A person walks along the tide line between Maine Wharf and Custom House Wharf on Saturday at high tide. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Chipmans watched in horror as the commercial lobster wharf they’d built by hand 20 years ago in Milbridge out of hemlock trees they’d cut themselves was knocked about by high winds and storm surge during the first of two winter storms to hit Maine’s working waterfront last week.

“The next thing you know, the building at the end of the wharf went, and then the decking, and in under two minutes, she was gone, leaving us with nothing but pilings,” said co-owner Amity Chipman Tuesday. “It almost drove me to my knees. Everybody was crying. It felt like a death in the family.”

Chipman and her husband, Jason, own and operate the restaurant, retail market and buying station at Chipman’s Wharf, together with his brother Chris and Chris’ wife, Monica. Her father-in-law, John, is also a third-generation lobsterman.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Chipman’s Wharf was one of 520 coastal businesses to submit damage reports and photos to help Maine qualify for the federal disaster relief needed to recover from the extreme weather that wreaked havoc on working waterfronts from Eastport to Kittery.

The state’s $1.5 billion lobster industry, comprised of a complex network of fishermen, dealers, bait suppliers, diesel pumps, boatyards and warehouses that require easy shoreline access, was particularly hard hit by the storms that hit Maine on Jan. 10 and Jan. 13.

It is far too early to estimate the extent of the damages caused by these storms or estimate how long it will take to replace the lost public infrastructure, such as town roads and docks, much less the private wharves, piers and docks that have been damaged or destroyed.


In Stonington, the state’s most valuable lobster port, much of the infrastructure required to make the waterfront work was wiped out, according to town manager Kathleen Billings. The damages will climb into the millions, Billings projected.

The town fish pier was overrun by storm surge on Wednesday, taking out electrical systems, pumping stations and computer systems. The Stonington Lobster Co-op docks are gone. A huge chunk of the Oceanville marsh was washed over a town road and out to sea.

Greenhead Lobster, a lobster dealer and processor, saw Ocean Street buying station swamped by storm surge, its Webb Cove boat slips damaged and its Moose Island lobster pounds severely damaged, one of them possibly beyond repair, said owner Hugh Reynolds.

A crowd gathers at the edge of the tide line on Custom House Wharf at high tide on Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The high water mark was at least 5 feet above a regular high tide, Reynolds said. Equipment they had moved to what they thought would be high ground was washed away. One minute Reynolds was saying, “wow, it’s getting high” and the next minute things were being swept away, he said.

Greenhead is now down to one buying station to handle the 25 to 30 year-round lobstermen who still fish in the winter. Reynolds plans to rebuild by July, when the Maine lobster season traditionally kicks into high gear and the 100 lobstermen who sell to Greenhead are fishing every day.

“We don’t even know the full extent of the damage,” Reynolds said. “Some of our concrete platforms are washed out. Some are uneven. Are they even fixable? Will the contractors be available? Because let me tell you, we’re not the only ones who’ll need them. The whole coast got smashed.”



On Tuesday, the heads of state agencies overseeing marine resources, emergency management and economic and community development talked about the widespread storm damage and the long and uncertain road to recovery during an online Island Institute workshop.

Businesses have until Jan. 18 and Jan. 21 to send in reports to support the state’s applications for federal disaster declarations for the two winter storms. The business reports are not applications for federal assistance, but will help Maine build a case for why federal relief is needed.

Marcin Gorski, manager of the Aloft hotel in downtown Portland, dumps water from the entrance near Maple Street. It’s the fourth time the hotel has flooded in the 6 months he’s worked there Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer

Damage reports and photos can be submitted online at a state website or by calling 211. The damage from the two storms should be assessed individually, not together, as federal agencies are likely to consider the storms separately. Property owners are encouraged to send photos.

The state has 30 days, or until mid-February, to apply for a federal disaster declaration. Maine’s last two requests were granted within about two weeks, but Rhode Island had to wait 2-1/2 months for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to approve its last request.

State agencies are working together to decide how to balance a desire to streamline the rebuilding process for property and business owners with the need to incorporate climate resiliency into the recovery effort, said Commissioner Pat Keliher of the Department of Marine Resources.


“Just rebuilding a wharf back as it was constructed is only going to mean a repeat failure,” Keliher said. “As I continue to tell industry, this is the new norm. We need to make sure as we build back, we’re building back higher and stronger.”

As climate change warms the world’s oceans, causing the volume of the sea to expand and glaciers to melt, the pace of what had been gradually rising oceans is expected to accelerate. The Gulf of Maine is expected to rise 1.5 feet by 2050, and 4 feet by 2100.

That means the infrastructure along the shoreline that was built to buy and sell lobster and bait and fuel their boats a century ago is now regularly flooding during a new moon tide, let alone when they are inundated by storms made more frequent and ferocious by climate change.

Somerset Street in Portland is barricaded at the intersection with Franklin Avenue on Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The process of repairing, rebuilding and replacing structures near a protected resource like coastal wetlands or the ocean after a storm isn’t exactly straightforward, according to Robert Wood, director of the Bureau of Land Resources at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Repair is generally exempted from the National Resources Protection Act, he said. Replacement or reconstruction may be allowed by permit-by-rule, which requires a 14-day wait to allow for state review, if it’s built to the same dimensions and in the same place.

But there are certain times when a rebuild could face significant regulatory hurdles and long waits, including projects located on or near a coastal dune or projects the owner wants to move or elevate to incorporate rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storm surges.

The Chipmans plan to rebuild their namesake wharf as soon as they can. They don’t know if they’ll be able to get it done before the 20 boats they serve start to set traps in April because they don’t know how difficult or expensive it will be to find the supplies, contractors and money to rebuild.

They know they’ll rebuild it higher, and they’ll probably throw in some concrete plates to give the decking extra stability, but how high is high enough? The Chipmans would like a hard number to make sure that future generations don’t have to endure the same kind of loss.

“At first, we were in shock, now we’re in cleanup, but soon we’ll have to start planning, and we don’t know where to start,” Amity Chipman said. “They tell us climate change, the waters are rising, but the lobster industry needs to know exactly how high. Everybody depends on it.”

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