BUCKSPORT, Maine — The town dock is undergoing significant repair for the first time in decades as part of a $1.5 million plan to draw more cruise ships and recreational boaters to Bucksport.
Harbormaster Michael Ormsby plans to follow the $70,000 repair job with grant applications that would pay to lengthen the town’s 315-foot main dock, lengthen the town’s floating docks and replace the seasonal wooden floats they ride on with year-round concrete anchors.
Like many coastal Maine towns, including nearby Bar Harbor and Ellsworth, Bucksport wants to improve its waterfront to draw more businesses and tourists to town and thereby revitalize and diversify its economy, Town Council Chairman and Mayor David Keene said.
The town’s location at the head of Penobscot Bay, where the ocean meets the Penobscot River, makes it an ideal place for all sorts of commercial activity. The $1.5 million plan reflects this, town Economic Development Director Richard Rotella said.
It includes marketing Bucksport as a scheduled stop for cruise ships, revitalizing the former Verso paper mill site — once the town’s largest employer — with a $250 million salmon farm and a Maine Maritime Academy training annex, and drawing seafood processing businesses to Buckstown Heritage Park.
Compared with those efforts, dock maintenance is the most basic element, but it’s still necessary and beneficial, Ormsby said.
“I think the benefits to this are [primarily] more people coming into town,” Keene said. “We don’t have many [tourism-based businesses] here right now. The more people we have coming in, the more our businesses will thrive and more businesses will come in.”
Keene said grants are a key element to one the plan’s biggest goals: funding these economic development initiatives without increasing the town’s property tax rate, which is currently $16.30 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The town is covering the cost of the dock repair with unallocated budget funds placed in a waterfront reserve account, Keene said.
“It’s a commercial dock, so if lobstermen want to unload traps there, they can,” Keene said. “The main thing is that it needed to be done. When you are talking nearly 30 or 40 years of tidal movement, things start to get worn. It was time. Put it that way.”
The town will install diesel gas pumps for boats at the town marina this spring, Rotella said.
As part of its $1.5 million plan, Bucksport hopes to apply for grants next spring to replace the wooden floats and extend the town’s main dock to 400 feet. A dock that size would accommodate cruise ships of about 375 feet in length, Rotella said.
According to cruisecritic.com, that’s about the size of small-yacht cruise ships sailed by Un-Cruise Adventures, Crystal Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club, Grand Circle Cruise Lines, Variety Cruises and Emerald Waterways.
The dock could handle tenders from larger cruise ships, Rotella said.
The $1.5 million plan also includes increasing the number of boat slips in its marina from 45 to 60. The waiting list for recreational boat slips is long, and it has been for several years, Rotella said.
One source of funds could be a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Boating Infrastructure Grant. Distributed by the Maine Department of Transportation, the grants typically help projects that may benefit 26-foot or larger recreational boats — those operated primarily for pleasure or leased or chartered for recreational use.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. had 11.9 million recreational boats registered in 2017. Of them, 6.3 million were 16 to 26 feet and 495,460 were 26 to 40 feet.
An EPA planning grant is being used to fund an engineering study to help Bucksport determine the potential uses of the former mill site, the town marina and dock and to qualify for grants, Rotella said.
The study is due early next year.
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