2017-10-05 / Front Page

Joint harbor master on the table

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD/SACO – The cities of Biddeford and Saco have always shared the river that divides them, but they could soon share a single harbor master to watch over that river.

Biddeford Harbor Commission and Saco Coastal Water Commission members have discussed merging the two groups. Brandon Pettit, a grants and projects specialist for the city of Saco, will conduct interviews with individuals in both cities to determine interest in sharing a harbor master, which would result in a single full time paid harbor master to oversee operations in Biddeford and Saco. Pettit declined to comment on his work thus far.

Marshall Alexander and Paul Lariviere serve as harbor master and assistant harbor master respectively on a parttime basis in Biddeford and Daniel Chadbourne is the part nd also volunteers part time. Alexander and Lariviere each receive an annual stipend of $4,500. Chadbourne receives approximately $2,500 annually from the city, which comes from mooring inspection fees and a free pier use permit valued at $450.

Chadbourne said the discussion of joining commissions was far from final, but believes it could work and would benefit both cities. He believes the fire and police departments work well together and the two harbor commissions could do the same. The single harbor master would likely be the river patrol officer and clam warden for the two municipalities, as well as oversee five mooring fields and three major marinas. Chadbourne is concerned with river safety as more people begin to use it.

“When I was a kid there might be three or four bass fishermen during the summer,” Chadbourne said. “Now there’s hundreds of kayakers, paddle boards, jet skis and people doing all kinds of things. We got to have some patrolling for safety reasons.”

Chadbourne has been harbor master in Saco for more than 10 years and said enforcement of rules on the Saco River has been his biggest challenge. Chadbourne is not a law enforcement officer, but the joint harbor master could be. Police officers from Saco and Biddeford share patrol duties on the river and would fall under the direction of the new harbor master. In his time on the river, Chadbourne has only given out two tickets, both of which were for refusal to pay the pier use fee, which is $50 per day.

“My goal is for everybody to at least get along. I don’t care if you’re best friends,” Chadbourne said.

Having one person available full time to respond to questions and problems about the river would be a benefit, Chadbourne said. He inspects about 100 moorings on a biannual basis whenever the tide is low, and said keeping track of them all requires a great deal of organization. Had Hurricane José reached Maine, Chadbourne would have helped coordinate moving boats from Camp Ellis up the river for shelter. Chadbourne also hopes a single harbor master would help foster consistency in enforcement on both sides of the river.

“Right now Saco does things one way, Biddeford does things different than we do,” he said. “One ordinance would be easier for police, rescuers and managers.”

Chadbourne hopes the discussion about a single harbor master can continue in January once the municipal budgets for both cities are beingworked on. He believes the merge is inevitable, despite resistance in some places.

“The resistance is simply trepidation to change. We Mainers look at change as drama. Nobody likes drama,” Chadbourne wrote in an email.

He said only 35 years ago, when he was a teenager, factory supervisors lived in Saco and workers lived in Biddeford, and some of those underlying feelings still remain. Most young people, Chadbourne said, couldn’t care less though.

“A lot of it is about waiting for the older generation to stop being mad about whatever happened when they were kids,” he said.

Sean Tarpey, owner of Rumery’s Boat Yard and chairman of the Biddeford Harbor Commission, shares many of Chadbourne’s sentiments. He believes Saco and Biddeford should combine efforts and sees the joint harbor master position as a good opportunity. Tarpey has heard conversations about consolidating the position for the past five years.

“From what I can see, the two cities want somebody on the river full-time during boating season. That’s what we’d like too,” he said.

The two harbor commissions have also worked closely on the Saco River dredging project, which will begin in November. Tarpey hopes that will provide the foundation for continued cooperation. He said some people are skeptical, but ultimately the decision will be up to each city’s mayor and council.

“Biddeford Pool is a big harbor, it’s unlike anything that Saco has,” Tarpey said. “Saco has Camp Ellis, which is unlike anything Biddeford has. I’m sure Saco is worried about outsiders having a say over what happens at their facility. Likewise people in Biddeford are concerned about non-Biddeford residents having a say over the Pool.”

Alexander and Lariviere both declined to comment.

Jim Katz, Saco Coastal Waters Commission chairman, hopes to reduce costs for both cities by merging the commissions and eliminating duplicate services. Both commissions post speed limit signs along the river as well as deal with regulations regarding commercial clamming and fishing.

“There are efficiencies to be gained and good civic leadership is always looking to that,” Katz said.

The Army Corps of Engineers will pay between $3.8 and $4.2 million for the upcoming maintenance dredge of the Saco River. Sand from the first dredge will be placed in deep gorges in the river and sand from the second dredge will be deposited at Camp Ellis.

According to Katz, the Army Corps of Engineers determined the Saco River generates $52 million a year in revenue for the surrounding area during its assessment prior to the dredge. Katz said a well-functioning waterfront would be to the advantage of both cities.

“The river is the controlling and driving factor in trying to combine these two harbor commissions,” he said. “It is a tremendous asset to have in this community.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com.

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