PORTLAND – Gov. Paul LePage joined Mayor Nicholas Mavodones for a ceremony Wednesday to mark the opening of Portland’s Ocean Gateway Pier II — the so-called megaberth.

“I am happy to say we have a place that can dock many of the largest ships in the world,” Mavodones said at the event on the pier, which drew about 50 people. “The Portland waterfront is an economic engine for the entire state. As Portland succeeds, so does the region.”

LePage told the group that the berth, which opened Sept. 10, will help bolster Maine’s tourism industry, an important economic driver for the state. “Tourism has always been very important to Maine. We need to encourage (tourists) to visit the Old Port and spend a lot of money,” he said.

Also at the event was Panos Manzavinos, captain of the visiting cruise ship Celebrity Summit, who said the water under the pier is a bit too shallow for big cruise ships. Manzavinos said an additional 5 to 6 feet of water at the pier would be ideal.

“If they dredge, it will be an amazing place. By dredging, it could be one of the best berths on the East Coast,” he said.

The water under the pier is about 30 feet deep at the shallowest point, which is on the eastern end. Most cruise ships draw 26 to 29 feet of water.

On Sept. 27, the Caribbean Princess left the pier earlier than scheduled and rode out an astronomically low tide in deeper water. Some passengers were left on shore and were later ferried to the ship.

Speaking after Wednesday’s event, Mavodones said the Maine Department of Transportation is seeking a dredging permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said a time line for the work has not been set, but he hopes it will be completed by the next cruise ship season, which starts in late summer.

“We are going to dredge the eastern end of this (pier),” he said.

Mavodones noted that the megaberth was designed originally to be built in the area where Bath Iron Works operated a dry dock, where the water is 60 feet deep. He said the plan was altered, and the pier was extended to the east, over the shallower water.

Also at the event were city councilors, representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, and Jackson Parker, head of Reed & Reed Inc., the firm that led the pier’s construction.

Mavodones called the megaberth the product of 12 years of planning by the city, which worked with the state, businesses, residents and the maritime industry.

“Through careful planning, Portland came up with a vision to create a passenger port for the new century,” Mavodones said. “(The city) developed a plan that maintained the integrity of downtown Portland and (makes) a good first impression for passengers.”

According to the city, 64 cruise ships carrying a record 89,367 passengers have visited Portland since June, up from 75,000 cruise ship passengers in 2010.

In 2009, a study by the University of Maine found that in 2008, passengers from 31 cruise ships generated $5.8 million to $8 million for southern Maine’s economy and sustained 69 to 96 full- and part-time jobs.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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