Despite financial delay, Portland still backs Fort Gorges restoration

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PORTLAND — Interest in restoring Fort Gorges hasn’t waned, even as a request for planning proposals has stalled.

“My division and the greater city is very committed to the project, even with this one piece on hold temporarily,” city Parks Director Ethan Hipple said Nov. 22.

The RFP to develop a preservation plan for the Civil War-era fort on Hog Island Ledge in Casco Bay was supposed to be opened Nov. 23. It drew local and national interest from 18 companies that requested RFP guidelines.

Nothing has been opened, though, while the city and nonprofit Friends of Fort Gorges work through funding details.

Friends Executive Director Paul Drinan said Nov. 23 he has provided Hipple and Historic Preservation Program Manager Deb Andrews details of a proposal from an unidentified local engineering company to supply in-kind services, representing a portion of the nonprofit’s commitment of $30,000 to pay for the preservation plan.

On Monday, Hipple said those details are under review.

City staff and the Friends will also agree on a memorandum of understanding covering project responsibilities before work progresses, Drinan and Hipple said.

“This is a component of the master plan. We hope to have a separate RFP for (the master plan) work down the road,” Drinan said of developing a preservation plan.

The city website lists the RFP as “postponed indefinitely,” but Hipple said once the process is renewed, the guidelines will be consistent with what is sought now.

“I would not envision major changes to the RFP,” he  said about seeking a company to provide an overview of current fort conditions and problems and to “recommend specific measures to address these deficiencies and outline a phased and prioritized program of work that can be implemented over time as funding is secured.”

Construction of Fort Gorges began in 1858, but the fort was obsolete by the time it was completed. It was used for various purposes until World War II. It has been city property since 1960, and on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. 

Named for Sir Fernando Gorges, Maine’s colonial proprietor, the fort is open to visitors, but is in deteriorating condition.

Local companies – including Wright Pierce, Harriman Associates and Becker Structural Engineers – requested the RFP guidelines, as did Shay Enterprise of Tacoma, Washington, Lord Aeck Sargent of Atlanta, and Heritage Strategies of Birchrunville, Pennsylvania.

“I really am surprised and encouraged,” Drinan said. “We thought we would send the RFP out and get responses on a local level.”

From preliminary work from city-based Resurgance Engineering & Preservation and Scattergood Design, Drinan said protecting the fort’s structure is the most pressing need. Weather has damaged brick and stone archways, but not beyond repair.

“I’ve been told by more than one engineer, this is fixable, it is not rocket science,” he said.

Some fort repairs are under way.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fixed stairways that will allow contractors to access the upper floors and build a new viewing platform on the north parapet next year, and Hipple said the Army Corps is also studying whether any endangered bat species inhabit the fort before more work continues.

After a period of dormancy, the Friends began reorganizing in 2014 and regained its nonprofit status in 2015.

“The information we’ll get from the preservation plan will give us a clear path forward in the form of a prioritized list,” Drinan said. “We hope to take that list, have price tags attached to each component and tick them off one at a time.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Paul Drinan, executive director Friends of Fort Gorges, examines damage at the Portland Harbor fort in August 2015. A request for proposals to create a preservation plan is on hold while financial details are ironed out.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.