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Friday, September 28, 2007

Captain Bill Linnell's Guest Column in the PPH

'Full speed ahead' on pier? Not yet
The prudent course to set now is to drop back into neutral and develop a comprehensive concept.

William S. Linnell September 28, 2007

2006 Press Herald File
2006 Press Herald File
The final plan for what will happen to the Maine State Pier deserves much more thought than it has so far received.

William S. Linnell of Portland is a candidate for City Council in the 3rd District.

— I applaud the courageous, bipartisan effort of the four city councilors who put the Maine State Pier Development on pause.

It was clearly not a politically motivated move, as some suggest, but instead was directly bipartisan, as two Greens, a Democrat and a Republican combined to halt the "full speed ahead" attitude of their more excitable colleagues.

As a lobsterman and licensed towboat captain, I have some experience on the waterfront. When boaters go "full speed ahead" in unknown waters, they often call me to come get them.

Drawing on my experience in the 1980s as a contracts specialist at Bath Iron Works, dealing with the contracts for multimillion- dollar government and private sector contracts, I can say with confidence: The current effort to develop the waterfront has significant flaws.

The time allowed for the original Request for Proposal was woefully short. So short, in fact, that only two companies bid on the project.

The three-month deadline was more suited to a multifamily house project than a $100 million shorefront development.

Potential bidders for these projects are not sitting around on 5- gallon pails waiting for some business to walk in the door -- they're busy.

The three-month RFP translated into less-competitive bidding, which shortchanges Portland taxpayers.

We really don't know what the right price is for this project, because it hasn't been given proper exposure to the free market.

Hastily thrown together, the RFP didn't even contemplate the "mega-berth," the giant floating cruise ship pier that had already been planned, discussed, argued over, approved and permitted.

The current proposal would compete with the mega-berth, which we have already committed to and invested in. Imagine a fisherman building one dock, and then trying to start another one before the first one is finished. That would be numb.

Bidding on industrial contracts can and should be a very competitive process. At Bath Iron Works, it was hard to make money bidding on the hulls, so the real money was made on the change orders: There was no competition.

Once the contract was awarded, however, the game changed dramatically: Like a car up on a mechanic's lift, the shipyard had a captive audience. No one else could bid on the job.

Ocean Properties and friends are pushing hard to award the Maine State Pier contract before some of the big changes are made. They want to get this car up on the lift.

That would be a big mistake for Portland taxpayers. The city should get the RFP squared away before putting it out to bid.

That is, put in the mega-berth, along with any other big changes, in the RFP now and give a reasonable time for the bidders to react -- at least 90 days, or ideally six months, so that a couple of others could join the bidding.

What's the rush? You can always develop shorefront property in Maine.

When currents, wind, weather or rocks combine to complicate safe navigation, the prudent sailor often kicks the boat into neutral, while the more impetuous go full speed ahead.

Considering the size and potential impact of this project, the wise captain would pause, as the council just did.

— Special to the Press Herald


VoteForDonovan said...

Lets be candid and move forward on Pier Development.
"Let's wait " is political speak for "I support Olympia's plan" because their stall tactic is to pick up a fifth vote (in the at large seat or in my District 3) in the November election. I don't want to play those games and I will tell residents straight up, as a long-time Portland advocate for modernizing our waterfront and former economic development director, that I support Ocean Properties and here's why:

We have the opportunity in hand to approve the Ocean Properties Deepwater berthing and the build out of the Maine State Pier, including the mega-berth that this company has stated they will put six million dollars in escrow for.

This is the proposal that will create a Modern Working Waterfront; one that respects and enhances the character of Portland as a great seaport rich with tradition. Six new or enhanced businesses all related to the marine industry and integrated with the Ocean Gateway Marine Passenger Terminal. The objective is to achieve the highest quality waterfront design that respects and enhances the character of Portland while embracing the identity of this great seaport. This is real, sustainable development for the City and State of Maine. This is what the Ocean Properties team proposed on February 22, 2007.

· A new business to the City with over 120 employees. OCP will consolidate its call-center reservation company, a marine related business, into their new office building.

· Expansion of our established cruise ship business. Ocean Property will bring its nationally recognized cruise ship business to the city, expanding a critical business that the city has invested substantial time and treasure into.

· An established Portland business will expand operations at the agricultural and fishing wholesale and retail building proposed for the pier. This not only serves to enhance our local markets, but it is designed to support farms throughout the state.

· The high-speed inner coastal ferry meets the needs of a modern transportation system that the State of Maine has been advocating and planning for decades. In addition it has the potential to move agricultural goods to market from Maine farmers, via water, rather than roads.

· Portland will finally get a luxury waterfront hotel. The OCP is proposing a true gem; a facility esteemed in detail that will promote the aura of a world-class seaport over the entire site.

· This proposal will sustain and enhance the Portland tugboat fleet with a new pier dedicated to this important marine use along the waterfront. The tug berthing is another critical component of the modernization of the working waterfront.

In a time when many cities are taking initiatives for positive urban design and redevelopment, the City of Portland has a wonderful opportunity to realize similar goals. The Ocean Properties proposal will become a catalyst for change within the immediate area and provide significant benefits for our Portland community.

The time to act is now. We may not have this opportunity after Nov. 6.

Captain Bill Linnell said...

Wrong. I absolutely, positively don't necessarily support Olympia, though my opponents all seem to support Ocean Properties no matter what. While I admire their sense of loyalty, my loyalty belongs to Portland taxpayers. If elected, I may well support a bid from Ocean Properties, but I am not going to hand over our tax base without a competitive bidding process that passes the straight face test. Significant changes have been added, therefore we must modify the request for proposal (RFP), otherwise we risk only having one active bidder. That is terrible public policy. Taxpayers need every nickel we can get out of this project, not a promise to "sign now and we'll figure out the price later". Why the full court press? --Portland harbor is not going to disappear into the sea after November 6. The election cycle may be important to some, but it should not dictate what we do with this critical public policy decision. The pause that Councilors just took already resulted in a $6 million increase in one offer. Let's see what the market will bear.

Captain Bill Linnell