Government Wharf (so named because the federal government once owned it) and bait shed in
Kennebunkport were both built in the early 1950’s, primarily for use by commercial fishermen with fishing vessels moored in the Kennebunk River. Over a half century later, the little red structure will be torn down and the wharf itself renovated. Demolition began after Thanksgiving; the project is expected to be completed by the end of April, 2018.
Laurie Smith, Kennebunkport town manager, said, “Due to its age and heavy use, the facility requires substantial renovation. The project will replace the existing wharf with a similarly constructed wharf, replace the bait house on approximately the same footprint, and add a section of wharf decking on the east side. The improvements will enhance the safety of access for fishermen loading and unloading, increase the usable landing space for boats, and improve the storage space for bait with future plans for refrigeration.”
The projected cost of the entire renovation is $747,565. Of that total, the Maine Department of Transportation will pay $284,000 of the cost, a Maine Submerged Lands Grant will pay $15,000, and Kennebunkport will pay the remaining balance. Maritime Construction of Cape Neddick will be performing the work.
Harbormaster Jim Black is the liaison between fishermen and the construction team during the project. “We [Black, a commercial fisherman, and town officials] will assure that the commercial fleet has access to all assets needed to continue operating during the construction process. I will also monitor any environmental concerns and work with the town to ensure that any navigational issues are handled properly,” he said.
Government Wharf currently serves approximately 20-25 local commercial fishermen, mostly lobstermen and a few groundfishermen. Though it is a public wharf, the commercial fishermen who use it pay dues to cover the annual operational costs of the pier and its maintenance. The bait shed is for commercial fishermen’s use only as they are the ones paying the costs. “Sustaining the town’s fishing economy is a key priority for the town. Development pressures and the escalating value of property along the coastline have drastically reduced the number of properties in the Kennebunkport that are owned or used by fishermen. The town has, by ordinance, given priority use to commercial fishing at both Government Wharf and Cape Porpoise Pier,” Smith said.
Lobsterman Chris Welch moors his boat Foolish Pride in the Kennebunk River. “I am glad that the town is keeping the wharf and bait shed for the commercial fishermen’s use first. We don’t have a lot left, and these things are crucial for us to have,” he said.
Smith said she feels the renovation will be a benefit to all fishermen. “The new wharf will be safer, more efficient and serve the town well for many years to come,” she said. “The bait shed will be energy efficient, supply the fishermen with needed storage space and, due to the refrigeration, will lessen any odors that may have impacted neighboring properties.”