Is Rockland Maine privatizing its historic inner harbor ?
Plans presented by Yachting Solutions (YS) at the November 11, 2017 meeting of Rockland's Harbor Management Commission appear to "take" a very large portion of Rockland's inner harbor. If YS continues with its expansion, the majority of the inner harbor may be be controlled by the company as well as a handful of other private enterprises, in the water and along the shore.
* Who owns Rockland Harbor?
You and I. The state of Maine, through its Bureau of Parks and Lands owns and administers all the submerged lands of Rockland Harbor (and all of Maine's state waters) on behalf of the people.The Submerged Land Rules' Preamble makes that clear.
"The State of Maine holds Submerged Lands, as defined herein, in trust for the benefit, rights and use of the general public." ..."Because exclusive, private uses of Submerged Lands restrict the public's ability to exercise their rights to use and enjoy these lands, the issuance of any conveyance requires careful consideration of the impacts of such conveyances on public trust rights as well as a just and fair compensation to the public for the private use of Submerged Lands."
* Revenue for Rockland?What does Rockland get for allowing exclusive use by Yachting Solutions of this part of Rockland's inner harbor? Nothing. The state gets revenue from leasing harbor floors for slips (and for aquaculture.) See the Maine Submerged Lands Rules in Section 1.8 "Fees", which state that
"The annual rental fee for slip space that is rented or otherwise made available for private use for a fee is based upon a percentage of the gross income of the Lessee."[Gross income of the lessee's slip rentals public or private. Detailed below]
These rules also require owners of such a development project to "Provide significant public benefits to the People of Maine, to offset the loss of Submerged Lands occupied by the structure,...." But the definition of "significant public benefits" is an eye-of-the-beholder term to local, state and federal permit reviewers. What's significant to one permit reviewer or decisionmaker may be of little consequence to another.
* Loss of moorings for local boaters. Yachting Solutions' Bill Morong said at the November HMC meeting that remaining moorings can be rearranged.
How practical is mooring field rearrangement in a small harbor like Rockland's? There's a lively lobster fishery, increasing recreational fisheries, . a coast guard base, windjammer fleets ferry terminal and
Right, rearranged further from the Public Landing, perhaps in Owls Head, which would mean the little revenue from those moorings would be lost. The interests of Rockland residents are of no interest to YS, the City, the State of the US National Park Service
"Gross income means one of two things:
1. "The total annual income received by a lessee from seasonal or transient rental to the general public of slip space over submerged land."
2. For "...facilities with slip space that is not rented or leased to the general public"...."by calculating a regional average slip space rental fee and applying that to the portion of total linear length of slip space made available to private users for any portion of that year."
At the November meeting of the Rockland Harbor Management Commission, Yachting Solutions' rep that their transient business had "tripled". He predicts annual increases in transient yachts, of increasing size, thus their future plans for more infrastructure financed with more federal BIG grants. They stressed that no financing will come from local property taxes. Certainly the cost of City services to YS and their wealthy clients and the lack of City reveue from YS will be financed by property taxe
This is a 26-page document and well worth reading, despite the dismal information. The State of Maine leases her Submerged Lands to private parties. The amount paid to the States as lease payments is discussed on pages 21 and 22. The Minimum Rental Rate: "If the rental rate is determined to be less than $0.01 per square foot, it shall be rounded off to
$0.01 per square foot. The Minimum Annual Rental Fee is $100.00. Then comes Exemptions for fees, the first of which is Port Facilities that (a) "Provide significant public benefits to the People of Maine, to offset the loss of Submerged Lands occupied by the structure."
It's possible Yachting Solutions will pay a pittance or nothing to the State for the use of a huge portion of Rockland's inner harbor as planned, and a pittance or nothing for their future planned expansion.
What fees or compensatory contributions will Rockland require from Yachting Solutions?
The words of the Preamble of the Submerged Land Rules sound straightforward and equitable (my bold type):
"The State of Maine holds Submerged Lands, as defined herein, in trust for the benefit, rights and use of the general public. The private use of Submerged Lands requires a lease or easement from the Bureau of Parks and Lands, which has been authorized by the Maine Legislature to grant such conveyances. Because exclusive, private uses of Submerged Lands restrict the public's ability to exercise their rights to use and enjoy these lands, the issuance of any conveyance requires careful consideration of the impacts of such conveyances on public trust rights as well as a just and fair compensation to the public for the private use of Submerged Lands."
The Rules, on the other hand, sound like a detailed mechanism for the cheap or free, perpetual (A 30-year lease is standard. Sub-leasing is allowed. Page 8) corporate use of our local harbors without the consent of local residents. There are no rules for public notice, public comment, or municipal remuneration for private use of municipal harbors. Maybe other Maine Law addresses those lacunae. Perhaps home rule provides legal remedies to ameliorate what appears to be a rather quiet ongoing public-private partnership between the City and YS, with the help of the BLM and US Park Service, to legally usurp the local public interest.
s. I understand that YS leases their shore property from Stewart Smith. He will be responsible for paying his property taxes, unless he has a Credit Enhancement Agreement with the City, which may exempt him from up to 100% of his property taxes for (?) perhaps up to 30 years. Both YS and Smith may have a portion of their taxes exempted/reimbursed through the Maine BETE and BETR programs. South Portland sounds like it has discussed a marine TIF district.
Put all these subsidies and exemptions together and the result is the financial starvation of municipalities that prevents maintenance and upgrades to public harbor infrastructure, streets, sidewalks and schools, staff cuts and increases in property taxes. Private businesses thrive while municipalities are financially crippled and left begging for crumbs. Private harbor infrastructure will glitter in the sun, while our WWT plants spews out raw sewage to lap pristine yachts because the City can't afford to separate our combined septic/storm system.
The environmental damage from a huge influx of big transient yachts traversing the Bay and Rockland Harbor I would expect to be significant. YS mentioned fueling services.
What kind of infrastructure will be involved? Above or below ground tanks? Tanker trucks? Fuel lines out to the docks? How will they prevent spills? How will they respond to spills?
Then there is the question of what does privatization of the inner harbor for extremely wealthy yacht owners mean for the residents of Rockland? It feels like a return to the Gilded Age of the rich industrialists on their yachts and estates being waited upon by their own servants and a class of native Maine servants who lived near their their summer residences. This time around, the industrialists will be joined by digital wealth and a huge cohort of financial scammers. If the transient yachters like what they see, next they'll be buying up shore property and historic Rockland homes or building waterfront condos for their summer visits and shutting them up for the winter, adding to the extant problem of whole-house STR's that are empty and dark for most of the year.
The economic divide in Rockland will become a more extreme tripartite division - increasing numbers of very wealthy transients + the thriving Rockland business owners + an increasing numbers of a dirt poor servant class and the unemployed. YS will hire more employees - a few skilled in boatwork, salesmen, but mostly unskilled dock workers. The increasing numbers of big yachts - 60, 80, 100 feet...- would most likely have their own crew aboard for cleaning and maintenance, wouldn't they? Owners may find local workers a cheaper alternative for cleaning and 'housekeeping services'. YS could hire seasonal crews of of yacht domestic servants.