Feds will fund Portland IMT, skip cruise ship mega berth

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PORTLAND — The state won $5 million in federal Recovery Act funds to pay for improvements at the International Marine Terminal, but the city will have to find alternative funding to build a second cruise ship berth at Ocean Gateway.

The federal Department of Transportation last week released $1.5 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants. Maine will receive $14 million to improve the ports of Portland, Searsport and Eastport.

The state’s grant application also included requests for $8 million to build a so-called mega berth at Ocean Gateway and $10 million for a contained aquatic disposal cell, where dredged material from the harbor could be disposed.

Although the city leases the IMT to the state, the city still receives revenue from the cargo business there, according to city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

“It will also put people to work on the waterfront, and help us market the facility,” Clegg said.

The $5 million will be used to increase access to the pier, construct a “lay-down” area and upgrade lighting.  According to the TIGER application, “the IMT facility would increase its annual tonnage of … bulk cargo by 108 percent by 2015 if its upland storage area were capable of supporting heavy loads and the pier geometry were improved to accept large irregular shaped cargo.”

The port of Portland is the only container-handling facility in New England other than Boston, and is the second largest port for oil imports on the East Coast, according to the application.

Clegg said the city will look for other ways to fund the $8 million mega berth at Ocean Gateway. The project is already designed and permitted. If built, it would accommodate large cruise ships and other vessels that now have to dock at the Maine State Pier.

“Obviously we were really hoping the TIGER grant would come through,” Clegg said.

Ocean Gateway, built two years ago for $20.5 million, lost its biggest revenue generator earlier this year when the owner of The Cat ferry announced it would no longer operate the Portland-to-Nova Scotia service.

Clegg said the city is marketing Ocean Gateway to cruise lines and is hoping to attract smaller cruise ships for the summer and fall months.

“We’re still kind of new at this, but we’re working to expand the cruise ship season,” she said.

Last year, the city made $33,000 off cruise ship berthing. Clegg said that in addition to attracting ships, the city also rents Ocean Gateway for functions and expects to bring in about $60,000 this fiscal year (ending June 30) from that use.

Clegg said she could not say how much the city spends annually to operate Ocean Gateway, because some of the utilities are attached to the Maine State Pier. City officials have in the past said it costs about $200,000. The city also has $280,000 in debt service for the terminal.

The Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau runs a visitors center at the terminal. It will open for the season starting March 1.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]