The Portland Planning Board on Tuesday approved a $30 million cold storage facility planned for the city’s waterfront, a project that planners, state officials and supporters predict will make the city a trade hub for goods transported between Europe and major population centers in North America.

The board voted 6-0 to approve the Maine International Cold Storage Facility site plan, to be built at 40 West Commercial St. by Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure of Yarmouth and Amber Infrastructure. The 120,000-square-foot facility would be located on state-owned land next to the International Marine Terminal on the Fore River. Portland’s West End neighborhood overlooks the proposed project site.

The Maine Port Authority has been pushing the project, which will cost $25 million to $35 million, saying it will turn the city’s port into a hub for shipments of frozen food. Under the current transport system, such shipments bound for Portland must be diverted and temporarily stored in Boston before being moved to Portland. The proposed cold storage facility could store up to 20,000 pallets of food. It would be built on land leased from the state for up to 50 years, and could open by 2022.

The building is expected to meet the refrigerated cargo demands of Icelandic shipping company Eimskip and be big enough to accommodate customers from Maine’s growing food, beverage and biopharmaceutical industries. Freight volume on Portland’s waterfront has grown by an average of 25 percent annually since Eimskip made Portland its North American headquarters seven years ago. In 2019, more than 28,600 container units passed through Portland, about quadruple the volume in 2013.

The Commercial Street site has been mostly vacant for two years after Americold abandoned plans to build a similar cold storage facility on Commercial Street.

West End residents have been opposed to the project, arguing it does not belong on the waterfront. More than 80 residents signed a letter of opposition, which they presented to the city in August. They’ve expressed concerns about increased traffic on one of Portland’s most congested streets, the scale of the facility, and increases in noise caused by truck traffic.

Though most of those who spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing touted the economic benefits the cold storage building would generate, there were a few dissenting voices.

“The facility as designed is fine but it doesn’t belong on the site. It’s way too big,” said Jo Coyne, a Portland resident.

Phineas Sprague owns Portland Yacht Services, which will be located next to the cold storage building. Sprague said the development should ensure the viability of Portland’s working waterfront for years to come.

“This is a unique economic opportunity for the state and the city of Portland,” Sprague said. “Our ocean economy makes Portland a significant town in the economies of the North Atlantic countries.”

Lynn Tillotson, president and chief executive officer of Visit Portland, an organization that markets Maine’s largest city, praised the project.

“It’s important for us to keep our waterfront viable and strong for future generations. And we need to keep our economy diversified,” Tillotson said.

Planning Board members also spoke highly of the project.

“This project is really about supporting one Maine. It’s a good project for the city and for the state,” said Planning Board Chairman Brandon Mazer.

A few people questioned whether the project would be economically viable in the long term, but Mazer said that judgement was beyond the purview of the board.

“I know it’s frustrating to the public about what our role really is,” he said. “But our role tonight is not to determine how an applicant will run their business or whether it is economically viable.”


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