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Mills lauds preservation of working Portland waterfront

Corey Templeton
via Flickr
Boats on the West Side of Union Wharf in Portland, Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills and an array of stakeholders convened on Portland's waterfront today to celebrate the preservation of an important wharf for marine enterprises.

The Union Wharf is a wide, paved, well-maintained pavilion that divides the mostly tourist-oriented development of Portland's eastern waterfront from the more purely marine-focused businesses to the west.

"It's a vibrant wharf, with a diverse hardworking tenant mix. The specter of seeing the wharf bought up by a developer was a grave concern for all of us," said Don Perkins, CEO of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

He said that when a local lobsterman — longtime fishing activist Willis Spear — told him the pier's owners were putting it up for sale, he and others tried to find a buyer that would be committed to preserving the city's remaining working waterfront.

But when that failed, he and GMRI's board decided to add a new role to the institute's mission: civic-minded landlord.

"So why did we do it? Because 25 miles of working waterfront along the coast of Maine are finite and threatened by a hot real estate market. This decade is going to define the working waterfront for the future," Perkins said.

He credited the wharf's multigenerational family owners, led most recently by brothers Charlie and Malcolm Poole, for working to strike an affordable deal, which closed last week. Charlie Poole said GMRI impressed them with the way it's developed its own waterfront headquarters to the west.

"I've always felt that Portland's waterfront was the jewel in the crown of a great city," Poole said. "It continues to shine year in and year out even as the world around us changes and presents new challenges."

Mills told the dozens of people attending the ceremony that the move comes at a crucial moment, when the state's fishing industry faces many new challenges, from climate change and rising sea levels to changing federal regulations to the pandemic. And she touted a new $10 million state grant program that's aimed at bolstering seafood businesses here.

Corrected: January 6, 2022 at 9:54 AM EST
An earlier version of this piece included an incorrect name for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.