Guest Column: Diversity key to Success of Portland Waterfront Group

All kinds of people took part in the grassroots alliance in Portland to stop uncontrolled destruction of the waterfront. The Portland’s Working Waterfront Group’s success to date is because of its diversity and its ability to take advantage of that diversity to address all the issues.

Portland’s City Council voted for a six-month moratorium on waterfront
development in December in response to a citizen’s referendum organized by fishermen. Photo courtesy of the Bangor Daily News.

What led to forming the group? Dissatisfaction on the part of Portland’s citizens, fishermen and Commercial Street merchants with the City’s unthinking development along Commercial Street. Fishermen were involved, of course. Young and old. Many of these fishermen had seen the world as part of the Armed Forces or on merchant ships. Some had their own businesses. All knew the value of Portland Harbor and its wharves in supporting the economy of Portland and Maine.

There were local lawyers and professors who respected grassroots opposition to bad government. They helped word the referendum and guide the Working Waterfront Group through a maze of bureaucratic BS. Computer people put all the referendum signatures  into a databank. Others helped formulate arguments against the City’s actions into factual statements which were communicated to the public. Other fishing community leaders got the message out about standing up to development in other coastal communities. Media experts made a short video to educate the public of the importance of working waterfronts to the economy and character of the State of Maine.

 

Willis Spear has been a groundfisherman, merchant seaman, and lobsterman among his many careers. He has fought to protect Portland’s working waterfront for more than 30 years. MCFA photo.

Merchants sponsored dinners at restaurants and sold T-shirts to raise funds for the group. The wives of fishermen organized to gather signatures for the referendum. Portland’s art community organized a protest last summer that brought attention to what was happening on Commercial Street, marching down the street with their posters, signs and mermaids.

And then there are the citizens of Portland who came out to gather signatures for the referendum. They were the greatest. Like the 84-year old retired fisherman and boatbuilder who gathered 175 signatures. Or the resident who lives on a harbor wharf who doesn’t mind boats starting at 4 a.m. She stood in the rain and snow to gather 300 signatures!
All worked together, attending two weekly meetings for over 16 months.
We’ve had some successes. The developer agreed to remove a hotel from his proposal on Fishermen’s Wharf. The City may consider rezoning Commercial Street to protect water-dependent users and provide tax incentives for the wharf owners for maintenance and dredging.

All kinds of people formed the grassroots alliance to stop this uncontrolled destruction of the waterfront and the character of Portland. We are going to keep meeting weekly to assure that the city delivers. Already, there are several volunteers ready to hit the streets to do another referendum should the city fall down on its promises.