SoPo stiffing Portland on fireboat funding
New vessel could cost as much as $5.5 million
By Chris Busby
The cities of Portland and South Portland are at odds over funding for a new fireboat. Portland officials say the new vessel would be crucial should an incendiary oil spill or similar water-based catastrophe threaten boats and waterfront property in Portland Harbor. But South Portland’s fire chief says his city already has the land-based resources and equipment necessary to handle such a situation, and notes that South Portland’s waterfront is much less developed than Portland’s, making water-borne fires less of a threat to property.
Portland will borrow $600,000 this coming year to help pay for the new boat, which will replace two older vessels currently used for marine firefighting and medical rescue operations. That’s in addition to the $1 million in bond money the city borrowed two years ago for the same purchase.
“The cost keeps rising,” said Portland Finance Director Duane Kline. The specialized vessel could cost between $3.5 million and $5.5 million, he said — construction bids from domestic and foreign shipyards are expected in the coming months.
To make up the difference, the city is trying to secure federal and state funding, and has asked South Portland officials to chip in.
“They said they wouldn’t help,” said Kline.
“Obviously we’re disappointed South Portland has decided not to contribute,” said Portland City Manager Joe Gray, “because we do, in emergency situations, provide coverage – particularly to the [oil] tank farm areas.”
South Portland City Manager Jeff Jordan did not return a call seeking comment.
South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond said it’s still possible city officials there will consider chipping in, but the preliminary inter-city discussions didn’t go well. “It wasn’t ‘What should we have?’ It’s, ‘Here’s what we’re buying. Do you want in?'” he said.
“The fireboat doesn’t help the city of South Portland, with its tank farms on land,” Chief Guimond said. South Portland has thousands of gallons of flame-suppressing foam on hand for such an emergency, the chief added.
These days, the tug boats in the harbor can pump more water on a marine-based fire than the current fire boat can, said Guimond, who also noted that Portland’s fireboat is used almost exclusively for emergencies on islands like Peaks that are technically part of Portland.
Portland Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne sees things differently. “I look at the harbor as a regional port that we all have a responsibility to protect,” he said. “We need a fire boat to protect everything from islands to rowboats to tankers.”
“A fireboat is absolutely essential to this port,” said Captain Jeff Monroe, Portland’s Director of Ports and Transportation. “It’s critical for the protection of our piers, our fishing fleet, our container operations and cruise ships, but most significant is fighting fires on oil tankers.”
If an oil tanker delivering crude to the pipeline in South Portland caught fire, “the oil is going to spill out of the tanker and work its way out into the harbor,” said Captain Monroe. “Most likely it’ll be ignited, and there’s no way you’re going to fight that fire from the shore, period.”
Once the cost of the vessel is finalized, Chief LaMontagne said he’s optimistic that South Portland, state and federal officials will chip in to help pay the bill. “I have no doubt that as a state and as a region, people will step up and do the right thing.”
“Everyone talks about regionalization,” Chief LaMontagne added. “If there’s ever been a project worthy of it, this is it.”