public restroom she had visited in Paris that had tinted windows on the outside to prevent people from looking in. But the windows were clear on the inside to give a view to those who were looking out.

“I’m a little extreme when it comes to bathrooms,” she said. “I think it’s an experience that we should somehow create.”

Others in the room started to wax enthusiastic about this idea.

A Jameson Point resident recalled a public restroom he had visited in Seattle where a telescope was installed above the urinal in order to gaze out at the ocean.

Will Clayton, who is a Rockland city councilor and also an adviser to the Samoset, said later that he appreciated her “out of the box” thinking.

According to Lovering, estimates to build another permanent public restroom facility in the city were about $100,000. The estimate might be higher for a facility in the park, she said. But Lovering added that she is working with a dozen architecture students from the University of Maine at Augusta and has asked them to find a solution to the bathroom problem.

“The people aren’t going away. The breakwater isn’t going away,” she told residents. “We don’t want you to move away.”

Some of the residents said that while they don’t want to appear elitist or be counted among the “not in my backyard” contingent, they do pay high taxes to the city for their shorefront properties and expect a little courtesy in exchange.

Wendy Rapaport, who lives at the point, said that she would like to have a permanent bathroom constructed at the end of the breakwater.

“It’s an expense, but you know what, you have to do it,” she said. “We’re not a small town anymore. You should make Rockland be the beautiful place it is.”

At the end of the meeting, four people volunteered to serve on what Glaser called the “Porta-Potty task force.” They will start meeting in a week in order to solve the problem.

But not having a restroom on the shore — with all the boat building, fishing, marina, park, office and residential activity going on there — is not an option.

“It’s the nature of having a harbor that’s active,” Glaser said. “We have a lot of uses that butt up against each other.”

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