Perhaps, as suggested in the Dec. 13 Portland Press Herald editorial, “Our View: Development timeout is best way forward” (Page A6), the fishermen’s concerns related to traffic are “essentially a transportation problem,” which can be addressed by moving people and managing parking more effectively “even if the city continues to grow.” I suggest, however, that is a very narrow focus on a much broader concern.

While circulating the petition for a referendum on the working waterfront at several recent district meetings, I heard Portlanders cite as “shameful” what has happened to their 2-to-1 1987 referendum victory to reserve the waterfront for marine-related enterprises. Similar expressions were heard Dec. 11 at the public meeting about the Commercial Street corridor.

It will be short-sighted, indeed, of both fishermen and the city of Portland if traffic and transportation become the sole focus of the moratorium enacted last week. Growth in this city, and certainly on its limited waterfront, will continue, and any time gained via the moratorium should focus as well on what kind of growth we want. Waterfront space is finite, as is the time to make critical choices.

Some food for thought:

In the Dec. 13 Business section of the Press Herald (Page B1), Eimskip CEO Gylfi Sigfússon says the company is “heading into an exciting future,” that its volume and value have “more than doubled” since its move here in 2013; that it transports weekly from Iceland, through Newfoundland and Halifax, and that this system is “the cornerstone of the service.” Sigfússon showed vision, as did Portland officials in welcoming his company.

University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings, announcing at a recent Portland waterfront event that USM plans to create a Maine North Atlantic Institute, said that Maine needs to prepare to become a U.S. gateway for expanded trade through the Arctic and northern Atlantic oceans, the consequence of the unsettling melting of the polar ice cap. “You have to be looking around the corner, you have to be looking ahead,” Cummings said. “That is what this institute is – we want to be ready.” Cummings has vision.

University of New England President James Herbert recently announced that UNE had joined a network of institutions called University of the Arctic “to promote the economy of the world’s northern reaches … to help shape Maine’s future.” UNE has also launched a new institute dedicated to education and research in the North Atlantic and Arctic, where Sen. Angus King sees “great potential for our collective future.” Herbert and King have vision.

On May 23, The New York Times reported that New Bedford, Massachusetts, expects to bring “billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs to the town and other ports on the East Coast” as the operations center for a major offshore wind farm. The state of Massachusetts is dredging New Bedford Harbor and expanding a 29-acre marine commerce terminal there. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island are pushing forward on port preservation or expansion of space necessary for marine-dependent industry.

We have some choices now as to the kind of growth we want on our waterfront. With much stronger federal and global regulation, even a normally cyclical fishery could return offshore. These and other exciting choices are foreclosed if we clutter the waterfront with law offices, hotels, T-shirt shops and restaurants, and lack the vision to reserve the space necessary to accommodate prosperous marine-related enterprises, as the proposed referendum would do. What will the moratorium do?

Don’t let this City Council, like the council that allowed the destruction of Union Station, become an object of shame. Save the working waterfront for marine-dependent enterprise.


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