breaking ground
Officials break ground at the site of the new Maine International Cold Storage Facility, with construction planned for October. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)
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Yes – the Maine International Cold Storage Facility (MICSF) is coming – but Portland’s waterfront waiting game will go on for a bit longer, with operations of the new facility slated for February 2024.

Answering the question of whether or not the project is really making progress, Executive Director of the Maine Port Authority Matt Burns spoke at the groundbreaking announcement event on Monday, following expectations that construction would have started by now.

Although the city approved it back in 2020, which stirred up concern from West End residents, talks of a cold storage facility had been going on since 2016.

Now following hurdles related to construction costs and permitting delays, construction activities are expected to begin on Commercial Street in October, with the goal to be fully operational with 16 full-time employees in early 2024.

“The state of Maine has invested nearly 100 million dollars in state and federal funding [for the tradeport] over the last ten years – and that vision has always included providing refrigerated services to shippers using the port,” Burns said.

Asked by the Phoenix about delays in the project back in July, Burns did not offer a timeline. He had acknowledged that the project had taken longer than expected.

Andy Nelson, a capital partner at Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure, confirmed at the event that a number of challenges could’ve derailed the project, including the coronavirus pandemic and increased construction costs.

Co-founder of Amber Infrastructure, another partner on the project, Tom O’Shaughnessy, said the additional access to high quality cold storage would be of great benefit to fishermen in Maine, and it would include additional storage for food grade bait fish as well.

Bait storage is currently available at the Americold facility on Read Street, but other than that, local bait storage is limited. In the earliest stages of MICSF, Americold was the company behind the plan, but they abandoned the idea in 2018.

Advancements of the facility come at an opportune moment for the International Marine Terminal and for the Iceland-based shipping company and partner Eimskip: both have reported record numbers when it has come to shipping volume in the past year.

Larger ports in the United States, particularly on the west coast, have struggled with supply chain issues throughout the pandemic, but those struggles aren’t being felt in Portland, according to Burns.

“This facility will be a significant economic driver – that is no secret,” Burns said, “but it’s only one step in the process.” Further plans include the continued investment at the IMT over the next ten years to add container volume, and increase the sizes of vessels.

Gov. Janet Mills and Mayor Kate Snyder both attended the announcement event, sharing praise for what’s been labeled as a “state-of-the-art facility” thanks to both its economic and environmental benefits.

Gov. Mills said the “long overdue” MICSF project will transform trade not just for Portland or the county, but for the whole state of Maine, keeping food production and storage local, rather than transporting goods out of state for cold storage. She added that once it is built, the economic benefit from the facility is estimated to be between $500 and $900 million a year.

The facility is also planned to use what would be the largest rooftop solar array in the state, which is expected to offset as much as 20 percent of its yearly energy consumption. It will also cut down on carbon emissions, she said, since the additional storage would remove a majority of the dependence on trucks to export goods.

While the day was cloudy and dull, IMT executive Matt Burns said, the future is bright for the Port Authority, with the next “crown jewel,” of waterfront development now truly on the way.