PORTLAND — The state is asking the city to approve $5 million in upgrades to the International Marine Terminal, a move it says will attract more cargo and container shipments.
Maine Department of Transportation representatives are due before the Planning Board Feb. 8 to pitch the project, which will be funded with federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant money.
The state believes the improvements will make the West Commercial Street facility more efficient.
“It will make it easier to handle more containers,” MDOT project manager Paul Pottle said.
The Maine Port Authority took over operations at the city-owned IMT in June 2009. While it had previously been used to berth Nova Scotia passenger ferries and had for a short time been used as a hub for tour buses and taxi cabs catering to tourists, the terminal is now exclusively a cargo operation.
The authority’s lease agreement has it paying the lesser of $120,000 or 1/3 its net revenue for the year. According to city Spokeswoman Nicole Clegg the authority’s revenues have not exceeded their expenses. Meaning the rent is currently free.
Ports America manages the terminal, which handled 1,614 containers in 2010. The state is hoping the improvements will increase its annual tonnage of bulk cargo by 108 percent by 2015.
Pottle said the state wants to handle more windmill shipments, as it has done in recent years on a limited basis.
“It is necessary to increase the facility’s capability to handle and store large shipments of containers and enhance its ability to handle heavy-lift components for alternative renewable energies,” according to the application submitted to the Planning Board.
Pottle said the proposed IMT improvements are part of a plan to increase container traffic in Maine. That plan includes Searsport as well, and to a lesser extent, Eastport.
John Henshaw, the executive director for the Maine Port Authority, said the authority is working very hard to bring back feeder service between Portland and Halifax. The service ended in August 2010.
Henshaw said there is also potential for a lot of opportunities exporting forest products that are currently trucked out of state.
He said the authority would like to capitalize on America’s Marine Highway Program, which was created to ease congestion on roads by using water transportation instead.
The state’s construction plans for the IMT include removing a majority of the existing terminal building and construction of a 3,300-square-foot building for administrative offices along West Commercial Street.
The pier would be rehabilitated and expanded a total of 5,000 square feet, although the outer perimeter shape of the pier would not change. Instead, the area between the land edge of the pier and the seawall would be filled.
The pier would be reinforced to make crane and container movement easier. The large paved area at the property would be reinforced and repaved for the same reason. A small parking lot, new lights and utilities would also be added.
The Planning Board is scheduled to take up the state’s application at its Feb. 8 meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Pottle said the state is following an aggressive schedule, with plans to advertise the project for construction in April and have it completed by mid-2012.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org