PORTLAND — The effort to bring the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy to Portland permanently has run into opposition on the City Council.

Several councilors spoke against the project Monday night, saying the ship would dominate Portland Harbor and block views. The carrier is more than 1,000 feet long and rises 192 feet from the water line to the top of its mast.

“It’s just too big,” Councilor Dory Waxman told the project’s supporters during a council workshop.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. and Councilors John Anton and David Marshall also spoke against the project. No councilors spoke in favor of it.

There won’t be a formal vote until the issue appears on the council’s regular agenda. A date has not been scheduled.

Proponents want to berth the carrier on the shore side of the deep-water cruise ship berth that will be built in the coming months off the end of the Ocean Gateway pier, with the bow facing the pier.


For the project to go forward, proponents need the council to approve of the berthing location and agree to be a cooperative partner. The city would not be required to spend any money.

Richard Fitzgerald, chief financial officer for the USS John Kennedy Museum, the nonprofit that is pushing the project, said after Monday’s meeting that he will meet with Mavodones and City Manager Joe Gray and decide what to do next. He said he was not surprised by the council’s cool response.

The Navy decommissioned the carrier three years ago. It has selected the Portland group as one of two finalists to be given control of the ship. The other group is in Rhode Island. The two groups have until Feb. 4 to apply for the next round of the selection process.

Fitzgerald said Rhode Island doesn’t have a harbor deep enough to berth the vessel. If Portland doesn’t accept the JFK, he said, the Navy will sell it for scrap.

Speaking with emotion at times, Fitzgerald told the council that the carrier would provide a huge economic boost for the city, attracting more than 200,000 visitors a year. It also would house a “world class” convention center and provide a meeting space for as many as 5,000 people.

“There are many attractions in the city of Portland, but not of the scale the JFK would be,” he said.


The hangar deck – the main area of the ship for aircraft – is nearly 2 acres. The storerooms are equal to a six-story warehouse. From keel to mast, the ship is as tall as a 25-story building.

But cruise ships that visit the city would tower over the carrier’s flight deck, Fitzgerald said. Viewed from the shore, the carrier would appear as a “sleek silhouette” and block views of the oil tanks in South Portland.

There are significant financial obstacles for the project. The ship draws 33.5 feet of water, and the proposed berthing area is only 20 feet deep. Fitzgerald said 100,000 cubic yards of mud would have to be dredged, at a cost of $1 million to $35 million, depending on the mud’s level of contamination and its disposal method.

He said his group has developed a $71 million budget for the next 10 years. It needs money for environmental studies, but it can’t raise much money unless the council supports the site location.

The group has $2,300 cash. It has made it this far through the efforts of its 70 volunteers, Fitzgerald said.

In January, the council supported the effort with a 9-0 vote, but councilors said they would have additional questions about financing, environmental concerns and the ship’s impact on the waterfront.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: tbell@pressherald.com

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