By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,155)
“This has been like wading through molasses,” said Phin Sprague, Jr.,as he reflected on the twists and turns in his effort to build a state-of-the-art shipyard on the western end of Commercial Street recently. While there is still some molasses in his way, Sprague is inching closer to getting New Yard up and running, albeit it at least a year behind schedule. The next goal is getting site plan approval so he can go ahead and build Building B right behind the building that is already in place and can be seen from Commercial Street. This will be the fourth city permit that he has applied for since 2012 and he hopes the city will issue it soon. That fourth permit application was necessitated by MaineDOT taking by eminent domain about 18 acres of his original property to accommodate the railroad needs of EIMSKIP, a shipping company that is moving its operations to the Portland waterfront.
Earlier this week, the city’s planning board gave conditional approval to MaineDOT to expand the International Marine Terminal (IMT) to double its current size in a $10 million project that will meet the transportation needs of EIMSKIP, an Icelandic based company that ships seafood and other products to countries in the North Atlantic. The conditional approval came in part because MaineDOT and Sprague signed an agreement just hours before the planning board that spelled out the State’s obligations to provide access to New Yard as well as utilities to the new segment of land Sprague has under contract to purchase from PanAm should he receive all the necessary permits he needs for New Yard. Previously, MaineDOT had not cooperated in these negotiations with Sprague – making it impossible for him to get permitted as needed to go forward with the development of New Yard. Without this agreement, New Yard remained “landlocked” Without this squeeze by the city, the agreement would not have happened most likely.
Another obstacle in the city’s approval of the MaineDOT expansion plan had been the aesthetics of a 752 foot long wall that separates the yard from Commercial Street. At a meeting last month the Planning Board told Craig Morin, a consultant to ManeDOT and speaking on behalf of it, they had to return with a more aesthetically pleasing plan for the wall because it is another important gateway to the City of Portland. The bottom of the wall will be of a 4 ft. concrete wall with a fence placed on top of that for safety reasons. “We have an artistic opportunity here. The wall needs to be looked at by someone who has done this before. We don’t need a poor compromise,” insisted planning board member Jack Soley. It was decided that the details of the wall will come back to the Planning Board at a later date for its approval.
The urgency in the matter is that Sprague has until December 2014 to vacate his boatyard from the valuable waterfront property he sold to Jim Brady last year. “My guys will be working in snow storms in December unless we get this moving,” Sprague said.
Meanwhile, Sprague is left to deal with the unresolved emminent domain issue that was raised when the MaineDOT took his property earlier this year. Because the two parties don’t agree on the price dictated by the State, a long, drawn out process of a few years is expected to resolve the matter.
There is still some molasses to wade through.