PORTLAND – Marilyn and Frank Russnak of Galloway, N.J., were impressed when they left their cruise ship, the 965-foot-long Celebrity Summit, for a trip ashore Wednesday.
The Russnaks, two of the Celebrity Summit’s 2,038 passengers, were among the first cruise ship passengers to disembark at Portland’s new $6 million Ocean Gateway Pier II.
“We were just commenting to ourselves how nice and clean and beautiful everything is,” said Marilyn Russnak, a veteran cruise ship passenger.
The so-called megaberth opened Saturday after years of planning. Pier II is the longest cruise ship pier in Maine, able to accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world.
The new pier, which is expected to provide economic benefits to the region, doubles the city’s berthing capacity for commercial vessels. The hope is that it will attract more ships en route to Maine’s biggest cruise ship destination, Bar Harbor, where ships must anchor and passengers are ferried to shore.
The pier’s trial run on Saturday went smoothly, said Ed Karpinski, the Maine Department of Transportation’s construction manager on the project. He said the conditions were ideal, with clear skies and calm waters when the 990-foot-long Enchantment of the Seas made a wide turn in the harbor before tying up at Pier II.
“It was nerve-wracking, but it came in nice and slow and the fenders did well,” said Karpinksi.
City officials expect to start seeing the real economic benefits of the 65-foot-deep megaberth after next year. Cruise lines book their berths two years ahead.
This year, Portland is scheduled to host 65 ships, collectively carrying 92,000 passengers.
A University of Maine study in 2008 estimated that every 47,000 passengers generate 69 to 96 jobs in the local economy. A single passenger spends an average of $80 to $110 on shore, said Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman.
The floating Ocean Gateway Pier II extends 1,100 feet into the harbor and provides electricity and water for the ships that use it. It was built by Reed & Reed of Woolwich.
The winning bid came in about $1.5 million below the amount budgeted, which enabled the state to extend the pier 100 feet beyond its original design and add the water and electrical services. Money for the project came from a state transportation bond that was approved last year.
The pier is not open to the public, for security reasons. A good place to see it is the waterfront Moon Tide Park, next to the Ocean Gateway passenger terminal at the corner of Commercial and Hancock streets.
A public ceremony to mark the opening was postponed until a yet-to-be-determined date this month, in part so it wouldn’t conflict with ceremonies commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Clegg said an estimated 56,000 passengers are scheduled to disembark at Pier II by the end of this cruise ship season next month. For the first time, all three of the city’s cruise ship piers, including the Maine State Pier and Ocean Gateway Pier I, will be filled simultaneously on Sept. 29.
Not every passenger gave the new pier good reviews.
“It’s an awful long walk,” said Margaret Hubert of Tucson, Ariz., on the way back from what she said was a wonderful tour of Portland’s Victoria Mansion.
City officials said several golf carts are on order and will be available soon to carry cruise ship passengers.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: