2018-06-29 / Front Page

Public fishing pier project moves forward

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Lobster boats at the Portland Street Pier in South Portland are seen in this June 26 photo taken by Russ Lunt. At a city council workshop, the council accepted a report from GEI Consultants of Portland on the pier condition and potential future uses, agreeing to move forward with an $899,085 upgrade project. Lobster boats at the Portland Street Pier in South Portland are seen in this June 26 photo taken by Russ Lunt. At a city council workshop, the council accepted a report from GEI Consultants of Portland on the pier condition and potential future uses, agreeing to move forward with an $899,085 upgrade project. SOUTH PORTLAND — Nearly two years after first broaching the topic of what to do with its public fishing pier, South Portland finally has a plan, and it won’t be cheap.

However, the $899,085 cost to overhaul the facility, located in Ferry Village off the end of Portland Street, is the cheapest of four options laid out by GEI Consultants of Portland, which delivered a 66-page report on pier conditions and options at a June 26 council workshop.

The other three concepts, all pegged at kickstarting a nascent aquaculture industry on the city’s working waterfront, ranged from $7.4 to $12.1 million.


A December photo of the Portland Street Pier in South Portland, taken from a 66-page report prepared by GEI Consultants of Portland on the pier condition and potential future uses, delivered to the city council June 26. (Courtesy photo) A December photo of the Portland Street Pier in South Portland, taken from a 66-page report prepared by GEI Consultants of Portland on the pier condition and potential future uses, delivered to the city council June 26. (Courtesy photo) Four of the five city councillors present favored the budget plan, which would double site parking to 12 spaces, make repairs and upgrades to the pier and a storage building that sits atop it, add a cold storage unit to the building, expand the end of the pier to add a wash and sorting table for incoming hauls, and add a small davit crane to the pier end, as an aid to bringing in the day’s catch at low tide, for fishermen to rent the pier’s 14 boat slips.

Only one councilor, Adrian Dowling of District 5, located furthest inland from the shore, stumped for “none of the above.” Dowling said he’d prefer to make necessary repair to the pier, but hold off on any upgrades.


A December photo of the Portland Street Pier in South Portland, showing rot to pilings and bracing boards, taken from a 66-page report prepared by GEI Consultants of Portland on the pier condition and potential future uses, delivered to the city council June 26. At that session the council agreed to move forward with an $899,085 upgrade project designed to foster a local aquaculture industry. (Courtesy photo) A December photo of the Portland Street Pier in South Portland, showing rot to pilings and bracing boards, taken from a 66-page report prepared by GEI Consultants of Portland on the pier condition and potential future uses, delivered to the city council June 26. At that session the council agreed to move forward with an $899,085 upgrade project designed to foster a local aquaculture industry. (Courtesy photo) That motion seemed largely motivated by two factors. One was GEI’s calculation that even with the lowest-cost plan, the city will have recouped just 28 percent of its investment from pier revenue 10 years after the overhaul.

Also, while the nominal intent of the upgrade is to take advantage of a growing aquaculture scene, Julia Maine, an aquaculture project manager at the Gulf Of Maine Research Institute, who worked on the GEI report, said interviews with movers and shakers in the field showed most are content with current facilities across the Fore River in Portland.

“We established that there is no immediate interest in using the pier,” she told the council.

Instead, Maine said the primary interest in expansion is from current pier users, who would like to see an expansion of so-called shoulder seasons on either end of the times when they normally put out to sea.

But even with Dowling’s reluctance, most councilors favored making the investment.

“I’m not interested in fixing up what’s there and leaving it,” Mayor Linda Cohen said. “I’d like to think we have little more vision than that.”

That the project has bubbled up to council action at all is largely the work of District 1 councilor Claude Morgan

At his urging, the council first took up the topic in July 2016. At the time, Morgan said the pier was “underutilized” and, although in need of maintenance, was ripe for development into a world-class facility that could act as a commercial hub for processing shellfish, kelp, and seaweed, among other sea life.

Located between the Sunset Marina and the Portland Pipe Line terminal, the pier currently hosts 12 lobster boats, while two additional slips are now considered unusable. A big part of any repair will entail dredging the site, and Morgan has said now, when there is federal talk of opening a cell for deposits from river dredging is the ideal time to do that work.

But Morgan’s idea sat idle during the transition of city managers, and was not taken up again until January, 2017. Then at a February meeting, the council voted against paying for an economic feasibility study on the potential cost of overhauling the pier, a project then pegged to run as high as $2 million.

Instead, the council agreed in April to apply for a $30,000 Shore and Harbor Planning Grant, offered by the Maine Coastal Program of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, in order to augment $25,000 already earmarked from a $25,000 Greater Portland Public Development Commission grant. That money was aimed at creation of a master plan for the future of the pier. In August 2017, word came that the city had won that grant and, at a November 6 meeting, the council picked GEI Consulting Engineers and Scientists of Portland to do do the work.

GEI put in the lowest offer of four bidders for the contract, at $46,849.

According to 2017 report by The Hale Group of Danvers, Mass., for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, industry growth in the harvest of mussels and oysters means Maine will need at much as 600 acres of underwater farmland by 2030, a growth over current leased spots of about 40 acres per year.

For that reason, Morgan said from the onset that it was imperative for the city to act as quickly as possible and not get too bogged down in long-term visioning.

“My fear here is that if this becomes too academic and far too costly in time, there may well be another municipality out there that could steal this thunder out from underneath us,” he said in 2016. “I don’t mean to play on you heartstrings here, but that’s a possibility. Time is of the essence.”

Following receipt of the GEI report Tuesday, Morgan said a long-term vision is indeed what is needed, given the “C+ down to D+” current state of the pier and its associated seawall.

“There will come a day in the next few years, with our (current) $25,000 revenue stream from the pier, when we will have to invest heavily just to replace what we have, which is inadequate and is unable to accommodate future uses.

“So, I have always thought of this as a very, very long-term project,” Morgan said. “Are we going to make money on it right away? No. But here’s the thing — we have an existing pier that is the poorest use given only half of the lobstermen who dock do not even live in South Portland.”

“We have to start thinking of getting some hammers and nails and patching up what we have here,” Morgan said, saying that aquaculture is indeed growing, and even if it does not materialize, other uses, such as pleasure boat tours, can make use of a revitalized pier right alongside the current fishermen.

“We have to recognize there are changing forces all around us, and we need to be there with the catcher’s mit ready to catch it, and who knows what may materialize,” he said. “But the one thing we cannot do today is build a new pier. That’s impossible.”

 news@inthesentry.com.

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