Low tide at Sturdivant’s Wharf in Portland last July. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer, file

The Portland City Council voted Monday to fund its share of a long-awaited project to clear sediment from the city’s working waterfront after more than a decade of planning and delays.

The city will spend $4 million from tax increment financing – which was laid out in the fiscal year 2025 budget – to clear built up sediment and improve boat access to commercial piers.

The buildup has made the harbor shallower. Some piers are now partly surrounded by exposed mud and silt at low tide, preventing boats from reaching piers to tie up or to load and unload. It will be the first time that parts of the harbor have been dredged in more than 70 years.

Bill Needelman, the city’s waterfront coordinator, said the vote moves “the project on to it’s next phase,” and recognizes that “the city of Portland will be the project administrator.”

There was no discussion among the councilors and the order passed unanimously.

Because the project will dredge working waterfronts in Portland and South Portland, the city of South Portland is also contributing $1 million to the effort. The state Department of Transportation is pledging $6 million and the Governor’s Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan is offering $10 million. Another $2.64 million will come from private wharf and pier owners.


“If we’re going to invite a higher volume of commercial traffic and take us to the next level as a maritime center than we need to have a harbor that will accommodate those vessels,” said Mayor Mark Dion in an interview before the council meeting.

The city has tried to secure federal funding over the years but wasn’t able to, said Jessica Grondin, Portland’s spokesperson. In a January release, Grondin wrote that the project was scaled back slightly after years of failed attempts to secure funding, and after that it was easier to get financial assistance from the state and federal governments. Changes to the original project plan include omitting a portion of Portland’s waterfront near Ocean Gateway from the dredging.

As it stands, the dredge project includes 47 properties along Portland’s waterfront adjacent to private and publicly owned piers and waterfront areas including 21 piers, 10 marinas, the Portland public boat launch and the Portland commercial barge landing.

Sediment and silt along the shorelines is generally contaminated with urban runoff, sewage and stormwater discharges, and old industrial emissions, so the mud cannot be dumped at sea, which makes the project more complicated and costly than the regular dredging of shipping channels.


The council also unanimously approved an amendment to the city code requiring bird safe glass on new buildings. About 10 people spoke during public comment about the proposal and several became emotional while talking about birds dying from collisions with windows in the city.


Nick Lund, the advocacy and outreach manager for Maine Audubon told the council that buildings pose a bigger threat to birds than most people know.

“Though seemingly a niche issue it is actually a major threat to birds,” he said.

Carol Jean, who lives in Portland, also spoke in support of the amendment.

“I do everything that I can to help birds, I have bird feeders and bird bedding, I feed birds all year,” she said. “And to think that something I help raise might be a bird that collides with a building here in Portland is heartbreaking,” said Jean.

However some worried that the amendment could make buildings more expensive for developers.

“You’re only requiring people to spend a lot more money to build new buildings with bird safe glass … You’re not going to solve any problems by passing this, you’re just going to add significant costs for developers,” said Steven Scharff.

Eamonn Dundon, advocacy director with the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber opposes the amendment.

“We remain opposed to this ordinance because it makes Portland a more expensive place to do business,” said Dundon, arguing it is significantly more expensive to install bird-safe glass than regular glass.

After a brief discussion the amendment passed unanimously.

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