© 2021 Maine Public
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Portland City Council Approves 6-Month Moratorium On Working Waterfront Development

Tom Porter
Maine Public/file
In this file photo taken in October of 2014, fishing boats are docked in Portland Harbor.

Under the threat of a citizen referendum that could shut down nonmarine-related development on Portland’s waterfront for decades, the city council has unanimously approved a 6-month moratorium on development in the zone.

It also approved creation of a task force to try to solve traffic congestion and other access issues that led fishermen to seek the referendum in the first place.

City Manager Jon Jennings proposed the moratorium last week after it became clear that organizers of the potentially divisive referendum were likely to get the signatures needed to put it to a citywide vote. Several wharf and waterfront property owners turned out for last night’s council meeting to support the pause, including Phineas Sprague, a longtime force in waterfront real estate who is working to expand his shipyard on the western waterfront.

Sprague says it’s important to recognize the needs of fishermen.

“Unfortunately a lot of the people they are complaining to and asking really don’t understand boats and don’t understand what it’s like to find someone in your parking place next to your boat where you wanted to take the lobster traps off and you wanted to get to the boat. So there’s a serious logistical problem that’s because of the success of Portland,” he says.

Some other seafaring businesspeople said that while the moratorium was necessary to allow some time to reach a consensus, it’s important to weigh how expensive it is to maintain pier infrastructure, and that high-priced rents from offices or storefronts can subsidize berths for fishermen.

“The larger fishing boats on the wharf pay $500 a month,” says Parker Poole, who runs a marine towing company and berths at Union Wharf, which his family also owns. “They (fishermen) have decent berthing, they have a very good pier that’s strong, it’s safe. There’s nothing wrong with it. They all have a little bit of storage up on top. They all have parking for one. A lot of guys have two vehicles down there. They have a really good thing going, for $500. They’re subsidized and nobody sees that. I mean I’m subsidized, my berth is directly subsidized by the office space that we’ve worked so hard to get.”

Members of the fishermen’s group say they, too, support the moratorium, and they are hopeful that a stakeholder task force to be appointed by Jennings could move quickly on solutions.

Bill Coppersmith, a Portland-based lobsterman, says while the number of commercial boats based there has dropped in recent years, the city should be prepared for more in the coming years.

“Newer fishermen are coming in. There’s a waiting list of lobstermen coming in. And they’re in Zone F and they’re coming to Portland, and you also have a tremendous amount of haddock out there and other groundfish that they haven’t tapped into yet. And when they do, your groundfish boats are going to be coming to Portland too,” he says.

The new task force could convene as early as next week, and Jennings already has list of potential action — including city tax breaks — that could be used to better secure the city’s marine economy.

Fishermen say they are hopeful the effort can avert conflict among various waterfront interests. But they also say they will continue to gather signatures for a potential referendum, in case the city fails to act.

Originally published Dec. 19, 2018 at 5:58 p.m. ET.