I have been involved in commercial fisheries for the past 28 years. I’ve witnessed the decline of groundfish landings at the Portland Fish Exchange, from 30 million pounds per year in the early 1990s to about 3 million pounds annually since 2015. Despite this steady decline, Portland seafood processors have been able to maintain production, sales and jobs by supplementing fresh fish with frozen fish.

These processors not only use frozen seafood products but also create ready-to-prepare frozen lobster tails, lobster meat, fish fillets and minimally processed seafood that require a local, deep-freeze storage facility.

But the lack of a public, deep-freeze facility in the state has been difficult for these companies, which are forced to truck seafood to deep-freeze facilities in Massachusetts and back again to Maine. The additional cost of trucking reduces their margins, giving out-of-state processors a competitive edge in the marketplace.

These Maine businesses could very well have relocated to Massachusetts, taking advantage of better freezer infrastructure and reduced transportation costs. But the owners are committed to maintaining a presence here in Portland, keeping jobs here and the economic return local.

Now there is an opportunity to provide a level playing field for Maine businesses. The Portland Planning Board is considering a zoning change that would allow for the construction of a freezer warehouse adjacent to the container terminal on West Commercial Street.

I ask that residents of the city of Portland support the zoning change and recognize the economic contributions that these companies give to the city’s economy.

This freezer facility is not just about seafood processors’ needs. Farmers who grow fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, cranberries, broccoli and potatoes, also would benefit from a dedicated deep-freeze facility. Its location adjacent to the container terminal and a rail line would open new domestic and international markets.

Eimskip, one of the world’s premier shipping lines for moving frozen seafood, has committed to establishing its North American container operations in Portland. A freezer building is needed to ensure that Eimskip is fully operational for handling freezer containers.

Eimskip cargo volumes are growing, and the company hopes in the near term to schedule ship calls every week. Weekly calls are important because most companies send and receive cargo on a weekly schedule. This new schedule, however, hinges upon a freezer facility being available.

As a Portland resident and property owner since 1990, I have watched Portland’s economic climate surge and retreat numerous times. The current housing building boom has created temporary jobs and expanded the tax base, but no real long-term jobs that have benefits are being created. We need a diverse economy that provides many kinds of jobs.

I am also concerned about the direction of the waterfront economy, which in recent years has shifted from commercial to recreational uses. With that shift, jobs have been added and lost. For the Port of Portland to be economically diverse, good-paying, industrial jobs need to be added.

A deep-freeze facility would create construction jobs, administrative jobs, dock worker jobs, trucking jobs and seafood processing jobs.

The beautiful city we know today is a product of its historic seaport. Our waterfront for centuries has served as a hub for cargo transportation, fishing and industry. While we have added tourism dollars to our economy, we should not turn our backs on our heritage. There is room for both.

I can understand the Western Promenade abutters’ concerns. They say they support cold storage but not at the capacity proposed. But a smaller capacity is not economically competitive and therefore not viable. A sound assumption is that this facility will experience strong demand once constructed.

This proposed freezer plant is a generational opportunity for the city of Portland and the state of Maine. This is an opportunity to make our port more economically diverse and to create a robust waterfront economy.


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