The Planning Board next week is expected to review a proposal to construct a 120,000-square-foot cold storage facility at 40 West Commercial St., next to the Maine International Marine Terminal. Courtesy photo

PORTLAND — A group of West End residents argue a large cold storage facility proposed for West Commercial Street is too big and does not need to be on the waterfront their neighborhood overlooks. However, Jon Nass, CEO of the Maine Port Authority says it is just what the city needs to stay competitive with larger ports.

Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure of Yarmouth is working with Eimskip and Amber Infrastructure to build Maine International Cold Storage Facility, a 120,000-square-foot building at 40 West Commercial St., next to the International Marine Terminal. Their hope is that by 2022, the facility will be a hub for shipping frozen food in and out of Portland. The Planning Board is set to review the project next Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The Maine Port Authority CEO Jon Nass hopes a proposed cold storage facility on West Commercial Street will be a hub for the frozen products that come in and out of Portland. Courtesy photo

The facility, which could accommodate 20,000 refrigerated pallets at a time, would provide a cost effective alternative to the larger ports south of Maine, Nass said.

“This will give a competitive advantage to Portland, Maine, to help keep the port successful for years to come,” he said.

Right now, he said, shipments of frozen food that come into Portland are transferred elsewhere – typically Boston – to be stored and are then brought back up to Maine when they are ready for market. A one-way trip can cost upwards of $2,000.

The proposal comes two years after Americold, a large cold storage company, abandoned plans to build a similar facility on the site, which has been vacant over the last few years and most recently housed a Northern Utilities natural gas/propane distribution facility.

“The fact that no cold storage company wants to develop this project should be a big red flag,” said Mark McCain, a resident of Summer Street and one of the 82 residents who opposed the project in an August letter to the Planning Board. 

Jo Coyne, a resident of Salem Street who also signed the letter, said: “The current proposed structure would maximize the allowable footprint, despite the fact that Portland’s current and future maritime needs could be met with a much smaller facility that would not necessarily need to be located on the waterfront.”

Citing data they say they purchased, neighbors said Maine companies imported 1,200 refrigerated pallets between Jan. 1 and June 30, which would fill less than 1.5% of the warehouse, a building that would have an annual storage capacity, they figure, of between 250,000 and 400,000 pallets.

Nass dismisses those numbers, saying the International Marine Terminal handled more than 26,100 pallets in the first half of 2020.

“We have sized (the building) to what we believe the market will handle,” he said.

Neighbors also say the expected 70 trucks pulling into and out of the facility’s 12 loading docks everyday could add to Commercial Street traffic congestion.

“They have been fighting this for years,” Nass said. “We have done a traffic study and are performing within all the requirements of the city.”

There will be trucks, Nass said, but “the focus of this is to be a marine asset.”

Angelo Ciocca, founder and president of Nova Seafood located near the site, questions how much of a boon the facility would bring.

“I definitely don’t think the current seafood businesses here would benefit tremendously,” he said.

Nova Seafood uses freezer units in Boston, but Ciocca said he would consider using  Maine International Cold Storage Facility if it made financial sense.

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