Posted on January 19, 2024
Portland city officials have announced they have secured just over $25 million to fund the first part of a new dredging project for Portland Harbor, to make sure the harbor remains deep enough to accommodate commercial traffic, including cruise ships.
“We’re delighted to learn that we’ve secured the final piece of funding and can now move forward with implementation,” said Portland City Manager Danielle West. “This public private partnership is crucial to maintaining the working waterfronts in Portland and South Portland.”
According to a statement from the city, the project will remove 244,678 cubic yards of material from the harbor floor, with an impact of more than 2 million square feet, or 46.8 acres, an area that would cover more than 36 football fields.
Officials said the project will impact 47 waterfront properties, which the city’s statement described as “private and publicly owned piers and waterfront areas including 21 piers, 10 marinas/boat yards, the Portland public boat launch and the Portland commercial barge landing.”
William Needelman, waterfront coordinator for the City of Portland’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, said keeping the harbor deep enough to accommodate commercial traffic is vital to the city’s economy.
“If we couldn’t serve the vessels, we’re not a harbor anymore,” he said. “Dredging is part of almost every harbor’s maintenance plan.”
Needelman said the city reached out to harbor-based businesses to ask what depths they would need to function.
“It runs the gamut from the smallest lobster vessel and recreational boats all the way up to the largest cruise ships that visit the state of Maine.”
Needelman said cruise ships, which would need the most room, need a water depth of 35-38 feet to use the harbor. Already, he said, the channel has a low-tide depth of 35 feet.
“There’s not a whole lot of need to go deeper than that,” he said.
The funding for the project will come from local, state and federal sources, including $10 million from the State of Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, $6 million from the state Department of Transportation, $4 million from the City of Portland, $1 million from the City of South Portland, and $2.64 million in fees from wharf and pier owners.
Funding will also include $1.45 million in U.S. EPA Brownfields services funding. While most projects using Brownfields funding tend to focus on cleaning up buildings, Needelman noted that the official definition of the federal program includes cleaning up of debris typically produced in an urban setting.
With sediment to be dredged in the harbor coming from the adjacent land, Needelman said the dredging project qualifies for federal support. This marks, he added, the first time in US history that Brownfields funding has been used on a submerged project. He said the city was grateful for the federal government’s contribution.
“We’ve received incredible support from the EPA staff and their consulting engineers and environmental scientists,” he said.
Bad weather, Needelman said, can lead to even more sediment going into the harbor, and highlights the need to maintain the harbor through dredging. He said recent storms, including historically high water in the harbor during a major storm this week, are signs that the problem of erosion and sediment filling the harbor could be getting worse.
“The stronger our storms, the more those processes are accelerated,” he said.
City officials said they anticipate putting out a request for proposals for the project this summer and hope to have a firm under contract by this fall.