The University of New England has applied for permission to build a year-round dock along the Saco River in Biddeford sited a bit downriver from their current dock, seen in the foreground in this photo. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The city of Biddeford has hired a private firm to review the University of New England’s application for a new pier on the Saco River.

The move comes nearly two months after City Manager Jim Bennett notified harbormaster Paul Lariviere and assistant harbormaster Randy Desmaris that they were being removed as administrative hearing officers because they had publicly discussed the proposal before the application was filed.

UNE is seeking approval to build a pier near the Girard Marine Sciences Center that can be used year-round for research and aquaculture projects. The location, directly across the river from the Camp Ellis town pier, was chosen because it is outside the navigation channel and has the least impact on moorings, according to university officials.

The State of Maine Harbor Masters Association has said that the plan to appoint a temporary reviewer is unprecedented and inconsistent with state law. The organization said the city should follow its ordinance, which requires the harbormaster or the Harbor Commission to handle reviews and appeals.

Under the city’s ordinance, the harbormaster is responsible for reviewing the completeness of applications for wharves, piers and landings. After the harbormaster signs off on it, the applicant is given permission to move on to the Planning Board and Code Enforcement Office for approval and permits.

Bennett said his decision was not a disciplinary action, but necessary to ensure the application was reviewed in an unbiased process that does not violate UNE’s due process rights. He announced Wednesday that the city has hired Wayne Duffet of TEC Associates to ensure that UNE has submitted all the required materials for its application.

The decision came after the city attorney determined it could delegate the harbormaster’s tasks to a third party, including an independent engineer or firm, Bennett said. The university submitted its application on June 3 and it was provided to Duffet to review on July 9.

“As city manager, it is my responsibility to ensure that the process outlined in our ordinances is followed. Working with Mr. Duffet to review the application is the best path forward to ensure that a fair and unbiased evaluation of the application materials for the Marine Science Center Pier can occur,” Bennett said in a statement.

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