EASTPORT, Maine — Nearly a month after the catastrophic collapse of part of the Eastport Breakwater, the community is still figuring out its next steps — including finding a winter home for the roughly 40-vessel fishing fleet that docked there.
Chris Gardner, director of the Eastport Port Authority, said Tuesday that the remaining portion of the breakwater appears to be relatively stable. The Port Authority, which manages the city-owned breakwater, hired an engineering firm to monitor the structure after the collapse of the 200-foot section into the inner harbor.
“They were surveying it every day to see if there was any movement at all,” he said. “We were watching it like a hawk. We are happy to say it does not appear to be moving, which is good. But the engineers still have concerns. They cannot give any definitive promise that the remaining 1962 piece could not have further failure.”
At 2 a.m. on Dec. 4, the peaceful night was interrupted by the violent collapse of half of the 400-foot long L-shaped breakwater. The event injured fisherman Pat Donahue, who had been sleeping aboard the 1923 schooner Ada C. Lore, and sank the Medric, a pilot boat used by the port authority. The collapse also significantly damaged the schooner and the scallop dragger Double Trouble, and damaged other boats tied up in the inner basin.
Gardner said that while the absolute cause of the collapse has yet to be pinpointed, “all indicators are that it was an unforeseen event that most likely was tied to the facility’s age.”
Officials were well aware that portions of the breakwater were deteriorating, and at the time that the collapse occurred were waiting for bids to come back for a long-planned $11 million project to replace portions of the aging structure, to be funded by a mix of federal, state and local dollars. Gardner said the scope of the project has been amended to include a complete rebuild of the breakwater facility. He expects those bids to come back on Jan. 14.
“Obviously, we wish things moved faster. They don’t,” he said. “I know there’s some frustrations that things don’t move as fast as we’d like them to. I have those frustrations, too.”
Immediately after the collapse, local officials said they were looking at moving the fishing fleet to Broad Cove, where the Port Authority owns land. Gardner said that option is still on the table, but with a caveat.
“As we look at that Broad Cove solution, we’ve got to make sure that we’re wise with our investment monies. We’ve got to make sure we satisfy our real needs, to rebuild the pier,” he said.
He had hoped to be able to keep some of the fishing fleet on the secondary piers of the breakwater structure, but because the engineers cannot guarantee its stability, the entire fleet needed to be moved.
“We are trying to come up with different solutions and alternative sites,” Gardner said.
One of those solutions is the city’s fish pier.
“Due to the weather patterns in the wintertime, it’s not really suitable for nor’easter conditions,” Gardner said. “But we have pushed that pier back into service.”
Some of the fleet can tie up at that pier, and others have moorings in the harbor, he said. Many local fishermen are now busy with scallop season, which ends in April.
“I’ve got to applaud the local community and the fishing community for all they’ve done,” Gardner said. “We’re deploying all of our resources trying to get through scallop season.”