After years of study, planning, design, and permitting work, the Portland Harbor Dredge and CAD project failed to make the list of approved projects announced by the US Department of Transportation under the $900 million Better Utilizing Investments Leveraging Development (BUILD) program.
The project has been under discussion for decades, with consistent staff and constituent efforts toward its funding since 2014. In short, the project proposes to comprehensively dredge public and private piers, wharfs, marinas, and vessel support areas in Portland Harbor. Most of these areas have not been dredged within living memory and a significant amount of vessel berthing has been lost to natural and human influenced sedimentation. Material removed from the vessel support areas would be disposed of in a newly constructed “confined aquatic disposal” (CAD) cell in Portland Harbor, which was also included in the project. The total price tag is estimated at $30 million dollars with $3 million committed by the State of Maine, $3 million to come from the pier and marina owners, and the balance requested from the US Department of Transportation through the BUILD program.
The application was filed by the Cities of Portland, South Portland, the Portland Harbor Commission, and support from the Maine Department of Transportation and over 30 private pier and marina owners.
City Manager Jon Jennings spoke about the economic needs of Portland’s waterfront and how this project is crucial to furthering the future of our working waterfront and the overall economic future of the city. “While this project is not about building roads or bridges, it is a critical transportation need for the continuation of our historic working waterfront.”
Bill Needelman, City of Portland Waterfront Coordinator, said “We’re disappointed, but the collaboration leading to our application and the quality of the material presented were both excellent and we plan to resubmit our proposal for consideration again next year. The team strongly believes in the project and we have no doubts as to its needs and merits.”
South Portland City Manager, Scott Morelli, said, “The Cities of South Portland and Portland have a long track record of working collaboratively on projects that benefit both communities and the region. When you include the participation of the Harbor Commission, state, our federal delegation, working side by side this is an example of what a public-private partnership can and should be. The harbor dredge project has been and will continue to be a priority.”
South Portland’s Economic Development Director, Bill Mann, indicated, “The dredge team is exploring all possibilities and sources of funding to move this project forward.”
Charlie Poole, a long-time harbor dredge advocate and President of the Proprietors of Union Wharf, noted “We don’t have a choice but to try again. We’ve been talking about dredging and working on dredging for 30 years or so and this problem will not just one day go away, we have to dredge. We’re either in this game or we’re not (marine commerce.) If you can’t bring a boat alongside a pier safely, you’re done.”
Portland Harbor Commission Chair, Dan Haley, said “This is the first time that we have had pier owners, environmental groups, fishermen, both cities, and the State of Maine all working together toward a common goal – sustaining this harbor. We’ve come too far to stop now.”
Mr. Needelman noted that the project team will convene shortly to assess options for next steps.
The project had the support of both of Maine’s US Senators Susan Collins and Angus King as well as the District 1 US House Representative Chellie Pingree. Private groups supporting the project and the funding application included the Maine Lobsterman’s Union, the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the Portland the Portland Propeller Club, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, and dozens of pier and waterfront property owners.
The BUILD program is administered by the US Department of Transportation. The State of Maine Department of Transportation received a total of $45 million in funding this year for bridge work in Waterville and road improvements in rural Maine.