PORTLAND, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday afternoon lauded the opening of Portland’s new floating pier for cruise ships as a new era for Maine tourism, and said he will propose a bill waiving income taxes on pensioners so in-state retirees can recreate like the cruise visitors.
“We want to make sure seniors can enjoy Maine like those who visit Maine,” LePage told a crowd on hand for the ceremonial Ocean Gateway Pier II ribbon-cutting. “We think that’s going to help our economy.”
LePage was joined at the podium by Mayor Nicholas Mavodones and Jack Parker, CEO of Woolwich-based Reed & Reed Inc., the firm contracted to build the new pier and nearby terminal building. Serving as the backdrop for the event was the Celebrity Summit ocean liner, which also was host to a small private reception after the public celebration.
The governor’s “presence here underscores [his] support for this project, the Portland waterfront and the tourism industry,” Parker told attendees.
Mavodones described the history of the project, starting in 1998 when Bath Iron Works left the location, leaving behind a deepwater “bathtub” on the eastern end of the Portland waterfront where the shipyard’s dry dock used to be. That 65-foot-deep rectangular hole provided the extra depth needed to accommodate some of the world’s largest cruise ships.
“The city found itself at a crossroads,” Mavodones said. “We could leave this waterfront site underutilized or decide to take it in a new direction.”
Now, the mayor said, Pier II, sometimes referred to as the city’s “megaberth,” is “a passenger port for the new century,” which he said “encourages economic development in a previously depressed area.”
The regular large cruise ship arrivals, each one depositing between 2,000 and 3,200 potential customers in the downtown, have injected much-needed spending money into local shops, restaurants and hotels, Mavodones said.
According to a city announcement, more than 13,200 passengers on five cruise ships plan to call on Portland this week. From June through October of this year, the city announced, a record 64 cruise ships have scheduled calls on Portland, bringing nearly 90,000 passengers to Maine’s largest city.
A study done by University of Maine in Orono researchers last year found that in 2008, nearly 48,000 cruise ship passengers generated as much as $8 million in economic activity in Greater Portland, creating as many as 96 full- or part-time jobs, according to the city.
Pier II was a $6 million project funded primarily as part of a state transportation bond package and consists of a series of platforms and gangways affixed to four breasting, two fendering and two mooring dolphins.
“Due to low original bids for the project, the Maine Department of Transportation in partnership with the city was able to add additional features to the original design including another dolphin which extends the pier 127 feet, electrical services and water lines as well as electrical capstans, used to tie the boats to the pier,” a city announcement stated.
There’s still work to do, however, Mavodones said Wednesday. The state Department of Transportation has applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge just to the east of the aforementioned “bathtub” to ensure the water depth necessary for the world’s largest cruise ships to smoothly approach and depart during astronomically low tides.
The mayor said the city and DOT will have to work out how to pay for the dredging project. The costs will not be known until the scope of the project is decided and bids are sought. Mavodones said he hoped the work could be done over the course of the next year.
On Sept. 27, the Caribbean Princess cruise ship moved off the megaberth a few hours ahead of schedule to avoid having to navigate out of the location during the astronomically low tide, and Celebrity Summit Capt. P.G. Mantzavinos told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday that dredging is still something he recommends there.
But, he said, the Maine city is nonetheless becoming a popular cruise destination because residents and businesses are “amazingly friendly” to the ocean-bound tourists and are willing to accommodate “more and more” visitors.
“Portland is a very nice harbor,” Mantzavinos said. “It has a nice new terminal.”