SOUTH PORTLAND — The threat of sea level rise has forced city officials to consider replacing the Portland Street Pier rather than just fixing it, a move that would cost an additional $600,000 but help ensure the facility’s long-term viability.

Replacing the long-neglected municipal pier also would cost taxpayers less in the long run, engineers said, by avoiding more expensive future upgrades that would be necessary to accommodate rising tides. It’s the latest example of how communities are responding to environmental threats anticipated by federal agencies because of accelerating climate change.

In June, the City Council picked a $1.2 million plan to upgrade and expand the existing pier as the least expensive option recommended by engineers. At a recent workshop, councilors learned that the cheapest option now, based on rising sea level data, would be to replace the pier all at once for $1.8 million. Refurbishing the existing pier or building a new pier now and upgrading either in 10 to 20 years to accommodate rising seas would cost $2.5 million to $2.7 million, according to GEI Consultants of Portland.

“It was real sticker shock,” said Mayor Claude Morgan, who represents the waterfront area as District 1 councilor. “We’re going forward with the full replacement option. We’re just going to have to work harder on funding.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to release updated flood maps next summer that show the base flood elevation near the pier will increase from 11.7 feet to 13 feet above sea level. There’s a 1 percent chance of reaching the base flood elevation in any given year, according to FEMA.

Replacing the pier at a higher elevation would eliminate the need to dredge and accommodate larger trucks to better support fishing and aquaculture operations, said City Manager Scott Morelli. If the council decides to replace the pier all at once, it would be completed by 2022 and have an estimated useful life of more than 75 years.

Based on recent tidal trends, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted that by the year 2100, many waterfront areas in South Portland and Portland will be under at least a foot of seawater at high tide on a calm day.

The city of South Portland has owned the Portland Street 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 pier includes a small storage building and 15 boat slips on seasonal floating finger docks that are leased to lobster, tuna, seaweed and scallop fishermen for $1,250 per year each.

City officials decided to maintain the pier as a seasonal operation based on a lack of current interest in a year-round facility and the high cost of developing a pier that could withstand Portland Harbor’s rough winters.

However, a recent feasibility study identified a growing need for an improved municipal pier that would better serve both commercial fishing and an increasing number of aquaculture users. Building a year-round pier would cost $7.4 million to $12.1 million, including the installation of structural wave screens to temper wave action.

The pier project has received $60,000 in planning grants, and city officials plan to pursue additional grant funding, including a $250,000 harbor improvement grant from the Maine Department of Transportation, Morgan said. Other financing would be secured through the city’s annual capital improvement program and possibly through a tax increment financing district.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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