Bug Light Park is considered South Portland’s premier park. But its security and value have been threatened by the proposed development of Yard South right next door. Bug Light’s proximity to a proposed 30-acre urban cityscape, including four 18-story buildings, retail and office space, restaurants and other California- or Florida-inspired development, renders the park significantly endangered. The danger intensifies because the South Portland City Council has declined to protect Bug Light against development by granting a conservation easement. Bug Light needs to be protected; the Yard South development is a treacherous and thoughtless concept.

Bart and Beth Cory of Portland walk at Bug Light Park in South Portland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Bug Light (Portland Breakwater Light), at 26 feet tall, was first constructed of wood in 1855 and rebuilt in 1875 using cast-iron plates. It is revered for its tiny size and elegance. Few may know that the lighthouse’s architect, Thomas U. Walter, also designed the U.S. Capitol’s East and West wings as well as the Capitol dome. Bug Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 19, 1973.

When World War II began, an energetic neighborhood known as Cushing’s Point lived next to Bug Light. The location became desirable for the construction of Liberty ships, needed for the war effort. In 1942 the entire neighborhood was razed to create two shipyards, which eventually became the New England Shipbuilding Co. and where 274 Liberty ships were built.

The words on the small memorial marker at the entrance to Bug Light Park provide a glimpse into the incredible sacrifice made by these residents of South Portland and enhances the level of respect for this historic park: “This park memorial is dedicated to all families whose homes and heritage were destroyed in 1942 so a shipyard could be built during World War II. This area known as Cushing’s Point at Ferry Village, consisted of many homes, some built by their owners or families and had been lived in by three generations. A close-knit community, whose families enjoyed the beach, fields and stores felt it was ‘The best place in the world to live.’ ”

The park includes a memorial and outdoor museum documenting the Liberty ships. The community honors both the people who lived here and the workers (including my father) who built ships here, but the Yard South proposal ignores the poignant history of the park and further marginalizes it by suggesting that South Portland needs an “urban center.”

I am especially concerned with the 18-story buildings that will tower over diminutive Bug Light and destroy the view from the Portland Observatory. As a docent I gaze to the southeast from the top and worry about the potential of tiny Bug Light lost under four 18-story towers full of millionaires and Portland Head Light completely obscured.

Bug Light Park, as an icon of South Portland, deserves to be protected from the rapacious development envisioned by Yard South. Cushing’s Point should also be sheltered from the negative consequences of having been built on brownfields created by urban fill and of a future subject to 8 feet, 8 inches of sea-level rise. This historic area and lighthouse are adjacent to 13 benzene-spewing oil and gasoline tanks; gasoline is both flammable and explosive.

This is clearly not a suitable location for high-rise residential development that will most certainly diminish the beauty and serenity of Bug Light Park. Public awareness of this development, which could shatter the character of South Portland, is minimal. Projects of this magnitude and impact need to be vetted before the community for input; my neighbors have asked when they will get a chance to vote on this massive and ill-conceived project. I am hopeful the No Yard South initiative sponsors a referendum to halt rezoning in the last remaining working waterfront in the city. Bug Light is not the only memorial in danger from Yard South – the character and history of South Portland are also at risk.

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