ROCKLAND, Maine — A century ago, Rockland Harbor’s bustling lime industry meant that lots of boats needed to load and unload boats at the North End to fill the hungry kilns, with navigation so important that the waterway was designated a federal channel.
Those days have long gone, but the designation — and the limitations it imposes — remain. And that has thrown a monkey wrench into the business operations of the O’Hara Corp., a company that has been located on the waterfront for decades. Company officials wanted to continue to moor a semipermanent barge in the channel near Front Street to which they tie up herring boats for lobster bait, but to do so would require an act of Congress.
On Wednesday night, they got that. The House of Representatives voted 417-3 to approve the 2013 Water Resources Reform and Development Act, a bipartisan bill that authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop, maintain and support the needs of the country’s ports and waterways. The bill had already been approved by the Senate on an 83-14 vote. Its co-sponsors included U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud. The bill contains several provisions that will affect Maine, including modifying the federal channel in Rockland Harbor.
“I think the change of channel is going to benefit us,” Paul McFarland, the general manager of O’Hara Corp., said Tuesday. “It will enable us to operate a little more easily.”
Pingree said she and Michaud were happy to help the company, which she described as a key part of the working waterfront and fishing community in Rockland that makes a big contribution to the local economy.
“I’ve been in and out of that part of Rockland harbor hundreds of times on the ferry and I’ve never seen that channel used for anything,” Pingree said Wednesday. “It seems like a relatively simple change to deauthorize an unused navigation channel like that one, but turned out to be something that, literally, required an act of Congress.”
Other provisions that will affect Maine include reopening the Cape Arundel dredged material disposal site, which Michaud said should significantly reduce the cost of Army Corps projects in southern Maine, boosting investments in small and medium harbors, such as those in Maine, and promoting the use of advanced composite materials. Locally, the University of Maine and Dragon Products of Thomaston develop and manufacture those materials.
“I’m pleased that the House was able to pass this bipartisan bill, and I’m confident it will help advance timely improvements to our nation’s maritime infrastructure. Our ports, harbors and inland waterways are vital to the health of our local and national economies,” Michaud said in a statement. “They provide trade opportunities for our businesses and are critical to boosting our national competitiveness.”