Jim Buxton has been working on Portland’s waterfront since the 1980s, and running his own lobster boat from Merrill’s Wharf since the 1990s.

His experience has given him a view from the bow of the bubbling conflict between marine and nonmarine uses along the city’s piers, and he had an unusual opportunity to share his perspective in a new online documentary series, “Wharfside: Stories From Portland Harbor’s Working Waterfront.”

Buxton, 49, says he participated in the series to advocate for preserving the working waterfront, where lobstermen and others who toil on the harbor and on Casco Bay increasingly rub up against restaurants, white-collar offices and recreational attractions.

“The appeal of the water to tourists and to regular people, I can understand because that’s what draws me to the water,” Buxton says in his segment of the documentary project. “But that should not smother the use of the harbor in a way because it cannot be replicated anywhere else. You can put a restaurant anywhere; you can put a law office anywhere; you can put a bike path anywhere; but there is only a handful of true harbors in Maine.”

Now viewable online, “Wharfside” is a collection of a dozen audio slide shows sponsored by the Waterfront Alliance and the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Nine slide shows were posted for the premiere of the series last week for group members and participants. Three more are in production and are expected to be completed before the series is presented at a public forum early next year.

In sponsoring the documentary project, the two groups set out to present stories that represent the variety of people on the working waterfront and the issues that are important to them in a way that anyone could watch and understand, said Tom Meyers, chairman of the Waterfront Alliance, which includes diverse stakeholders.


“The waterfront here is a very strong, committed community,” Meyers said at the premiere, adding that it’s made up of “everyday heroes whose stories deserve to be told.”

“Wharfside” was created and produced by Stonington native Galen Koch, a professional multimedia documentary maker who graduated from the Salt Institute and now lives in Portland. The series is posted on her website, galenkoch.com.

The Waterfront Alliance and Casco Bay Estuary Partnership each kicked in $2,500 to fund the series, which took hundreds of hours to produce, including the work of photographers Justin Levesque and Jenny Rebecca Nelson.

“It was a passion project because it’s something I really care about,” Koch said. “Hopefully, it will get others to think about this place that we live in, beyond the shops on Commercial Street.”

Each segment of the series is five to 10 minutes long. Most of them focus on people who are making a living on the waterfront in Portland and South Portland. Those include Coast Guard members who operate the lighthouses of Casco Bay; first mate Gretchen Frank, a deckhand on the Casco Bay Lines ferry to Peaks Island; and instructors and students of SailMaine.

One segment follows a cargo ship’s passage into the harbor. Another digs into the dredging that keeps boat slips accessible. And one segment currently in production will tell the story of the law firm Pierce Atwood’s move onto Merrill’s Wharf.


Then there’s the segment on 92-year-old Leland Merrill, a former owner of Widgery Wharf, which was built in 1777. Merrill bought a share of the wharf for $600 in the 1950s and worked there as a lobsterman for most of his life, fully retiring only recently.

“I would love to go back and do it all over again,” Merrill says in the documentary, which captures him reciting Longfellow and calling for his favorite seagull.

Merrill notes that his son still lobsters off Widgery, and he points out proudly that the city’s oldest wharf remains dedicated to marine uses. But it fronts on Commercial Street, which he says has evolved into a smooth “thoroughfare” of shops and hotels catering largely to tourists.

“I want to keep Portland’s waterfront a working waterfront,” Merrill said at the premiere, “not just a place for pleasure boats and sailboats.”


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