Maine’s working waterfront has been a source of worry for many along the coast. Conversion of waterfront property to residential or retail use, reduced access to the water for fishermen, and multiple other assaults on the infrastructure that makes commercial fishing possible have featured in media reports in recent years. Yet at the same time, state and federal funds are being awarded to improve that infrastructure, primarily in smaller harbors and ports, a sign of the economic importance of those facilities.
Stonington received a $65,000 Small Harbor Improvement matching grant from the Maine Department of Transportation to expand the commercial fishing pier. The expansion will take place on the western side of the pier where a granite retaining wall and additional parking will be added. Selectmen approved a transfer of $65,000 from the Fish Pier Reserve to satisfy the town’s share of the matching grant.
The grant application submitted by the town last year said the expanded pier would benefit the commercial fishing fleet by offering safer and improved maneuverability for tractor trailers and seafood transportation and increased boat tie-up access.
The town’s economic developer Henry Teverow said that Stonington is Maine’s top-grossing fishing port with $50 to $60 million in landings per year. The town is also the top-grossing lobster port in the U.S. “The past seven years have been especially big years,” Teverow said.
According to Teverow, they’ve been completing paperwork for state permits and no work on the pier has started yet. He estimates that construction may be underway sometime within the next year.
Further Downeast, Lubec was awarded a $19,650,000 federal grant to provide a year-round safe harbor for resident and visiting fishermen and recreational boaters. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $19,689,750. The remaining cost will be paid for by a $30,000 grant from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources and a grant from the Butler Foundation.
Senator Susan Collins was instrumental in securing the federal grant for Lubec. She said, “A year-round safe harbor for fishermen and the Maine Marine Patrol is essential for a local economy that relies on the fishing industry.”
According to Lubec’s project description, funds will be used to construct a boat launch, breakwater, and wharf to accommodate 35 boats and to create a protected mooring field and sheltered boat launch. The wharf will have a two-way road to the end of the pier with two hoists to assist fishermen in getting their catch to market safely and quickly. The project was designed to “mitigate the inclement weather or winds coming from the north that have caused fishermen to die, boats to sink, loss of property, and many cases of hypothermia.”
Carol Dennison, chair of the town’s board of selectmen and a member of the Safe Harbor Committee, said it will take at least four to six months and possibly as long as a year for the contract with the federal government to be finalized. She said the conditions in Lubec are very dangerous. “There’s no safe place to launch a boat in the wintertime. The Marine Patrol has also had to operate under those same conditions.”
In addition to improving safety for fishermen and boaters, she said the project should reduce the Marine Patrol’s emergency response time. At least one fisherman developed hypothermia because Marine Patrol officers weren’t able to launch their boat in time due to ice buildup at all potential launch locations. The new construction will include dock space for the Marine Patrol, which will make it possible for their vessel to be available full-time throughout the year.
Lubec’s harbormaster Ralph Dennison said the town is currently in the process of obtaining permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. He said the next step will be to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The city of South Portland was awarded a $30,000 Shore and Harbor grant for expansion of the city-owned pier and maintenance of existing infrastructure. Assistant city manager Joshua Reny said the project was more expensive than the city had anticipated so they may defer the full reconstruction of the pier and pursue a short-term expansion of the floating dock system. He said they’ll discuss how to proceed when they meet with the City Council during the budget approval process this spring. If not initiated this year, the work will commence within the next few years. However, no final decision has been made regarding the scope of the project.
The city of Rockland was awarded three grants to improve its commercial fish pier in the coming year, including $830,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, $250,000 from the Maine Department of Transportation, and $350,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission.
According to Rockland’s Community Development director Julie Hashem, improvements will include major deck and structural work, as well as stabilization and dredging. The project is currently in the engineering phase. Construction is expected to begin this fall and be completed by late spring of 2021.
Rockland was also awarded a $30,000 Shore and Harbor grant to update Rockland’s Harbor Management Plan. The plan was last updated in 1995. The grant funds were used to hire a consultant to support their harbor management committee in developing a new harbor management plan. Topics under discussion include “harbor and mooring management (channels, anchorages, and mooring fields), public access (commercial and recreational with facility specific recommendations for city-owned infrastructure), cruise ship visitations, harbor health, and more.” The committee is expected to submit a draft plan for Rockland’s city council to review later this spring.
“Rockland’s harbor is so important to the region’s economy, and we are grateful to the Maine Coastal Program for supporting the city’s effort to plan,” said Hashem.
Rockport received a $15,000 Shore and Harbor Planning Grant from the Department of Marine Resources. Those funds will be used to develop an engineering program for erosion control, rebuilding the municipal wharf, dredging in the outlet of the Goose River, assessing wood pilings on the sea wall, and increasing parking to serve the harbor. Once engineering programs are developed, the town will need to apply for another grant to actually perform the work.