He loved the view of a rehabbed Portland riverfront and the plan for a turtle touch-tank at the children’s museum, but what really thrilled America’s top environmental regulator on a visit to Thompson’s Point Thursday was the 20-to-1 return on the government’s investment in its two-decade cleanup.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has invested $1.8 million into cleaning up this once-blighted 33-are parcel and preparing it for redevelopment into an eclectic mix of brew pubs and wineries, hotels and housing, event space and museums. Developers used that federal funding as leverage to raise another $40 million in private funding.

“That’s more than 20-to-1 return on investment, and one of the best returns on investment I’ve seen from a government grant program,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “Nationally, our (industrial cleanup) program typically sees a return on investment of 15 to 1. … A great success story for the people who live and work here in Portland.”

Wheeler made three other stops on his overnight visit: the Maine Port Authority in Portland, the recipient of a $500,000 cleanup grant for its cold storage project; the Cape Porpoise Lobster Co. in Kennebunkport, where he toured the pound and packing line; and the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, where he announced a suspension on marine diesel engine restrictions.

In Portland, outside the new Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, Wheeler touted the $12.2 million that EPA has awarded to Maine under the last four years to help clean up blighted industrial sites for redevelopment. That money has been used to clean up 26 so-called “brownfields” and conduct assessments of more than 200 others, Wheeler said.

The agency’s brownfields cleanup program began in the mid-1990s. Since then, the EPA has invested over $94 million in assessing and cleaning up Maine brownfields, attracting another $453 million in private cleanup and redevelopment funding that helped to make 192 properties ready for reuse and created 3,777 new jobs in Maine, he said.


At Thompson’s Point, the brownfield cleanup funding has been used to remediate soils contaminated by oil and heavy metals during the peninsula’s former life as both a shipyard and a rail yard, capping the areas that could be safely contained and disposing of the soil that was too dirty or difficult to cap.

“Looking around today at how dynamic this area has become, we can be proud of the work everyone has put in to make Thompson’s Point such a great place,” Wheeler said after touring the parcel. “There is more work to be done, and if we work together in the future as we’ve done in the past, we will definitely have more success together.”

In Kennebunkport, Wheeler touted the Trump administration’s work on behalf of Maine’s lobster industry, including the year-long agency effort to figure out how the industry could design, build and operate clean-running fishing boats capable of making daily trips more than 40 miles to sea weighed down with either a deck full of lobster traps or their daily catch.

The answer, as Wheeler announced Thursday, was that it can’t be done, at least not yet. The agency is giving lobstermen, pilot boat operators and the operators of a few other kinds of small commercial work vessels a reprieve from strict new diesel engine emissions standards until the technology hits the commercial market.

Under the amended program rules, these operators could continue to use a higher producing but still relatively clean diesel engine in their boats until the market starts manufacturing the cleaner version in a format that can be used in these high-powered, high-speed vessels. They can do so without question until 2024; beyond that, they will need a formal exemption.

Since most diesel engine builders focus on land-based side of the market, the EPA also is rolling out a plan to streamline the engine certification process to encourage smaller engine shops to enter the marine engine market with the kind of high-power products that high-performance lobster and pilot boats need, Wheeler said.


Once manufacturers start making compliant lobster boat engines, it will take boat builders time to change the hull designs to add the catalytic converters required to remove the polluting nitrogen oxides from the engine’s exhaust, he said. The new design must be seaworthy, of course, but also keep the engine far away from the lobster holding tank.

Kennebunk lobsterman Chris Welch doesn’t require one of the more powerful T4 engines that doesn’t yet exist in his 35-foot lobster boat, Foolish Pride. He gets by just fine with his five-year-old T3 engine. But fishermen who need the power and speed to haul gear and catch 40 miles or so offshore in a day will be grateful for this rule change, he said.

“Lobstermen, particularly those who fish offshore, will continue to be able to carry large numbers of traps long distances without sacrificing time or putting unique strain on their engines, which ultimately makes for safer fishing,” said Welch, a member of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association board. “This efficiency is in line with Maine’s history of conservation and practicality.”

While the agency is delaying the tougher standards in this one category of lobster boat, Wheeler noted the EPA has already invested $5.2 million in the Maine clean marine engine program to repower 152 commercial vessels with T3 engines. That reduced nitrogen oxides emissions by 45 percent, or the equivalent of 75 tons per year.

Wheeler concluded his public remarks in Maine with these words a few minutes after assuring a reporter that Thursday’s announcement was not political: “The Trump administration is showing that the United States can clean up its environment while still providing regulatory relief for working people like the fishing and lobster industry here in Maine that need help.”

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