STONINGTON — A $65,000 Small Harbor Improvement Program (SHIP) grant from the Maine Department of Transportation will help Stonington fund a project aimed at improving parking and access to the municipal fish pier.
The grant will cover 50 percent of the $130,000 project cost. The town’s selectmen have already allocated funds from the Fish Pier Reserve account to cover its 50 percent share of the cost.
Stonington initially applied for the grant on Feb. 15 after consultation earlier in the month with a representative from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Town authorities learned late in September that the application had been approved.
“We’re just hearing back about it now,” Henry Teverow, the town’s economic development director, said in an email last week.
According to the SHIP grant application, the project comprises an expansion of the western side of the fish pier where the launching ramp currently extends into the water from the paved parking lot located at the intersection of Main, West Main and School streets. The purpose is to expand parking at the pier and improve access for trucks.
“We are looking to rearrange the parking situation down there and put some parking on the side where the pier never got finished years ago because they were running short of money,” Town Manager Kathleen Billings said in an email this week. “It will alleviate some of the congestion in the middle of the pier and get big trucks in and out better as well when it is super busy in the summer and fall.”
According to Teverow, the planned improvements will involve widening the section of the pier next to the boat ramp. As it now exists, the narrow entrance to the pier “creates a bottleneck situation at that area” that makes it difficult for trucks to maneuver. During the height of the fishing season, “at least 100 trucks per day” visit the pier.
According to the town’s SHIP application, the Stonington Fish Pier is used by 84 captains, as well as many additional boat crew members and four seafood dealers, on a year-round basis.
The pier also provides tie-ups for 84 skiffs used to access fishing boats moored in the harbor but only has enough parking for 63 vehicles. That forces fishermen to park their vehicles on the streets of Stonington where they limit parking available for visitors who are potential customers for Main Street businesses.
There is no doubt that the fish pier is busy. In 2017, the last year for which comprehensive statistics are available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Fisheries Service, seafood landings in the town, much of it coming across the pier, were worth just under $56 million — about 10 percent of the total value of Maine’s fisheries.
“The grant will pay for an expansion of that area so as to allow for greater maneuverability, accessibility, ease-of-use, and safety,” Teverow said. “Depending on how the work goes, a parking space or two may be added to the pier as well.”
With the funding announcement so recent, work on the pier improvements has yet to begin and before it does, the project will have to go out to contractors for bids.
Town officials will be meeting with MDOT representatives later this month to learn more about the bid process and get some idea of projected start and end dates for the improvements.
Whatever MDOT has to say at that meeting, Teverow said, “I am excited to get the funds and be able to finally perhaps get the parking and logistics of getting vehicles on and off the pier easier.”