ROCKLAND, Maine ― Tall Ships America, a fleet of sailboats that navigates the world to promote maritime heritage, will dock in Rockland next summer as part of Maine’s bicentennial celebration.
But the chair of the city’s harbor management commission — a group that provides insights and recommendations on harbor-related matters — fears the contract to bring these ships here could burden the city with financial responsibilities.
It’s an issue the harbor commission would have raised, if only it was included in discussions.
“The commission has no reservations about anything that is going to enhance the bicentennial or the glory of our harbor,” Rockland Harbor Management Commission Chair Lousie MacLellan-Ruff said. “But one of the things the commission does is we ask the hard questions. The city cannot have a party without knowing who is going to pay for the party.”
City councilors have approved a contract with Tall Ships America to be an official host port in Maine next summer. It will cost about $27,500 to host the ships. Specifics of the event likely will be finalized early in the new year, according to Rockland City Councilor Ed Glaser.
Proponents of bringing the event to Rockland, including the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, say these funds will be privately raised.
“We wouldn’t be moving ahead if we thought there was a serious chance that Rockland would be stuck with this bill,” Glaser said.
MacLellan-Ruff said if the plan had come before the harbor commission, it would have asked more questions about how the event would be financed.
“I do feel that the committees and commissions are here for checks and balances,” MacLellan-Ruff said. “I do think we are here to hold the council accountable.”
The agreement waives any docking fees Tall Ships America would pay to utilize Rockland docks and the city must also provide electricity and water for the ships, according to the contract.
The city negotiated a similar deal when the Draken Harald Harfagre, a replica of a traditional Viking longship, made a three-day stop in Rockland Harbor last summer. The organization that owned the ship paid no docking fees, but MacLellan-Ruff pointed out it charged patrons to tour the ship while “the city got bupkis.”
The plan for the Draken was not brought before the harbor management commission for review.
With Rockland and its harbor experiencing a renaissance in the past decade, MacLellan-Ruff feels the city still stuffers from a self-esteem problem that is a holdover from 20 years ago when officials were doing anything to get people to visit the city.
But with a “crumbling” harbor infrastructure, including ramps that are only ADA-compliant at certain tides, MacLellan-Ruff said it’s time for the city to know its worth.
“In order to continue [Rockland’s growth] we need to have reasonable and sensible infrastructure,” she said. “Which does mean that for individuals or groups or organizations that want to use our beautiful harbor, there needs to be some reimbursement for the city. If not, the taxes will continue to increase and the infrastructure will continue to fail.”
MacLellan-Ruff said the commission is not against celebrating Maine’s bicentennial and Rockland’s maritime heritage through an event like the tall ships’ visit. But she wants the commission to be involved in the process.
Tall Ships also will dock in Portland as part of Maine’s 200th birthday celebration.