PORTLAND – Representatives from 21 states will be in Portland next week for a national symposium on protecting working waterfronts.

The organizers chose Portland three years ago because the city and the state are national models on the issue. Among urban planners, Portland is famous for the 1987 citizen initiative that prevented new non-marine development on the city’s piers and wharves.

But a lot has changed in the last year and half. Portland is now revamping those zoning restrictions.

Pier owners say the restrictions make it impossible to generate the income they need to pay for the expensive pier maintenance and dredging projects. Some of their marine tenants are fighting the changes because they fear they will be forced out.

The contentious issue will go to the City Council this fall for a vote.

The current political issues make Portland an even more interesting case study, said Hugh Cowperthwaite, who is on the conference’s planning committee and works as the fisheries project director for Coastal Enterprises.

“One of the ironies of locating the conference here is that the Portland zoning is under question,” he said.

City Councilor John Anton said the conference is also an opportunity for the city’s staff to get input from planners and scholars who are dealing with similar issues around the country.

“Portland has been held up historically as an example of how to save a working waterfront,” he said. “That seems to be on the ropes right now.”

The Working Waterways and Waterfronts National Symposium on Water Access will begin Monday with field trips to several locations, including the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Flying Point Oyster Farm in Freeport’s Maquoit Bay.

On Tuesday, Bill Needleman, a senior planner with the city, will discuss the lessons and challenges of planning a mixed-use waterfront. Needleman and others will give tours of Portland’s waterfront to about 100 people attending the event.

The keynote speakers on Tuesday will be U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Larry Robinson, assistant secretary for conservation and management for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Pingree and Collins have sponsored bills to create a federal funding mechanism for protecting economically valuable waterfronts.

The conference will end Thursday with a debate on national policy issues.

The National Sea Grant program, which is administered by NOAA, is the primary sponsor of the conference. Other sponsors are National Fisherman magazine and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. The Maine Sea Grant program is coordinating the event.

The conference will be held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay. It costs $375 to attend the four-day conference, but people can register for one day at a lower cost. More information, including the agenda, is at www.wateraccessus.com/agenda.htm.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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