This year is looking up for the Eastport Port Authority, as wood chips will be imported through the port terminal for the first time next week, an export of wood pulp is scheduled for March and two cruise ships are expected to lay-up at the Eastport breakwater this spring.
Approximately 30,000 metric tons of wood chips will be imported from Sheet Harbour, N.S., through the Estes Head terminal for the Woodland Pulp mill, with the bulk carrier Ultra Cory scheduled to arrive on February 28. It’s expected that the unloading will take seven to eight days.
Along with using the port’s bulk conveyor system for only the second time, Federal Marine Terminals and the longshoremen will use a telestacker and six mobile conveyors for importing, instead of exporting, wood chips. The Maine Port Authority and Maine Department of Transportation assisted the port authority in acquiring the mobile conveyors and telestacker — a tall conveyor belt used to make a cone of wood chips — that is already owned by the state. It will be the first time that they have been used.
Chris Gardner, executive director of the port authority, says, “It will be quite an operation for our first time. It’s been a team effort.” He says more wood chip imports will be done this year. “We will see another 30,000 tons, and there could be 90,000 tons this year.”
Noting that the port authority is “a strong healthy cargo port first,” those revenues help drive the port authority’s other activities in the community. “We’re happy to see cargo operations return,” he says. The port terminal saw only one cargo ship last year, its worst year ever.
Noting that the first wood pulp export shipment is scheduled for March, with another in April, he says, “Our planned expectations for 2023 are panning out for this to be much better than last year.”
Cruise ship layups
At the February 21 meeting of the Eastport Port Authority board, Gardner also reported on plans for two smaller cruise ships to lay-up at the Eastport breakwater this spring. The 286-foot Ocean Navigator and Ocean Voyager, sister ships that are owned by American Queen Voyages and operate in New England, would arrive in mid-March for six weeks to two months and would be tied up side-by-side at the breakwater.
“They’d be coming here for preseason provisioning and getting ready for the season,” Gardner says. A total of about 50 crew members would be on the vessels.
“We’re just working out the final details,” Gardner says. “The port authority is anticipating their arrival.” He adds, “If it’s successful, we may look into further partnerships and having these layups be an annual thing.”
As for access to the outer portion of the breakwater while the vessels are tied up, Gardner says that will depend on whether security is required for the ships. Noting that the port authority is redoing its security plan for all cruise ships so that commercial fishermen can access the breakwater, he says that, even if the outer section of the breakwater is blocked off, commercial fishermen will still be able to access the crane at the southern end of the breakwater. Other access, though, would be restricted.
As for why the ships are planning to lay-up in Eastport, Gardner says, “We have a tremendous asset” with the breakwater. “These are not piers located everywhere. There are only a handful of places on the Maine coast that have real piers, and we can put cruise ships there for longer-term layup.” He notes that cruise ships have to spend the winter somewhere, and “we’re in a good location in proximity to their routes. And we’re a real bargain.”
In addition to cruise ship layups, Gardner believes Eastport may see more smaller cruise ships coming because of restrictions placed on them at other ports. Bar Harbor is now limiting the number of people who can disembark each day to 1,000. “The smaller and mid-line cruise ships are getting squeezed out and looking for new places to go,” he says. “And they fit quite nicely into what we can offer.”
To provide shoreside activities for the cruise ship passengers, the port authority is looking at partnering with Destinations North America (DNA), which is active at other ports in Maine. Both Tessa Ftorek and Chris Brown, who “have done a yeoman’s job in leading volunteers” for activities for cruise ship passengers in Eastport, are pulling back.
DNA, which is a private business, would now take care of shore excursions for the passengers. Gardner notes that the port authority does not need to formalize an agreement with DNA but rather “we would refer cruise ships to DNA for shore planning.” He adds, “We have high expectations of the DNA situation. It’s a good fit, and we’re really looking forward to it.” The first cruise ship visit for this year is planned for May.
For the cruise ship calls, the port authority is working to reinstate its bus operations. Its newer bus has been idle for three years and needs maintenance work. Gardner notes that Cyr Bus Line of Old Town is willing to assist the port authority with getting the maintenance done.
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