Connecticut Harbormaster Focus Group

Connecticut Harbormaster Focus Group

In 2002 there are 39 State of Connecticut Harbormasters and 16 Deputy Harbormasters serving 39 Connecticut towns. These dedicated officials, appointed by the Governor, provide a vital public service through their statutory duties for the care and supervision of Connecticut's diverse harbors and navigable waterways. The Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters are subject to the direction and control of the Connecticut Commissioner of Transportation; their day-to-day activities are administered by the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Aviation and Ports.

In 1999, Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters from throughout the State began meeting together to talk about issues of common interest and to learn from each other's experiences. These informal meetings, held at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in New London, were organized through the efforts of the Connecticut Harbor Management Association (CHMA). Recognizing the vital role of Connecticut Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters for managing Connecticut's harbors in the public interest, the CHMA in 1998 had amended its bylaws to enable a Harbormaster or Deputy Harbormaster to serve on its Board of Directors. Michael Griffin, State of Connecticut Harbormaster for Norwalk Harbor was elected to the Board and assumed a leadership role for bringing the State's Harbormasters and their deputies together for the basic purpose of opening better lines of communication, addressing issues of common concern, and speaking to those issues with a unified voice. The State of Connecticut Harbormaster Focus Group was formed as a result of these organizational efforts.

The CHMA committed funds for administrative expenses of the Focus Group and the Connecticut Department of Transportation's Bureau of Aviation and Ports has provided the group with enthusiastic support and assistance, primarily through the efforts of Dave Rossiter and Al Stevens. Volunteer administrative and research assistance is being provided by Geoff Steadman from the CHMA Board.

Prior to the initial gatherings of the Focus Group, the Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters had few chances to discuss their interests and concerns among themselves; there was no State-wide organization representing their interests. As the group participants began to talk about their interests, it quickly became apparent that while there are many commonalities, the State's Harbormasters and their deputies are a diverse group in terms of background and experience; some have many years of service and others have only recently been appointed. The harbors and communities they serve are equally diverse, ranging from the major ports of Bridgeport, New Haven, and New London to small recreational harbors such as Southport, Branford, and Chester, to urban riverfronts at Middletown, Hartford, and Norwich. As a result, while all Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters have the same statutory powers and duties, there are some substantial differences in how those powers and duties are needed and applied among the communities. There is, however, one characteristic clearly shared by all of the Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters—a dedication and commitment to serve the local maritime community and the people of the State of Connecticut.

As the Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters began to share information and organize their efforts for the common good, they conducted a survey among themselves to identify and prioritize the issues of most concern to them as a group.
The first priority was to consider the potential liability of Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters for actions taken within the scope of their duties. The Focus Group enlisted the aid of State Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Paul Pernerewski assigned to the Bureau of Aviation and Ports who has provided guidance and legal opinions to the group and has pledged to continue to do so.

The second priority was to address the need for training and education programs to help the Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters perform their duties in the most effective and professional manner. In Connecticut, unlike other New England states, there has been no ongoing State-sponsored program for Harbormaster training and education. Prior to organization of the Focus Group, the previous State-wide seminars for Harbormaster education were held in 1991 and 1997.

The Harbormaster Focus Group has developed working relationships with the State and Federal agencies with roles and responsibilities affecting Connecticut's harbors and navigable waterways. These include various units of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard. State legislators and the Office of the Governor are informed of the group's activities and have expressed their interest and support. Through these relationships, the group has started constructive dialogue on a number of issues ranging from the liability- and training-related concerns to issues concerning intergovernmental coordination and statutory authorities. Many of these issues, however, are complex and inter-related, and have not been addressed definitively in the past; a number of the State statutes concerning Harbormaster authorities were enacted many years ago when conditions in Connecticut's harbors were much different that at present.

Although quick and easy answers to many of its questions are not always available, the work of the Focus Group has already produced beneficial results. Among its accomplishments to date are:

    • The successful planning, organization, and completion of the 2001 Harbormaster Training and Education Seminar.
    • Clarification of the Harbormaster's entitlement for State indemnification and representation for acts performed in the course of his or her duties.
    • Establishment of an Access Agreement whereby Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters may directly obtain vessel registration information 24 hours a day.

Currently, the Focus Group is planning for a March 27, 2002 Training and Education Seminar concerning Mooring Technology and Management. In addition, the group is developing additional information concerning Harbormaster liability and insurance issues, and will be embarking, with the aid of the DOT's Bureau of Aviation and Ports, on an ambitious Harbor Profile project to provide a comprehensive picture of Harbormaster needs and responsibilities in all of the State's harbors and waterways. That information may then be presented to State legislators along with future requests for legislative initiatives to enhance the ability of the Harbormasters and Deputy Harbormasters to serve the public interest.