Councilors favor cheaper option in pier redevelopment

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City Councilors on Tuesday said they are leaning in favor of a $900,000 design to redevelop the Portland Street Pier, and the project has been added to the list for capital improvement funds.

Councilor Claude Morgan said Wednesday that Councilor Adrian Dowling wanted to know what the cost would be to repair rather than upgrade the structure, but there was enough informal support from the panel that City Manager Scott Morelli added the project for future funding. The next step is to decide how much money should be apportioned yearly toward the city-owned pier’s redevelopment. 

Morgan said another major factor in determining how to proceed with proposed designs is how much dredging will cost the city. That figure was not included in plans, and is needed in order to consider redevelopment. Morgan said even without upgrades to the pier, dredging still needs to be done, as 13 slips remain where 15 were last year due to sediment that has settled in the bay. 

Morgan said the city is considering the project a 50-year reinvestment in the city that will boost economic development and provide a service to residents. He likened it to a recreation center that does not need to pay for itself in a traditional way. 

“It’s a great asset and is underused,” Morgan said. 

Several redevelopment options for the Portland Street pier are possible from an engineering perspective, but funding will determine the design.

Morgan said the city will be applying for a state grant valued at $250,000, which is designated for working waterfront projects, and two Tax Increment Financing funds could be used to help as well.  

Four designs were presented to stakeholders at an April 30 meeting, ranging in cost from $900,000 to $12 million. Another option, paring down the cheapest version, is also possible, according to engineers, and the pier could also be rebuilt in phases as money becomes available.

Three of the four options that are under consideration include replacing a breakwater with a wave screen to protect the pier from northeasterly winds and incoming waves. That move may protect the pier 100 percent if desired, said engineer and designer Varoujan Hagopian, who has 30 years of global experience designing waterfronts and is involved in the Boston Harbor dredging project.

The so-called “Cadillac option,” at $12 million, would be a fixed, 50-foot wide and 890-foot long pier. In some of the designs, the intertidal space is used to build a parking lot and cold storage. Other options include a floating U-shaped pier connected to the bones of the existing pier with a “T” at the end for a turnaround.

The most economical option is rehabilitating the existing structure and building, adding about 12 parking spaces, and an “L” at the end of the wharf.

Design and construction costs do not include buying adjacent property, or the cost of dredging.

The pier in Ferry Village is 150 feet long. It was constructed for shipbuilding in the 19th century, but now 15 slips are leased to lobstermen and tuna fishermen from April to November.

The potential for the pier is touted as immeasurable, but now the dock is not breaking even; it only generates $20,000 in revenue from leased space while maintenance to the structure and building is needed.

Morgan said at a previous meeting in April that Casco Bay is the region’s hub for aquaculture, attracting innovation and brainpower associated with a growing industry that would be a valuable asset to the city.

A major roadblock, however, is that the designs presented assume land surrounding the pier and owned by Portland Pipeline Co. would be used by the city through a lease or purchase – a proposal that has not been discussed with the company.

Complicating matters, in February 2015, Portland Pipe Line sued the city in federal court to overturn the Clear Skies Ordinance, which prohibits the bulk loading of crude oil onto ships. The suit has been litigated for more than three years and a decision is still pending following a bench trial that wrapped up earlier this month. 

Construction could come as early as next spring if a design is chosen and permitting is completed. Reny said previously that improving the pier will likely take several years.

The city, partnering with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and engineering firm GEI, has been gathering input and data from the state and commercial fishermen and aquaculture ventures to determine what their needs are, and what options allow for flexibility in a changing economic and environmental future.

Several fishermen added their input to the vision for the public pier, with their main concerns focused on parking, protection from northeasterly winds, and affordability of slips.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka. 

The Portland Street Pier as seen in winter.

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