2018-01-18 / Front Page

Cities move closer to joint harbor commission

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD/SACO – Saco city officials released the latest draft of regulations for a proposed joint harbor commission, which includes provisions Saco could adopt whether or not Biddeford agrees to a joint commission.

The latest draft is the ninth version, which still has to be approved by both city councils although it is not on the agenda for either one yet. Saco Coastal Waters Commission Chairman Jim Katz hopes the Saco City Council could have its first reading on it by the end of January. Katz said commission members reviewed final details of the regulations at their last meeting.

“There’s no question it’s the most efficient and best way to go forward with these two city’s management of the river,” he said. “The only thing different between the two is Biddeford does not have a pier. They have Marblehead Boat Launch. That’s owned by the state of Maine. That’s their public access to the ocean. Saco has the pier and all kinds of other issues like parking permits, maintenance and repairs that Biddeford doesn’t want to be involved with. Biddeford on the other hand has shellfishing. Saco doesn’t have any of that. Saco doesn’t want to be involved. We’re not telling Biddeford what to do. Biddeford manages it well. We’re looking at opportunities we could open some areas up to shellfishing down the road.”

Under the new regulations, the city administrator of Saco and city manager of Biddeford will appoint residents of each city to a seven-member harbor commission and a single harbor master. The commission will oversee general operations of the river and harbors of the two cities, appeal decisions from the harbor master, consider applications for structures both new and existing, make recommendations to the councils regarding enhancement of harbor facilities and updates to the ordinance. The joint harbor commission would recommend mooring registration fees to be adopted by both city councils. The regulations also state that the commission would be in charge of staffing and approval of actions of a joint shellfish conservation committee.

The harbor master would be in charge of enforcing local harbor ordinances as well as relevant state laws and statues. The harbor master’s salary, to be determined, will be approved by the Saco city administrator and Biddeford city manager.

The police chiefs of each city would staff and supervise a single harbor patrol to operate between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“I think the whole thing can work,” Katz said. “It just requires a little forward thinking, cooperation and desire to eliminate a duplication of effort. There’s a lot going on. We could spend much more time productively increasing what we do in resources rather than just crunching away on the day to day stuff.”

Sean Tarpey, chairman of the Biddeford Harbor Commission, said overall he was satisfied with the latest draft.

“Essentially what it’s supposed to be is a blending of the Saco regulations and Biddeford regulations,” he said. “For the most part they did a really good job. I’m not sure the shellfish stuff belongs in this document. Shellfish is its own commission in Biddeford, separate from the harbor commission. It’s a subsection of the waterways ordinance so I can understand why it’s included.”

Tarpey will discuss the regulations at the next Biddeford Harbor Commission meeting Thursday, Jan. 18.

“The big hurdle on this will be trying to budget the funds necessary to get a full time person to take this job,” he said. “With benefits, a vehicle, boat, we’re looking at between $70,000 and $100,000 annual expenses. I don’t know where that’s coming from.”

Saco Harbor Master Daniel Chadbourne said that while the funding source hasn’t been decided, he is confident one can be found.

“We haven’t gotten to that yet,” he said. “The harbor commission is a group of citizens donating time and experience to try to help the community. In no way, shape or form is it any kind of decision making commission. Everything they do is recommended, all checks and balances. There’s a lot of information going around right now. It’s confusing to people. There are a number of meetings coming up so we’ll see what happens.”

Chadbourne said that whether the joint harbor commission happens, the city wants to know if clams in the beaches of Saco are edible and able to be harvested.

“It’s a big deal to put the two towns together,” he said. “It’s almost ground breaking. Biddeford and Saco have been rivals since the 1700s. There’s always been tension there between the two towns since the factory days. But we don’t have any factories anymore, just a bunch of buildings.”

Chadbourne also conducted a depth sounding, or depth measurement, of the river after the dredge. He was concerned there would be piles of sand along the river bottom where the dredge vessel dumped material, but found that the depth had only changed by about a foot.

“I wasn’t expecting them to do as much as they got done,” he said. “There were a few issues but for the most part it went pretty steady. There’s still some touching up to do but I’m pretty content with what happened.”

As far as the join harbor commission is concerned, Tarpey is confident the two cities can come to an agreement.

“The main reason this has progressed as far as it has is the river is patrolled by the police departments of both communities,” he said. “If you had a harbor master whose primary job would be to patrol the river during the summer months that would be a really big help. We sent somebody to the moon. We can figure out how to deal with a joint harbor commission.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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