A collaboration -- of the City of Portland, City of South Portland, the Portland Harbor Commission and the Maine Department of Transportation-- to complete much needed dredge work at and around the piers, wharfs and marinas in Portland Harbor will be extended at least another year while the collaborating partners continue to seek full project funding.
On Friday, November 19, 2021, the Team learned that its application for funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation discretionally, Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grant Program was not funded as part of the 2021 funding cycle. The RAISE Grant Program is a highly competitive Discretionary Grant Program; it has historically had an approval rate of 10% - 12%. Indeed, the 1 in 8-approval rate held in 2021 with only 90 of 765 applications submitted receiving approval. The $31 Million Dollar project sought $24 Million Dollars from the RAISE program to address decades of accumulated sediment clogging many of the historic working piers of Portland’s Waterfront as well as virtually all of the marinas in South Portland and Portland. The remaining $7 million would have come from state and local coffers, as well as from the impacted businesses.
“This is not the answer we were hoping for,” said Bill Needelman, Portland’s Waterfront Coordinator. “We have our permits in place, we made the economic case, we built an unparalleled partnership, and there is zero opposition. The project is needed and ready to go.”
South Portland’s Economic Director, Bill Mann, echoed these sentiments.
“We’re extremely disappointed that a project of such merit and importance was not funded,” said Mann. “We need to find another path. Our economic study clearly demonstrates that the entire region, indeed, the entire state benefits from Portland Harbor. But a harbor without vessel berthing is like an airport without a runway. It cannot function. Our permits have a shelf-life, it is critical that this project happens, now.”
Dan Haley, Portland Harbor Commission Chair, noted. “We applied in 2020 and were denied. We listened to the funders, and enhanced our application for 2021 to positively respond to all feedback and more. We did everything that addressed and met all of the scoring criteria. We paid particular attention to highlighting the positive impacts this project will have on the region’s growing immigrant and New Mainer populations.” The region’s Blue Economy has provided employment opportunities and more rapid cultural assimilation to many in these often economically disadvantaged groups.
While disheartened by this bump in the road, Haley said, “Make no mistake: dredging is a problem that is not going away. Eventually, every marine business in Portland Harbor will feel the pinch. Many already are.”
The project team is now looking toward the future.
“In order for the Port of Portland to continue to thrive and prosper as one of the major economic drivers for Greater Portland and the State of Maine, the dredging must be accomplished,” said Haley. “Funding is absolutely critical to move forward.”
“There’s a lot of federal money coming down the pike,” said Needelman. “We will continue to work with our partners locally and in Washington in order to obtain some of those monies in a sustained effort to prioritize the need and benefits of preserving our great working waterfront.”