Keeping the Port in Portland

Here’s a little op ed piece I wrote, which the Portland Press Herald published in October 2022.

The Port of Portland is a modern success story, and a powerful economic driver for Maine and the region. Citizen Initiative Question E, which would forbid cruise ship calls by any but the smallest cruise ships, threatens the success of the port and the traditional waterfront jobs that success has generated.

In fact, the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, the very organization that worked so hard to get Question E on the ballot, has withdrawn its support for the initiative! It did so because MDSA came to understand that passage of the initiative would imperil hundreds of blue collar jobs.

The success of our port turns, as it has since colonial times, on its ability to attract and accommodate a wide variety of commercial uses. Today those uses include commercial fishing, bulk shipments of salt and other commodities, crude oil for delivery to Portland Pipeline, heating oil, asphalt and jet fuel for the upriver terminals, a thriving container business, and passenger transportation, both through the island ferries and on cruise ships. As has been the case over the centuries, when one shipping sector declines, others may pick up, keeping the port active.

Cruise ships are a great example of the port’s ability to adjust to changing times. Recent arrivals to Portland may not know that until the late 1990’s Bath Iron Works maintained a big repair yard on Portland’s eastern waterfront, featuring one of the largest floating dry docks in the world. BIW decided to close the yard, which pleased some who were happy to have a dusty noisy shipyard removed from their viewscape, even if it meant the loss of many waterfront jobs. But then, with great foresight and the help of a state bond, Portland converted the yard into Ocean Gateway, with two world class deep water berths for cruise ships. We built it, and the ships came, to the benefit of the longshoremen, line handlers, bar pilots, docking pilots, tugs, ship’s agents, suppliers, shipwrights, fuel bunkering companies, chandlers and all the other traditional and well paying waterfront employers Portland claims to cherish.

Enact Question E, and those jobs vanish – not all of them, but many.

And the negative effects of Question E don’t stop with unemployment and gentrification. Piers are expensive to maintain. Cruise ships come to Maine just three months a year, August, September and October, but their landing fees (about $17.00 per passenger, totaling well over $3 million in 2020) pay to maintain the piers year round. The piers are not done working come November, however. Any good port needs lay berths, where a visiting ship can tie up for unexpected repairs, repairs which sometimes take weeks or months. If you’re an observer of Portland’s working waterfront, you’ve seen those cargo ships, tied up at Ocean Gateway in the snowy months long after the last cruise ship has sailed. Repairs made to a ship in a Portland lay berth put money in the pockets of the shipwrights who make the repairs and the companies who provision and supply the ships. Eliminate $3 million in landing fees, and those lay berths, and those jobs, are in peril.

There are so many other reasons cruise ship calls are good for Portland and good for Maine, including the millions spent ashore by passengers, and the opportunity to showcase our beautiful state to those who might visit by land, and perhaps settle or start a business here. Proposition E, such a bad idea that the very organization that sponsored it has withdrawn its support, truly deserves to fail.
Let’s keep the port in Portland.

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