SOUTH PORTLAND — On Friday, Portland’s historic 2-to-1 referendum vote to maintain and support our working waterfront will be 30 years old. What kind of report card does our city get for implementing the people’s vote in 1987?

What kind of measure do we use in our waterfront city, where most of the piers are privately owned? A key measure is the degree of public-private cooperation in both protecting and developing the deep-water resource and its invaluable public benefits. The 1986 Portland Fish Pier is a great example, while possible joint marketing, dredging, tax incentives and grants are more modest examples. Such efforts require more work than simply opening the zoning floodgates to nonmarine uses that price and crowd out the resource-dependent uses, and, being permanent, will be our legacy to future generations.

Using this measure broadly, low grades go to the following:

 City leaders’ hot pursuit of a huge hotel – not a permitted use – on the Maine State Pier, the least developed of only four publicly owned piers. This sent a strong signal that the city of Portland was willing to sell the working waterfront down the river, ignoring its duty to responsibly steward the waterfront resource.

Even worse, after failing at the hotel venture, the city made it difficult for several solid marine businesses to secure a suitable leasing arrangement on the pier. Watch this space: Hotel dreams die hard, even in already-crowded hotel markets. A wise city could invite tourism without killing the golden goose.

• Using nearly 3 million tax dollars to help one of the largest law firms in Maine turn the former Cumberland Cold Storage building into 98,000 square feet of law offices and other nonmarine businesses, including a restaurant, and further reduce fishing net-mending and boat maintenance space. The $2.8 million could have gone toward a water-dependent, public-private project.

• Agreeing to turn the East End site of the former Portland Co. locomotive construction complex into a private, formulaic, Faneuil Hall-style hotel, condo and retail development. So, like scores of look-alike waterfront cities, Portland opted for glamour over its history, resource development, good jobs and authenticity.

• City leaders may soon consider the first actual hotel complex on the waterfront – a 96-room tourist encroachment on what was one of the most diverse deep-water working piers, known in the early 1980s as “Central Wharf.” In addition, Union Wharf owners are planning to build three large office-retail-restaurant buildings near Sapporo, and more big, nonmarine buildings are waiting in the wings.

Dramatic failures aside, we all see the effects of the city’s continuous erosion of marine zoning, reducing affordable and accessible berthing, parking and loading space in order to gain more waterside shops, restaurants and office space. As then-Planning Board member Jack Soley said in 2013, “I don’t think we have done a good job of creating a waterfront zone.”

These failures must be seen in light of a record year for lobsters, and the burgeoning variety of Maine’s sea-based products being processed and sold on our wharfs for local, national and international markets. And, yet, we see Commercial Street clogged with activities that choke critical pickups and deliveries of perishable live seafood and bait. We need to take the nonmarine pressure off the waterfront.

High grades go to:

• The Eimskip cargo port on the east and west sides of the South Portland bridge – a stunning example of a public-private international multi-modal commercial hub that is bringing jobs and opportunities for Maine producers, farmers, brewers and natural resource harvesters. From Bean boots to bottled water, blueberries, lobsters, wood products and beer, Maine products are going all over the world by plane, train, highway and ship.

• The multipurpose repair and haul-out facility developed on the western waterfront with public-private collaboration. Portland Yacht Services provides services for nearly all kinds of vessels and is a necessary part of the waterfront infrastructure.

• The far west end of the waterfront, with a marine construction facility, a bulk and general cargo port and the active railroad. The Portlanders who voted in 1987 helped to secure that area for such key waterfront functions.

And, as the voters in 1987 knew, “keeping the Port in Portland” is what makes this nearly 400-year-old deep-water seaport city a distinctive, exciting place to live and to visit. Shouldn’t we think this over before we price and crowd it out completely?

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