PORTLAND – Portland. Sounds like a place that understands how land meets the sea. Well, recent history suggests otherwise:

For 35 years the Bay of Fundy ferry ran between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland. In 2005 health inspectors found that the city-owned terminal contained dangerous amounts of mold, which the city refused to correct, so the ferry terminated service and the city sued to collect rent.

Three years later the city announced it had agreed to pay the ferry service $2.5 million as damages. This news was accepted by the Portland taxpayers and voters with little chagrin or objection. No one asked who had the bright idea of refusing to remove mold but instead suing for rent, resulting in a loss of ferry service and the payment of $2.5 million.

Shouldn’t someone have lost their job, or their re-election?

Recognizing the value of ferry service to Nova Scotia, the city built a new $21 million terminal, Ocean Gateway, to serve a new high-speed catamaran that would provide service to Yarmouth. It was very fast and very glamorous.

But unprofitable. So after just three years, “The Cat” terminated service and the city of Portland now owned two useless ferry terminals, one abandoned and moldy, the other abandoned and brand new — and useful only for shallow-draft catamarans.

This news also was accepted by Portland voters with Maine stoicism.

Shouldn’t someone have lost their job?

Portland’s public servants were not deterred by this rather disappointing experience with land/sea matters. They next determined to revitalize Portland by redeveloping the Maine State Pier in the heart of the waterfront. Through a sometimes clownish and at all times strident succession of hearings, debates, public input and private lobbying, the city selected a developer.

But then the city fathers made an embarrassing admission: The Maine State Pier was named the Maine State Pier because the state owned the land on which it was built. Needless to say, this news was a little unsettling to the developers and they went home.

Shouldn’t someone have lost their job?

During its heady days of acting as a big-time real estate developer, the city determined that it had to own a railroad easement near the Maine State Pier. When its offer of $5,000 was refused, the city took the easement by eminent domain and initiated a court hearing to determine its value.

Six years later the court found the value to be $795,000 plus $240,000 in interest. Plus the city incurred legal costs of $180,000. So the ultimate cost to the city was $1,215,000, or 243 times what it initially offered. For an easement it no longer needed.

Shouldn’t someone have lost their job?

In the previous century Portland continued to dump raw sewage into Casco Bay, which led to a suit by the federal EPA, which the city settled by agreeing to build a modern sewage disposal system.

But it never did and so it came to pass that in 2011 the city again addressed exactly the same issue and again decided to build a new sewage disposal system, at a cost that will triple all Portland water users’ sewage bill, which is already double the water bill.

Did this news cause heads to roll at City Hall, or did they just nod off? Shouldn’t someone have lost their job?

Now for the last chapter. The city planners’ solution to the Maine State Pier and Scotia Prince fiascos was to build an extension to Ocean Gateway. The new pier requires cruise ship passengers to walk a considerable distance to dry land. And what is their reward when they do so? They are greeted by a dusty, dirty city parking lot, a brand-new Veterans Administration Clinic, and a further walk to the Old Port!

P.S. And it now appears that the new extended pier is a little too shallow for some cruise ships so they cannot stay during low tide. But, hey, lowtide happens only twice a day, as Portland might have figured out by now.

Shouldn’t someone have lost their job?

 

– Special to The Press Herald