SOUTH PORTLAND — Consultants are recommending the Portland Street Pier be rebuilt at a cost of approximately $1.8 million – $600,000 more than anticipated six months ago.
Representatives of Portland-based GEI Consultants presented the proposal to the City Council during a Nov. 27 workshop. GEI has been hired by the city to produce a 40 percent design of the pier to prepare plans for permitting and approvals.
In June, City Councilors said they were leaning toward a $900,000 design to redevelop the pier. Four designs submitted ranged in cost from $900,000 to $12 million.
Their preference, Option 4, would retain, rehabilitate and slightly expand the existing pier, storage building and 15 boat slips on seasonal floating finger docks. More expensive options would either completely replace or expand facilities, including 600-foot-long floating docks that could accommodate trucks, forklifts and larger boats.
According to City Manager Scott Morelli, the estimate didn’t account for the cost of dredging, which would be needed if rebuilding is pursued. In July, costs estimated for dredging, including additional engineering and permitting fees, pushed the cost to at least $1.2 million.
In a memo to the council, Morelli said GEI’s recommendation would meet stakeholder needs by having a larger footprint and extending farther from the shore than the existing pier. The plan would also accommodate heavy trucks and the facilities needed by the fishing and aquaculture industry, and eliminate the need for dredging for some time.
Changes to federal flood maps, which are expected to take effect next summer, would also be accommodated. Previous mapping from 1986 placed the base flood elevation at 11.7 feet, but that is expected to rise to 13 feet on new maps. The existing pier deck and building floor elevations are 9.6 feet and 10 feet, respectively.
The pier would also be shifted from an A Zone, which has limited wave action, to a VE Zone, which is at risk of seeing wave height of at least 3 feet.
Other options presented by GEI – all of which are versions of Option 4 – were 4A, which would extend the pier head at the same elevation and substantially reinforce the entire structure, or 4C, which would add an extended pier head at the higher elevation, with a plan to rebuild the remainder at that elevation in about 20 years.
Regardless, GEI said in the long term, full replacement of the pier and building is necessary. Should the city does not opt for the full replacement now, GEI said extending the pier head at the higher elevation – with a plan to rebuild the remainder at that elevation in about 20 years – would be acceptable to “limit upfront costs.”
According to GEI, additional grant funding could potentially be secured by the city, which has already been awarded two Shore and Harbor Planning grants from the Maine Coastal Program for the next phase of design. The firm noted Small Harbor Improvement Program grants from the Maine Department of Transportation are available in amounts up to $250,000 to “construct infrastructure and facilities that promote economic development and support of the fishing industry.”
“There certainly are public funds available … and there’s cobbling (and) sequencing that could happen,” GEI’s Samuel Merrill said.
Still, Councilor Claude Morgan said, “It’s a bit of sticker shock. My preference is 4B because it solves in one fell swoop what we would otherwise do in many.”
Option 4B as recommended is likely to cost the least of the three in the long-run. Options 4A and 4C would cost the city less up front, approximately $900,000 and $1.4 million, respectively, but could eventually add up to a total of $2.7 million and $2.5 million, respectively.
Full replacement would likely take two to four years, but ensure at least 75 more years for the pier, while 4A and 4B would only take one to two years to complete, but would not immediately address deficiencies identified by stakeholders and would require further action between 10 and 20 years down the road.
“I can see us do these in phases for economic reasons … but (if we do) I think we’d get caught in rising costs,” Morgan said.
Councilors and members of the public also wondered if the plans were “premature,” given the uncertainty around the future of the nearby waterfront property that the Cacoulidis family recently sold to L+R Northpoint. In addition, there is ongoing litigation around Portland Pipeline’s attempt to appeal a court ruling in favor of the city zoning that prohibits the bulk loading of foreign crude oil onto tankers.
Mayor Linda Cohen said the council shouldn’t focus its attention too much on what could happen with the pipeline, since it could take a long time for that dispute to be resolved.
She said she is “not a fan of paying taxpayer money and doing it twice,” and therefore supported GEI’s recommendation. However, Cohen noted she is not confident about building anything on the water.
“I hate spending that kind of money only to see it wash out to sea or become unusable,” she said.
Councilor Kate Lewis said she, too, would choose option 4B, but stressed that only gives consultants the go-ahead to craft “shovel-ready” plans, not to start work.
Assistant City Manager Josh Reny said applying for permits would be another decision point for the council. He estimated GEI would come back before the council in the spring with the outcome of the 40 percent design as they’re gearing up to apply for grants.
Morgan, who has long supported the project, said it would “foster what is an incredibly fast-growing (aquaculture) industry,” noting the pier could accommodate fishermen who have been “displaced” by development across the Fore River in Portland.
“I think a really important thing for South Portland is investing in the waterfront,” Lewis added. “I feel comfortable going for (4B because it) accomplishes the things that our focus groups wanted for this project in the shorter term.”
Consultants have recommended a complete rebuilding of the Portland Street pier in South Portland, at a cost of approximately $1.8 million.