Fishermen invited to give feedback on South Portland pier redevelopment

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city is seeking input from commercial fisherman to help craft redevelopment plans for its public pier.

South Portland has been considering ways to improve the Portland Street Pier to better accommodate commercial fishermen and widen their reach to include the fast-growing aquaculture market.

A stakeholder meeting is set to take place March 19, from 5-7 p.m., at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. 

The pier, in Ferry Village, has been city-owned since the 19th century, when it was constructed for shipbuilding. The property now leases 15 slips to lobster and tuna fishermen from April-November. Revenue from those leases ranges from $20,000 to $25,000, on which the city breaks even, Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny has said. 

As a result, the pier is not self-sustaining. Challenges also include maintenance and security, he added.

The city hired consulting and engineering firm GEI Consultants of Portland last November to conduct a site assessment and feasibility analysis, and to provide a conceptual design. The consulting work will cost nearly $47,000 and is being paid for by a Maine Coastal Program grant awarded last spring. 

In an overview of what are likely important considerations for the project, Sam Merrill of GEI said in a December meeting the structural framework is strong, although cosmetic improvements are needed. Expansion should also be considered, he said.

Merrill added issues such as dredging, cold storage, the dimensions and the number of slips allowed all must be decided, as well as how to best mitigate wind currents.

Reny said the big picture includes economic development, and opportunities the pier could create for the city. 

Scarborough lobsterman Rick Sullivan, who is now semi-retired and hauls about 200 traps off a 32-foot boat, has used the dock for about 30 years to set and take up his gear. He said ideally, the pier should be widened and made into a year-round wharf. He said if the area around the pier is dredged, it could be used year-round and would attract more fishermen.

Chris Vonderweidt, GMRI aquaculture program manager, shared with the city data from a study on the market outlook for aquaculture programs in the state. In support of the initiative, the quaculture program is conducting a comprehensive industry needs assessment and meeting with stakeholders from the aquaculture and commercial fishing industries to understand their needs and how they may use the pier. 

GMRI is involved because it works with working waterfronts on economic development, and Vonderweidt said within 10 miles of the pier there are 50 start-up sites as well as six commercial leases to grow mussels, oysters and kelp. 

The city is considering allowing designated space for aquaculture farmers to use the pier, but one aquaculture farmer in attendance said it is a year-round, everyday business, so seasonal facilities and seasonal access are automatic disadvantages.

The city, consultants, and fishermen must identify a functional design that supports all needs, he said. Designs may be for half commercial fishing use and half aquaculture, or two piers may be built to accommodate both uses, GEI consultant Varoujan Hagopian suggested duting a December meeting. 

He added the breakwater needs to be bigger, and must adequately protect the pier. He said a rock breakwater takes up a lot of space, and a wave screen would offer the same protection from the winds and use less space.

Hagopian acknowledged parking at the pier will be an issue, and the design will have to be creative in looking at the area, and not just the property’s boundary lines. The properties on either side of the pier are privately owned, he noted. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at

South Portland’s public pier at Portland Street will be redeveloped to better serve the city and residents, including commercial fishermen.