The University of New England has applied for permission to build a permanent pier along the Saco River in Biddeford sited a bit downriver from its current seasonal dock, seen in the foreground above. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Biddeford harbormaster has been ordered by the city manager not to make any more comments about the University of New England’s request to build a pier on the Saco River and will not be allowed to oversee the application review process because he has been deemed to be biased.

The directive came even before the university had officially submitted an application to build a year-round pier. But the project has been part of the school’s master plan for decades and has been discussed at length by people in the area, including harbormaster Paul Lariviere, whose role includes overseeing such applications.

City Manager James Bennett said he had no choice but to remove Lariviere as the administrative hearing officer after the harbormaster made biased public comments that have “tarnished” the presumption that the application would be considered objectively. Lariviere has said publicly that UNE’s plan lacks “common sense” and he does not agree with the university about where the pier should be built, Bennett said.

“The harbormaster has, in front of me, made comments that there is absolutely no way he is going to consider that application,” Bennett said in a phone interview this week. He also said Lariviere has “spent time lobbying the Harbor Commission and other agencies to tell people why they should back his decision” about the best location for the pier.

Lariviere is not being disciplined, Bennett said. Assistant Harbormaster Randy Desmaris also is barred from serving as the administrative hearing officer because of his close working relationship with Lariviere.

The Harbor Commission also will not be allowed to hear any appeals connected to the university’s application because the board has already discussed the application and related issues before it was even submitted, which Bennett said amounted to an illicit denial.


Bennett said he will appoint a temporary harbormaster for the sole purpose of hearing and deciding on the application.

Lariviere said in an email that he will not comply with Bennett’s directive, calling it unconstitutional. He characterized Bennett’s actions as an attempt to intimidate him and said he plans to talk to the mayor and City Council.

“I have two questions,” Lariviere wrote. “Did either the mayor, the city attorney or any city councilor authorize the manager to order a Biddeford resident to keep his mouth shut about public business? Second, I know Mr. Bennett’s working hard for UNE, but now that he’s executed his purge who will look out for the people of Biddeford?”

Lariviere did not respond to follow up emails or calls asking to discuss his allegations and why he objects to the proposed location.

Bennett said when people take on government roles like the harbormaster position, they give up some of their personal rights, including sharing their personal opinions. Bennett also said he is not “working for UNE” and that his job is to make sure the process is fair.

“I’m not putting anything on the scales to try to tip this thing,” he said.



Alan Thibeault, UNE’s vice president of operations, said the university on Monday submitted an application for a pier near the Girard Marine Sciences Center, directly across the Saco River from the Camp Ellis town pier.

The university has long planned to seek permission to build a year-round pier for both academics and research connected to the marine sciences program. A feasibility study done in 2008 identified nine potential locations along the Saco River and the pier has been included in the university’s master plan since 2009.

The university currently has a research dock that can only be used from April to November.

“It’s really restricted our ability to do some of the research we need to do,” Thibeault said.

A new pier would allow the university to focus more on aquaculture, including its seaweed farms in Saco Bay. Kelp harvesting is done in winter and the limitations of the current dock have “hamstrung our ability to get out there,” Thibeault said.


The location for a new pier was chosen because it is outside of the navigation channel and has the least impact on moorings, he said.

UNE plans to use private donations, university money and federal dollars to pay the estimated $4 million cost to cover design, permitting and construction. Thibeault said the goal is to start construction next year, but first the university must go through a multipronged approval process.

That process begins with Biddeford’s harbormaster, who is charged with considering applications based on the merits of the information submitted to the city. The pier project needs the approval of the harbormaster before it moves on to the planning board for review.

It also needs approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Thibeault said he believes that the steps taken by the city manager “will ensure there is a fair process.”

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