South Portland officials want to improve the city-owned Portland Street Pier to better support commercial fishing and aquaculture. Staff file photo by Brianna Soukup

SOUTH PORTLAND — City officials are going forward with an estimated $1.2 million plan to upgrade and expand the Portland Street Pier, hoping to make the most of a long-neglected municipal asset, but stopping short of expanding it into a much larger year-round facility.

The City Council picked the least expensive of four redevelopment options included in a new feasibility report, which also found growing need for an improved municipal pier that would better serve both commercial fishing and an increasing number of aquaculture users.

Five of seven city councilors tentatively endorsed a $900,000 redevelopment option last week, bypassing three more expensive options ranging from $7.4 million to $12.1 million, Mayor Linda Cohen said.

The cost estimate for the preferred option didn’t account for potential dredging, which was estimated to be more than $200,000 for the more expensive options, or $155,000 in additional engineering and permitting fees outlined in council documents, all of which would push the cost to at least $1.2 million.

“It kind of left us hanging, not knowing what the cost of dredging might be,” Cohen said. “There are still a lot of moving parts, but it goes without saying that we’ve got to repair and upgrade what’s there.”

In a workshop session last week, the council directed Assistant City Manager Josh Reny to report back with cost estimates for any dredging that might be necessary to put the low-cost scheme into action.

The council also agreed to consider funding the project in the fiscal 2020 capital improvement plan and urged Reny to pursue a maximum $250,000 harbor improvement grant from the Maine Department of Transportation. The project has already received $60,000 in planning grants.

“We have a depreciating asset that’s not being used to its full potential, and that’s not acceptable,” Reny said. “We have the opportunity to prepare for how the pier might be used for the next 50 years.”

LONGTIME CITY ASSET

The city has owned the pier since the late 1800s. It occupies a narrow slice of the western waterfront off Front Street, in the Ferry Village neighborhood, wedged among the Sunset Marina, the Saltwater Grille restaurant and a couple of massive green fuel tanks owned by the Portland Pipe Line Corp.

The low-cost redevelopment option would retain, rehabilitate and slightly expand the existing pier, storage building and 15 boat slips on seasonal floating finger docks. The slips are leased to lobster, tuna, seaweed and scallop fishermen for $1,250 per year each.

The more expensive options would either completely replace or expand them into much larger facilities, including 600-foot-long floating docks that could accommodate trucks, forklifts and larger boats.

“If we had unlimited funds, (the $12.1 million option) would have been nice, but we don’t have that kind of money,” Cohen said.

However, the low-cost option is flexible enough to allow the city to pursue other design options in the future, City Manager Scott Morelli said.

The preferred option also would retain the existing stone breakwater or jetty that extends from the end of the 100-foot-long wooden pier, past the seasonal floating docks, to control wave action spring through fall.

The more expensive options call for removing the breakwater and installing a 660- to 840-foot-long structural wave screen that would temper wave action, allow year-round pier use and cost about $2 million.

A needs survey of current and potential users found little interest in year-round pier use among the dozens of lobster and tuna fishermen who work spring through fall out of Portland Harbor. It also found no current interest in the municipal pier among the 33 aquaculture license holders in Casco Bay – oysters, mussels, kelp and scallops – who must travel at least 4 miles to their grow sites.

However, commercial fishermen indicated that they would be inclined to extend shoulder seasons by a month if slips were available, and the feasibility report concluded that a 2016-17 boom in oyster farm development and a budding scallop sector suggest future demand for pier space in the aquaculture sector.

DRAWBACKS AND BENEFITS

The report outlined a variety of challenges at the pier, including limited or nonexistent parking, power supply, fresh water, lighting, security and lease revenue. Pier leases generate $20,000 to $25,000 per year. On the plus side, current users said they liked the affordability, convenience and accessibility of the pier.

The $1 million option would expand the end of the existing pier to accommodate a new shellfish wash-and-sort table; add six parking spaces across from six existing spaces; install a new davit or crane to improve loading and unloading capacity; and add a cold-storage unit to the existing pier building.

The more expensive options would provide an additional 12 to 26 spaces, but they would require negotiating with the Portland Pipe Line Corp. to use some of the company’s land. Morelli said. How that might go is questionable.

The city is locked in a years-long federal court battle with the company, which is challenging a 2014 municipal ban on loading crude oil onto tankers that would prevent the company from reversing the flow of its little-used pipeline to carry crude from western Canada to world markets.

Design work for the low-budget pier rehab and expansion is expected to continue through December 2019. Construction would start in March 2020 and be done in phases.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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