Norman Wallace, a partner at Redfish and Associates, Inc. – a marine contractor – inspects damage to a wharf in Harpswell on Friday. Marine contractors are in high demand after a series of powerful storms damaged wharves in the region. As lobstering season approaches, the pressure mounts. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

HARPSWELL — Chris Hole was busy at work on a sunny Friday morning, taking apart his commercial fishing wharf like a game of Jenga.

After pulling up the surface wooden slats, Hole used a fork lift to lower large wooden beams down to the deck. Josh Saxton, Hole’s right-hand man, would then slip between the large gaps in the deck to put the support beams in place.

Hole owns Henry Allen’s Seafood, a wholesaler and retailer with a commercial wharf that was battered by the series of storms in January that swept away many working waterfronts along Maine’s coast. The storms flooded Henry Allen’s historic buildings and wiped out the dock’s seawall. At a quick glance from above, Henry Allen’s wharf doesn’t look all that bad. But most of the repair work is invisible, the pummeled structure hidden beneath the surface of the deck.

Hole is of course familiar with storms.

“But this was something else,” he said. “We come in from the sea to hide from storms here. When your home base gets smacked, it’s pretty terrible. Every fisherman is anxious.”

At the end of January, Hole was still processing everything that had happened. Now, lobstering season has arrived. Many fishermen are already antsy to get out on the water and set their traps. And the pressure is on for many commercial wharf owners to hurry up and get the work finished.


And they are competing for a scarce number of contractors who know how to do this specialized work.

Henry Allen’s needs to be ready this week to host the 14 lobstermen that fish from its wharf. To do so, Saxton and Hole are trying to “stabilize” the dock so that it can hold the weight of humans, traps, bait and catch. Saxton and Hole are doing the work themselves amid a heightened demand for marine contractors, rising costs and a tight timeline of when work can be done – dependent on tides, daylight and weather.

It’s only a Band-Aid – the wharf won’t be able to carry the weight of trucks, so the lobstermen will have to incrementally transport traps to their boats and haul their catch back to land by hand. But it’s a quick fix that Hole hopes can get his business and the lobstermen through this season.

Josh Saxton, left, and Chris Hole, owner of Henry Allen’s Seafood, work Friday to repair a wharf in Harpswell that was damaged after a series of powerful storms in January. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“I’m hodge-podging the wharf together best I can,” he said. “We’ve just got to get by. And the season is upon us.”

He thinks his small fixes on the wharf can hold up until he gets moving on a full replacement that could cost $350,000. That is, unless another storm hits.



Some experts estimate that at least 60% of Maine’s working waterfront was severely damaged or destroyed by the back-to-back storms on Jan. 10 and 13.

“It literally looked like a bomb had gone off,” Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said in January.

Heavy rain, flooding, ocean swells, high tides and wind gusts of up to 60 mph ripped away entire wharves and scattered fishing equipment and gear across harbors. President Biden has issued a “Major Disaster Declaration” for the eight coastal communities impacted by the two storms. Along with federal funds to restore public infrastructure, the declaration also enables the U.S. Small Business Administration to make low-interest loans available to help businesses recover financially.

Some working waterfronts have shut down altogether. Nick Battista, chief policy officer at the Island Institute, said many small family wharves serving fewer boats were severely damaged or entirely washed away. Those docks are likely not coming back from this, he said.

Battista said that he hasn’t yet heard of any large commercial fishing wharves closing because of the storms, but that some owners evaluating damage who were planning to retire in the near future might speed up those timelines.

“As people have assessed the storm damage, understanding what rebuilding will take, understanding what resources are available or unavailable, it might push people toward selling their property,” he said. “There might be people who would be selling in the next five years anyway, but they say, ‘OK, I can’t deal with all it takes to take out a loan and rebuild.’ ”


Hole and Tom Butler, owner of Erica’s Seafood in Harpswell, were some of the luckier ones. Their wharves were still standing when the storms cleared. But the supports holding up the structures are beaten down.

The wharf at Erica’s Seafood is entirely unusable at this point. It was previously able to hold the weight of a loaded semi-truck. Now, the lobstermen who moor their boats there can’t conduct any business just yet.

Butler has enlisted Redfish and Associates Inc., a Harpswell marine contractor, to revive the wharf.

Scoring Redfish to do that work is a major coup. Redfish has a 3 ½-year waiting list, business partner Norman Wallace said while surveying the Erica’s Seafood wharf on Friday. Thirty customers are waiting for work from Redfish, and another 10 to 15 survey requests are on the docket.

Redfish is a small construction company specializing in marine work and can only take on one job at a time. It services residential wharves and commercial working-waterfront businesses. The residential work is where the real money is made.

In the wake of the storms, however, Redfish – helmed by Norman Wallace and his father, owner Ben Wallace – is less focused on the profits.


“We’ve been prioritizing the commercial fishing wharfs over our existing residential customers – the moneymaker,” Norman Wallace said. “It’s important to the economy, and it’s also important to us as individuals because our family, before building wharves, were multigenerational commercial fishermen.”

While only four commercial jobs are currently in the works, it’s still time-consuming work with many constraints.

As Norman Wallace walked around the shoreline at Erica’s Seafood, the tide was fast approaching. When he’s on a build, that’s when the work comes to an end – a wise decision to avoid electrocution from electrical equipment in the cold, waist-high, muddy water.

Norman Wallace, a partner at Redfish and Associates, Inc. — a marine contractor — inspects a piling that is no longer seated on rock after a storm dislodged it. Marine contractors are under increased demand after a series of powerful storms damaged wharves in the region. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Wallace is similarly feeling the pressure of getting the work done for these working waterfronts in time for at least some lobstering – just a week out.  And he thinks he can meet the needs of the four businesses he’s working with, so far. Redfish plans to start working at Erica’s Seafood next week, and have it up and running – to an extent – a week and a half later.

Working waterfronts are headed to the top of lists with other contractors, too.

Custom Float Services, which mostly provides the working waterfront with materials like timber, has added an additional 50 to 70 commercial customers to its docket. Demand has increased 25% to 30%, President Charlie Poole said. Anticipating the increased demand immediately after the storm, Custom Float stocked up on extra timber, easing materials shortages for contractors and DIY-wharf owners hitting roadblocks.


Prock, in Rockland, already had a long waitlist. A backlog had built up as Prock focused on major commercial jobs with the Maine Department of Transportation and other government entities. When the storms hit, an influx of work came through, as of now extending the waitlist on breaking ground to June 2025 for some.

Around 10 of the 50 clients are from the working waterfront – boatyards, lobster pounds and wharves. Like Redfish, Prock has been giving those clients priority and a break on the price, said Kenneth Knauer, an engineer and project manager.

“We’ve always put the working waterfront first, tried to give them some kind of priority,” Knauer said. “We’re working waterfront, too.”

Chris Hole, owner of Henry Allen’s Seafood, points to the high-water mark from the Jan. 13 storm on Friday in Harpswell. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

But it’s already time for lobstermen to set their traps, so even Prock’s work is a quick, temporary fix for some.

“People want to get their gear in the water now. But you can only do so much,” Knauer said. “We’re trying to pick off the work we can get to.”

Those working waterfronts are far outnumbered by residential work. Many owners are trying to patch the wharves on their own, deterred by the waitlists. And Knauer expects they’ll be calling Prock up once the season is over. They’ll still get some priority, but will become additions to an already mounting backlog.



Hole has to wait to see his wharf replacement through. The contractor Hole has spoken with gave him a rough estimate of $350,000 – not including the engineering and permitting costs. And he wasn’t able to start working at Henry Allen’s until later this spring.

Hole was concerned about making sure his 14 lobstermen can work this season, so he decided to put off a full replacement until at least the fall.

Chris Hole wades through waist-high water at his business, Henry Allen’s Seafood, during the Jan. 13 storm that flooded his fishing buildings and swept away his wharf. Ordinarily, the water level sits at least three feet below the deck at the Henry Allen’s Seafood retail shop. Photo courtesy of Chris Hole

Hole was worried about losing the lobstermen, who use the free dock space in exchange for a wholesale deal, to other commercial wharfs if his wasn’t operating. But he was even more anxious about the impact it could have on his lobstermen’s livelihoods – especially if they are unable to find wharf space somewhere else.

Even amid the unknowns, all 14 lobstermen have committed to sticking with Hole this season.

That was a no-brainer for lobsterman Andrew Washburn, whose boat was already moored off of the Henry Allen’s dock on Friday. Washburn has fished off of Henry Allen’s for six years and worked with the business for much longer.


Washburn wasn’t so worried about any personal losses or impacts following the storms. His lobster boat was out of the water for the winter. And Washburn is connected enough that he could easily find dock space somewhere else in Harpswell, if need be.

But he was anxious. This is where Washburn gets the bulk of his bait and fuel, where he sets his traps and hauls them back in the fall, where he sells his catch. This is where his community is.

“I wasn’t panicking, but there was definitely a lot of concern,” Washburn said. “I work with all of these guys and consider them friends. I like Chris, I’ve known him a long time. He’s good to me, he’s good to my son, who fishes out of here as well. And I felt helpless. You have to stand and watch it happen. There’s nothing you can do during the storm, it’s Mother Nature.”

But Washburn was not interested in finding any sure-fire backups. He had faith Hole would come through.

With a weaker dock, the work this season will be harder and more time-consuming. Still, Washburn has no intentions of mooring elsewhere.

“The way it is now will be adding work,” he said. “But leaving would have been even harder.”

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