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Upgrades put Portland's 'mega-berth' behind schedule

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Upgrades put Portland's 'mega-berth' behind schedule

PORTLAND — The construction of the so-called mega-berth on Portland's waterfront is two months behind schedule.

But a city spokeswoman said the project is on budget and should be finished in time for the busy fall cruise ship season.

In fact, spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said, the city is getting a deep-water berth with more amenities than originally planned.

Work began on the 1,000-foot, floating berth last October. It was expected to be ready to use by July 15.

But work continues on the deep-water berth, which will allow the city to host some of the industry's largest cruise ships.

Reed & Reed Construction was awarded the $4.8 million contract last year by the Maine Department of Transportation. The Woolwich-based company also built the $20.7 million Ocean Gateway terminal more than two years ago.

According to the company's website, the project includes installation of a 140-by-45-foot steel float, to receive cruise ship gangways. The ships will tie up against three large, steel-capped piles. Dozens of other pilings are needed to support the pier system.

"Construction will run through the winter and complete in late spring, ahead of the July 15, 2011, contract completion date," the company said in a Feb. 2 posting.

Clegg said the delays stem from additional features that were added to the project, leading MDOT to extend the contract through the end of September without penalty against Reed & Reed. 

Additional features, like electricity and water hook-ups, and electric line pullers to dock and tie up cruise ships, were added to the project because the company's winning bid was less than the state-approved $6.5 million bond.

"The upside of a down economy is construction costs can come in a little bit lower than expected," Clegg said. "Because of that, we were able to add things we thought were really important."

Clegg said the delay has not affected any cruise ship arrivals. Ships have continued to dock at the Maine State Pier.

The city is banking on the new berth to increase tourism and separate cruise ship passengers from Casco Bay island ferry riders. It will also allow ships to dock with less maneuvering.

The Ocean Gateway terminal can only handle ships up to 680 feet long. But with a deep-water pier, there is room for the largest ship on the seas, the 1,181-foot-long Oasis, which carries 6,000 passengers.

The mega-berth was supposed to be part of the Ocean Gateway project, but it was removed when the cost of the terminal exceeded expectations.

Last year, 71 ships came docked in Portland, carrying more than 70,000 visitors.

As of June 17, 63 cruise ships were scheduled to visit the city this year, with an anticipated and record-setting 86,400 visitors.

The new berth will likely be needed on Sept. 29 when three cruise ships – the Norwegian Jewel, Aurora and Independence – make calls, bring about 5,000 people to the waterfront.

Clegg said there is no concern that the mega-berth not be completed in time.

"It's not going to happen," she said of that scenario. "I am very confident, because they are so close to being done."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-361 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.