Weather warms, Portland snow pile stands tall

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PORTLAND — Easter brought record-breaking warmth to the city, but the remnants of 95 inches of snowfall threaten to be visible in a black mountain along West Commercial Street until at least Memorial Day.

Although it barely resembles what fell from the sky from December 2016 through April 1, the pile is about the length of a football field and two stories high on land owned by Portland Yacht Services operator Phineas Sprague at 232 W. Commercial St.

“We are providing a needed service in the interim before we determine what we are going to do with the property,” Sprague said April 14 about the dump site being maintained by Gorham Sand & Gravel.

When the snow has melted, it will also be up to Gorham Sand to clean up everything that is left, he said. Metal piping, litter, even a grocery store shopping cart have already emerged as the pile has slowly melted.

The site was first used last year, Sprague said, and this year the city Department of Public Works joined smaller contractors dumping snow there.

Portland Public Works Director Chris Branch said the West Commercial Street dump was augments city dump sites behind the Maine Turnpike Authority headquarters off Outer Congress Street, in the medians on Franklin Street, and above the East End Trail on Cutter Street.

Branch said the city was charged about $10 per axle for trucks to dump the snow. The city previously used land on Somerset Street, but that property was sold to the Federated Cos. to build the mixed-use “Midtown” project.

Sprague said his land is a good option for private contractors and their customers.

“It is the little guy with the landscaping truck, and the local micro businesses that are benefiting, too,” he said.

Because raised railroad tracks run between the pile and the Fore River, Sprague said there is little worry any effluent would reach the Fore River.

“I have to be licensed up the …,” he said, referring to the environmental permits needed to operate the dump.

The visual impact of the snow pile has not drawn complaints from city residents, visitors, or people who travel on Commercial Street, at least according to Portland Downtown or the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Casey Gilbert, Portland Downtown executive director, said she has not heard any feedback.

“If they have to put (snow) someplace, from the visitor perspective, it makes sense to put it there,” Lynn Tillotson, Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO, said Monday.

The snowfall this past winter was about 3 feet above average, according to the National Weather Service, which Sprague said was a reason the pile this year is so noticeable.

He already plans to allow dumping next winter, too.

“I think it is a service to the livability of the city,” Sprague said. “I have to travel Commercial Street. I would rather have it there than the middle of the street.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

A mountain of dumped snow proves resistant to spring fever Monday, April 17, on West Commercial Street in Portland. The land owned by Phineas Sprague was used by the city and private contractors.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.