BUCKSPORT — The former mill town, home to an aquaculture facility in development is looking to be a cruise port as well with plans to expand the capacity of the harbor.
“The interest in our waterway, especially since the closing of the Verso paper mill, has only increased, especially this year during the pandemic,” said Rich Rotella, economic development director for the town of Bucksport. “Visitors are looking for an outlet and one of the safest activities is boating. Our central location in the downtown puts all necessary services within walking distance for our patrons and upgrades to electricity and water will only help to enhance the visit.”
To that end, the Bucksport Town Council Nov. 12 heard about progress on plans for the Bucksport town dock project via a Zoom presentation with Daniel Bannon, senior waterfront engineer with GEI Consultants in Portland.
Bannon said the project, estimated at $3.27 million, will better accommodate cruise ships as well as a greater number of recreational vessels.
“We’re proposing an expansion of the facility that would replace timber floats with concrete floats,” said Bannon. There would be a floating dock 13 feet wide by 60 feet long.
A 120-foot-long gangway, which is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act in a harbor that serves cruise ships, also would be installed, the engineer said.
“We’ve added a number of finger floats along the backside for additional slips for transient vessels,” Bannon said. The new system also would extend farther out into the Penobscot River “another 12 feet to get into deep waters.”
A timber pier that the town recently rebuilt would be reused,” Bannon said.
“It is a fairly significant project, also one that will provide significant opportunity for the town by the increased capacity,” Bannon said.
Rotella says the space is needed. The municipal marina has a waiting list.
When the 267-foot Constitution comes calling, she takes up most of the dock, but there are also lots of smaller vessels that use the harbor.
“We had two catamarans that spent over a month with us on the town dock this year, and those two boats alone took up more than half of our 315-foot dock,” Rotella said. “The extra 85 feet, which would bring us to 400 feet, and the slips on the back of the proposed dock would allow us to house more transient boaters.”
The project also will improve the safety, stability and performance of existing docks, Bannon said. The new design will entail a permanent installation. Right now, the floats and gangways have to be removed seasonally, the engineer said.
The proposed infrastructure also will accommodate larger vessels and will allow adding security that meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements.
GEI started the project last summer with a site survey and inspection and created five designs, which were further refined after GEI staff met with Rotella and Harbormaster Mike Orsmby.
The engineer said there are a variety of grants Bucksport could pursue to fund the project, including a U.S. Fish and Wildlife boating infrastructure grant as well as possible Holtrachem investments in the Penobscot River.
The Holtrachem funds date back to a 2000 suit against Holtrachem and Mallinckrodt, which did business on the Penobscot River in Orrington before Holtrachem took over the site. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Maine People’s Alliance won a federal district court case after alleging that the companies caused “an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment as a result of discharging mercury into the Penobscot River,” according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Lessard said Holtrachem has shown interest in Bucksport’s project.
“You can start to see how there could be a funding package put together if you explore several of these to make this project happen without a significant investment from the town,” said Bannon.
This fall and winter, GEI will get permitting underway with the Maine DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Next summer, the final design should be done with earliest potential construction occurring in the winter of 2022, Bannon said.
Council Chairman Peter Stewart said the council at some point needs to discuss whether the town is “looking to turn ourselves into a cruise port that accepts ships from all over the world. It could turn into something we’re not quite ready for or we are ready for. I think it’s something we need to make sure we have that discussion on.”