Range of options, costs possible for South Portland pier project

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Several redevelopment options for the Portland Street pier are possible from an engineering perspective, but funding will determine the design.

Four designs were presented to stakeholders at an April 30 meeting, ranging in cost from $900,000 to $12 million to  revamp the city-owned pier. Another option, further paring down the cheapest version, is also possible, according to engineers, and the pier could also be rebuilt in phases as money becomes available.

The meeting Monday was held in the council chambers at City Hall with fisherman, Gulf of Maine Research Institute staff, engineers, and city officials. There is no timeline for when a decision will be reached on the project. 

The pier in Ferry Village is 150 feet long. It was constructed for shipbuilding in the 19th century. Fifteen slips are leased to lobster and tuna fishermen from April-November. 

The potential for the pier is touted as immeasurable, but now the dock is not breaking even; it generates $20,000 in revenue from leased space, while maintenance to the structure and building is needed. 

Councilor Claude Morgan said Casco Bay is the region’s hub for aquaculture, attracting innovation and brainpower associated with a growing industry that would be a valuable asset to the city. 

A major roadblock, however, is that the designs presented assume land surrounding the pier and owned by Portland Pipeline Co. would be used by the city through a lease or purchase, which has not been discussed with the company.

Complicating matters, in February 2015 Portland Pipe Line sued the city in federal court to overturn the “Clear Skies Ordinance,” which prohibits the bulk loading of crude oil onto ships. The suit has been litigated for more than three years and is still pending. 

Three of the four options include replacing a breakwater with a wave screen to protect the pier from northeasterly winds and incoming waves. That move may protect the pier 100 percent if desired, said engineer and designer Varoujan Hagopian, who has 30 years of global experience designing waterfronts and is involved in the Boston Harbor dredging project.

The so-called “Cadillac option,” at $12 million, would be a fixed, 50-foot wide and 890-foot long pier. In some of the designs, the intertidal space is used to build a parking lot and cold storage. Other options include a floating U-shaped pier connected to the bones of the existing pier with a T at the end for a turnaround.  

The most economical option is rehabilitating the existing structure and building, adding about 12 parking spaces, and an L at the end of the wharf. 

Dredging of the area is also being discussed, Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said, with bathymetric surveys already completed. 

The design and construction costs do not include buying adjacent property, or dredging. 

There is funding available from TIF money, estimated at a few hundred thousand dollars, that could be used for waterfront development, Reny and Morgan said. Other options for funding include private investments and applying for state and federal grants.

Construction could come as early as next spring, if a design and permitting are completed. Reny said previously that improving the pier will likely take several years, and include economic development opportunities the pier could create for the city. 

The city, partnering with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and engineering firm GEI, has been gathering input and data from the state and commercial fishermen and aquaculture ventures to determine what the needs are for the pier, and what options allow for flexibility in a changing economic and environmental future.

Several fishermen added their input to the vision for the public pier, with their main concerns focused on parking, protection from northeasterly winds, and affordability of slips.

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

The Portland Street pier in South Portland is eyed for redevelopment to accommodate commercial fishermen and aquaculture farmers. 

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