Monday, July 13, 2009

Maine State Pier never in serious crisis after all?

For those in Maine who've been following Portland's the Maine State Pier saga, there are some new developments that may give you pause.

As you probably remember, the public has been told that the city-owned pier is in desperate need of repairs and that the best way to secure them is to lease the facility to private hotel developers for the next 75 years. The plan was initially put forward by Ocean Properties -- then represented by the governor's brother, Bob Baldacci, and his cousin, former Sen. George Mitchell -- who essentially offered to repair the pier -- and pay a very modest rent -- in exchange for being able to build on it.

Buried at the bottom of Tom Bell's story in Saturday's Portland Press Herald is the news that the city-owned pier isn't actually in that bad shape after all.

The city apparently finally got around to having someone dive under the pier and they found that its "structural support and pilings are in relatively good condition," according to Bell's piece. Five of six pilings had no erosion at all. "It's in remarkably good condition, and for the most part quite capable for the loads it is designed for," engineer Wayne Duffett is quoted as saying.

This raises important questions that the Press Herald is too polite to ask: how is it that the city is only properly assessing the actual condition of the pier after spending years trying to negotiate a deal to privatize-and-repair it? Why has the public been told we need to come up with $20 to $25 million to save the pier when, in fact, city officials had no basis for making these estimates? Who would have benefited from the situation had the development deals gone through and did they have a role in the creation of the over-inflated repair estimates?

(Recall also that the city commissioned a $20 million cruise ship terminal (which, as yet, has no berth for cruise ships) without ever commissioning a study to determine what the economic benefit of cruise ship tourism actually is.)

The Press Herald has a new owner; one would hope it will now be posing these questions, not leaving them for freelancers like myself to ask. [An update]


  1. Great post Colin, I wondered the same things when I saw the Press Herald article. From that article:

    "The concept calls for tearing down half the huge transit shed on the pier to open up public views. The remainder of the two-story shed could be used for a public market, a museum or restaurants, with offices on the second floor, planners say."

    That sounds pretty good to me yet I don't recall having that as an option when all the pier negotations with developers were taking place.

  2. Thanks, Corey.

    I seem to remember the option of tearing down half the transit shed, but not the remainders' possible re-use as a public space. Perhaps that's something the public put forward at the sessions?

    Incidently, I enjoy your daily Portland photos ( Keep them coming!