EASTPORT, Maine — A $14.95 million reconstruction of the Eastport breakwater, a portion of which collapsed in December, has begun.
“One of the first things they had to do was move a winter’s worth of snow,” Chris Gardner, Eastport Port Authority executive director, said Friday.
A large portion of the deteriorating 400-foot-long L-shaped breakwater and pier collapsed on Dec. 4, injuring one man, sinking one boat and damaging others. The reconstruction project is expected to take 18 to 24 months.
Gardner hopes tourists will be interested in coming to see the reconstruction project instead of staying away because the facility is closed.
“We’re intrigued by construction,” he said. “It’s not about what we’ve lost. It’s going to be about what we’re getting.”
The breakwater and pier, which are owned by the city and managed by the Eastport Port Authority, are vital to the local economy, providing deep-water berthing for cruise ships, cargo vessels, fishing boats, yachts, and U.S. Navy and Coast Guard boats.
Because the structure also protect’s Eastport’s inner harbor and marina, it’s referred to as a breakwater.
It was built in 1962 and expected to have a 20-year life. In 1982, an engineering review determined the breakwater to be in good condition and an addition was completed in 1985, Gardner said.
But in 2010, officials began to push for a plan to rebuild the structure as it began to show signs of wear. In 2012, a failure on the north side of the facility focused attention “like a laser” on the need for refurbishing.
“We recognized we were on borrowed time,” Gardner said.
The port authority received a $6 million federal grant along with $7 million from the state for the reconstruction project. Another $2 million will come from the income of the Eastport Port Authority.
Gardner said the breakwater collapsed just 12 to 14 days after the port authority put the redesign and reconstruction project out to bid.
“If we had started this the morning of the collapse, we’d be four years from getting the money together,” Gardner said.
Reconstruction will include removal of the collapsed portion of the breakwater, which is situated in front of the 1985 addition. The collapsed portion will be replaced with a 50-foot-by-400-foot piece to be built on the outside of the addition, thus expanding the inner part of the harbor and making the boat mooring area 20,000 square feet larger, Gardner said.
In 1962, the facility was built using sheets of metal that were pile driven into the harbor floor to create boxes that were filled with stone and dirt. Then the top of those boxes was paved over, creating a driveable surface and parking area, according to Gardner.
But over time the sheet metal corroded, which led to interior parts of the breakwater collapsing in December, dumping the rocks and dirt into the inner harbor.
In contrast, modern construction practices involve steel pipes driven at intervals into the ocean floor and filled with concrete. A concrete deck is then built atop the supports. That leaves under the structure open for fish instead of taking away the ocean floor.
The construction project also will use composite materials in place of steel in some parts. Composites, made mostly of plastic, don’t rot or rust, Gardner said.
“The decay of steel in the salt water certainly isn’t hard to understand,” he said.
Gardner said he isn’t certain whether the facility will be able to be used during construction. The contractor, CPM of Freeport, is certainly willing to consider it.
“They have said as construction goes on, they’re open to taking a look at whether we can press parts of this back into service,” he said. “I cannot say enough about CPM.”
CPM is working with the U.S. Coast Guard, which uses a portion of the facility for its search and rescue vessels, to keep it working and active.
“The Coast Guard is an irreplaceable asset that we must have,” Gardner said.
In the meantime, the city has asked the port authority to take over a 200-foot fishing pier, which is visible from the breakwater.
“We’re having a full engineering review on that,” Gardner said, adding the pier is 20 years younger than the breakwater. The north side of the pier will be used for tourism such as the town’s whale watch vessel, as well as personal boats. Fishing boats will be moored to the southern side.
“We need to do our best to allow everybody to keep a couple oars in the water,” Gardner said.
The fishermen have essentially scattered, mooring their boats in various locations throughout the region.
“I have to give great kudos to the fishermen,” Gardner said, adding they “went to work to come up with their own solutions.”