Fishermen: South Portland pier 'just needs a shave, haircut'

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PORTLAND — Several fishermen added their input to the vision for the South Portland’s public pier, with their main concerns focused on parking and protection from northeasterly winds.

Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said the meeting, held at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland March 19, was called to gather input from those who use the pier and to help the city proactively address the community’s needs.

He said improving the pier will likely take several years, and include economic development opportunities the pier could create for the city. 

In an overview of what are likely important considerations for the project, Sam Merrill of engineering firm GEI Consultants of Portland said the pier’s structural framework is strong, although cosmetic improvements are needed. Expansion should also be considered, he said.

The eight fishermen present said there are empty slips at the pier and questioned whether additional slip space is needed. They compared the pier to a “bedroom community,” where boats are docked at night, while the seamen get fuel, bait and ice across the river in Portland. They suggested attempting to add such features would be a waste, with limited space and at a high cost.

“You’re trying to make too much, trying to fit a house in a shoe box – you can’t do it,” Lobster and tuna fisherman Mike Breton said. “It just needs a shave and a haircut.”

Breton described himself as “a little mouthy” on the subject because he has a lot of opinions and has worked on the water all his life.

“We all really care about it; it’s a great place,” he said of the city’s public pier, offering information on how many boats use the pier, the size of the boats, and challenges fishermen face, whether it’s electrical access or exposure to heavy weather.

The pier, on Portland Street in Ferry Village, has been city-owned since the 19th century, when it was constructed for shipbuilding. Fifteen slips are leased 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, Reny previously said. 

Chris Vonderweidt, GMRI aquaculture program manager, said the organization supports local fishermen and aquaculture farmers, and is looking at trends in the fisheries and how to provide useful infrastructure.

He said the objective is to support and preserve the area’s working waterfront. He said GMRI wanted information about what types of commercial fishing are located at the pier, the size of the boats moored, and what fishermen see as useful infrastructure. 

The feedback will help GEI create three potential designs that will focus on whether to rehabilitate or expand the pier, and include various sizes and additions, such as a wave screen to protect the pier from northeasterly storms. 

Merrill said a wave screen would require pulling out the existing breakwater.

Some fishermen said the focus should be on creating parking, both on the pier for slip holders, and off it, in an adjoining lot.

Reny said land needs are an unavoidable part of what needs to be considered in the plan, and the option to increase land holdings adjacent to the pier is complicated. There have been questions about whether land is available for purchase and at what cost, he said, since the land surrounding the pier is privately owned. 

Mussel farmer and former lobsterman Gary Moretti said what the group must look at is what’s missing from the area and what is likely to change when, as he said, his “38-foot Youngstown commercial vessel is somebody’s picnic boat.”

Merrill said a list of needs would be compiled and plans from the initial information-gathering meetings would be winnowed. A previous meeting was held with aquaculture farmers about their vision for the site.

The local fishermen said the size of boats using the pier will likely be 36 to 38 feet, and the season for most commercial fisheries will run from May to Thanksgiving for those who lease slips at the pier now. 

Fisherman said security is another feature to be considered, because items have been stolen from their boats, and drug use is a common activity in the area. Fences and security cameras were discussed as potential remedies, but the fishermen also said they want the community to have access to the pier, to go fishing or to watch the fireworks during the Fourth of July.

An economic analysis about what is feasible will compiled by the end of the month, and another public hearing on the project will be scheduled. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net

Fishermen, residents and government officials meet at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland March 19 to discuss the future of South Portland’s public pier.

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