BELFAST — Commercial fishermen who moor their boats in Belfast Harbor rallied in City Hall Tuesday night against a proposed marina that they say would displace some of them from choice moorings. The group came in response to the City Council’s continuing discussion about redefining the navigable channel in Belfast Harbor.
The Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad has proposed building a 40-slip marina near its depot on the west side of the harbor. In 1996 the railroad built the first phase of its harbor development when it constructed a pier, which was used this summer for access to the Voyageur, a boat used in the railroad’s “Rail and Sail” package. To make way for the first phase, the moorings of some commercial fishermen were moved to locations that, the fishermen say, are inferior to the moorings they gave up.
“I gave up a mooring that I had for 25 years in Belfast Harbor,” said David Black, the spokesman for 22 commercial fishermen. “We tried to cooperate the last time, and it’s come back to haunt us. That’s why we’ve taken a stronger stand this time.”
According to Black, about 16 boat berths would need to be moved for the marina as it has been proposed, and about half of those hold commercial fishing boats. The moorings on the west side of the inner harbor afford the greatest protection against southeasterly storms, Black said, adding that there are no better moorings in the harbor than those.
The City Council ultimately must make the decision as to where the navigable channel will be delineated in the harbor. The railroad wants the channel to run farther to the east than the informal channel now runs. That would make room for the marina. But some moorings would have to be eliminated to make room for a more easterly channel.
The group hired an attorney, William Devoe of Bangor, to represent the fishermen’s interests. Devoe told the council he was representing “a group of embattled fishermen” who are not opposed to the marina but want no part in any movement of moorings. “They rely on these moorings for their livelihood,” Devoe said.
Devoe told councilors that an 1871 state charter of the railroad gave it the right of eminent domain to build wharves and piers in the harbor. But those piers had to be within 200 feet of the railroad track, he said, and the marina would be outside that distance. Further, he said it was his belief that the right of eminent domain existed only while the railroad was constructing its line.
Councilor John Krakar asked Bob LaMontagne, the railroad manager, if he was aware of the charter’s limitation. LaMontagne appeared agitated that the legal document had even been mentioned.
“There has been extensive research done by the railroad concerning property issues in the harbor,” LaMontagne said. “I stand here comfortable that we have the right to build a marina there.”
“If we’re going to displace these fellas,” said Councilor Walter Ash of the fishermen, “then we have to give them some place as good or better in return.”
Soundings have been done twice in the harbor at the request of the council in order to find a compromise channel that would please all parties. The council has tried to avoid spending an estimated $10,000 to get thorough, professional soundings done.
Unable to find a solution that would satisfy everyone, the council created a committee to explore creation of moorings upstream from the footbridge, which is now the de facto end of the harbor. The city recently closed the footbridge because of its dilapidated condition and city officials are exploring avenues for repairing it. If the spans were to be rebuilt with an arch at one point, boats would be able pass under it. Moorings upstream would provide the shelter from winds that fishermen need.
The committee will comprise representatives of all parties involved with the harbor and bridge issues.