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Southwest Harbor struggles while waiting for the harbor master

SOUTH-WEST HARBOR – With the resignation of former port captain Oliver Curry, the third to step down from his post in less than two years, chaos was said to have set in this summer at the seventh most profitable port in the UK State, Southwest Harbor.

The lack of municipal staff, including a harbor master, limited the city’s ability to manage waterfront affairs during its busiest time of year.

The Select Board recently confirmed the appointment of US Coast Guard Officer Jarrod Kushla of Mount Desert as its next Harbor Master. Kushla accepted the city’s job offer on July 19, with a November start date due to a retirement administrative process he must follow.

More than halfway through a second consecutive summer without a harbor master, harbor committee chairman Nick Madeira said the waterfront was “utter chaos”.

“The monkeys run the zoo,” said Madeira, who added that most fishermen, tourists and cruisers have taken advantage of the town’s facilities. Boaters were reportedly seen speeding and abusing the town’s floats, as discussed at a recent harbor committee meeting.

“It’s unfortunately becoming a recurring situation for Southwest Harbor where we don’t seem to be able to maintain a harbor master and I don’t think the harbor committee has an answer for that,” Madeira said.

It has also been difficult for the harbor committee to record the minutes of their meetings without the presence of a harbor master to document them. No recent minutes of port committee meetings are available to the public, which according to the Freedom of Access Act is not in the spirit of the law.

Ongoing mooring usage issues and complaints about waterside parking have also bled into discussions at recent board and harbor committee meetings.

“There has been a minimum of policing in managing the collection of payments for rental moorings,” said Madeira, who described the circumstances as free for all. “Everyone seems to know that there is no one in charge and no one has authority.”

With only one surveillance camera in the busy harbor and a parking patrolman, it has been difficult for the city, which already lacks two police officers, to enforce parking rules. Board Chair Carolyn Ball explained that overnight parking in the Upper Town Wharf and Lower Town Wharf parking lots makes it difficult for local sternmen, who pay an annual fee, to park there. It was noted at Select Board meetings that people are also parking along the road, which Ball says makes it difficult for emergency vehicles and large boat transporters to pass.

Eilon Zboray was hired as assistant harbor master to assist with shoreline duties shortly before Curry’s resignation. While working part-time, Zboray has been able to keep an eye on the activity in the port, but as a deputy he can’t do much.

“Eilon [Zboray] is wonderful, but he has no state-granted authority to write a ticket or enforce the ordinance there because he’s not an actual harbor master,” Madeira said.

According to Zboray, who is also training to be a firefighter, mooring distribution is one of the most important responsibilities at the water’s edge and can only be done by a state-licensed harbor master.

Assigning someone an anchorage in an appropriate area requires knowing the GPS coordinates of the harbor so that boats can move around safely. In June, the Select Board voted unanimously that no more moorings will be issued until a Harbor Master begins work.

“Harbor master training must be completed, and then advanced harbor master training must be completed,” said City Manager Marilyn Lowell, who alternated harbor shifts with City Clerk Jennifer LaHaye. She added that working two full-time jobs within 40 hours of Curry’s resignation initially made it difficult to find information about the port.

“It was certainly difficult without a harbor master, but with the deputy [harbormaster]it has helped me and Jen try to get things done, but there are always issues that come up,” Lowell said.

Zboray works weekdays, while the rest is overseen by Lowell and LaHaye. Kushla will work Monday to Friday and will be on call on weekends. He accepted the advertised position as a 40-hour-per-week, year-round position with a salary range of $24 to $26.81 per hour depending on work experience.

Although Kushla has a lot to do after this summer, Madeira is delighted for the harbor master, who he says has been recommended by the harbor committee.

“As a port committee, we try to do what is best for our port,” he said.

MDI native Ninah Rein covers news and features in the Bar Harbor area. She is happy to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor’s degree in San Diego from the University of California.

Ninah Rene

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