ROCKLAND, Maine ― For two decades, the public has been allowed to use a boardwalk along Rockland Harbor without any type of legal agreement between the city and waterfront property owners.
But with a changing waterfront, city officials are working to ensure access remains in a more formal way.
The city has begun discussions with a private marina company that recently purchased a property that the boardwalk crosses about creating a formal license or lease agreement that would legally ensure public access to the popular walkway on its property.
The boardwalk access talks are the result of Safe Harbor Marinas’ plan to expand its footprint in Rockland Harbor, where it owns an existing marina. While some in the city have feared the expansion would negatively impact the harbor, the size of the project has been scaled back since it was initially proposed several years ago and marina representatives have said they are prioritizing improving public access on and around their property.
“Working out some legal format for continued access to the boardwalk is certainly more than we’ve had in the past. We’ve used it and continued to use it without any sort of legal guide and I think this is a step ahead in that direction so I’m quite pleased that we’re going to be working on that. Hopefully it’s fairly ironclad and lasts us for a long, long time,” Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser said during a city council meeting Monday night.
Glaser, City Manager Tom Luttrell, Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf and Harbormaster Ryan Murry met with Bill Morong, a consultant for Safe Harbor Marinas, last week to discuss how the expansion plan would include increased public access to Rockland Harbor.
Creating a legal agreement for public use of the stretch of boardwalk on Safe Harbor Marinas’ 60 Ocean Street property was discussed as one of the ways to accomplish this, according to city officials who were at the meeting.
The boardwalk was built 20 years ago when MBNA opened its waterfront complex in Rockland, and the public was permitted to walk the harborside path. Through Rockland Harbor Park LLC, local developer Stuart Smith purchased the property in 2007 and has continued to allow the public to use the boardwalk, which is now a part of the city’s harbor trail.
Earlier this year, Safe Harbor Marinas purchased Yachting Solutions’ Rockland marina, including a piece of property Yachting Solutions had been leasing from Rockland Harbor Park LLC. The land purchase split ownership of the boardwalk between Safe Harbor Marinas and Rockland Harbor Park LLC.
City officials said Morong is working to bring Smith to the table to discuss an agreement for the Rockland Harbor Park LLC stretch of boardwalk as well.
“Safe Harbors supports the Harbor Trail effort and we are on board for finding a tool, such as a lease or a license where the public access across the boardwalk is ensured,” Morong said in a letter to council.
It is unclear when a final agreement will be reached, but MacLellan-Ruf said the city would pursue a strong agreement that protected public access for the community.
“This is all going to go to legal [counsel], so anybody who has concerns that people will back out on their word, we’re going to make sure that we have clad and sealed, and absolutely, protection for the community, for that public access,” MacLellan-Ruf said.
As a result of the “positive direction” discussions with Safe Harbor Marinas’ are going, Councilor Nate Davis dropped an effort to have the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands require that Safe Harbor Marinas compensate the city if the agency approves the marina’s expansion.
Safe Harbor Marinas has also indicated that it would pay for the relocation of any mooring balls that need to be moved due to the expansion, create a new pier and lookout point that will be open to the public on its property, improve access to a nearby city-owned beach and contribute architectural assistance to a plan for public restrooms near the beach, according to city officials.