A pool of city tax increment finance money could go straight into Portland Harbor.

Members of the Waterfront Working Group on March 21 gave the highest priority to spending as much as $600,000 of TIF revenues on continued efforts to dredge the harbor.

The money, which is set aside as increases in tax valuations in the Waterfront TIF District, is actually part of $1.4 million the city expects to have on hand this year, city Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said.

The remainder has already been penciled into the municipal budget that City Manager Jon Jennings will present to the City Council on April 8.

TIFs are designated districts where increased property tax revenues from development can be sheltered by municipalities and then used to fund infrastructure improvements. Dredging is an allowed use of Waterfront TIF funds.

If the TIF is accompanied by a credit enhancement agreement, developers can share in the sheltered funds. There are no such agreements in the Waterfront TIF District.

Last month, Jennings and Mitchell asked the group to assess the best possible uses for what funding was available.

Mitchell asked for a limited scope on the spending, saying fewer investments would put the money to better use.

At the March meeting, the consensus on dredging was clear as six members considered it the best choice, and three more as the second best choice.

Work to improve traffic conditions and pedestrian safety on Commercial Street finished a clear second, although the immediate results may be more tangible than dredging.

Using TIF funds for dredging will help the final push in the permitting process for what is estimated to be a $30 million job requiring the construction of a storage site for dredged materials across the harbor in South Portland.

At a Feb. 14 meeting in South Portland, Glenn Daukas of Campbell Environmental Group said at least $200,000 is needed to get the dredging and storage proposal ready for permit applications.

The Portland Harbor Commission would hold an “umbrella” permit to allow for dredging multiple sites at 30 piers and wharves spread throughout the city and South Portland.

The commissioners and consultants hope to have permit applications ready in September.

City waterfront coordinator Bill Needelman estimated last month that the sediments that have accumulated for about 70 years have closed off 10 to 30 percent of the berths along the central waterfront.

At the same time, what has accumulated is toxic enough that it cannot be dumped on land or farther out to sea, leading to the need for a confined aquatic disposal cell, commonly called a CAD cell.

The cell would be dug between the Coast Guard station and South Port Marine in South Portland. It would be capped about 2 feet below the surface at low tide depth.

Moving forward, the TIF funds are expected to burgeon, Mitchell said, since the city included areas due for development before the projects began. The sheltered amount is expected to reach $5 million within two years as new projects – including the redevelopment of the former Rufus Deering Lumber Co. and recently completed WEX headquarters on Hancock Street – produce sheltered revenue.

In conjunction with that, city transportation systems engineer Jeremiah Bartlett last Monday said the city is evaluating ways to improve “pedestrian crossing locations, crossing configurations, and various technologies that might allow for other ways to get people on foot across Commercial (Street).”

No decisions are expected for at least a month, but the city has changed the traffic signal at Commercial and Beach streets, at the entrance to the Eimskip freight terminal, to a blinking yellow on Commercial and blinking red on Beach.

Jennings said the change should alleviate traffic back-ups caused by the signal.

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