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September 22, 2017

Henshaw departs as director of Maine's ports

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
John Henshaw stepped down on Wednesday as executive director of the Maine Port Authority. He's pictured in this May file photo at Portland's International Marine Terminal.

John Henshaw stepped down Wednesday as executive director of the Maine Port Authority, the state agency overseeing Maine's marine and rail facilities in support of economic development.

The Portland Press Herald reported that Henshaw submitted his resignation on Sept. 7, after leading the port authority through a decade of investment and significant improvements at the state's three deepwater ports of Eastport, Searsport and Portland.

"He did an outstanding job for the port authority, including being heavily involved in the many milestones at the International Marine Terminal [in Portland]," Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, told the newspaper. "We wish him all the luck in the world for his future endeavors. We were lucky to have him."

Matthew Burns has been named acting executive director.

Resurgence of Portland's waterfront

In a 2014 interview with Mainebiz, Henshaw said the turnaround at Portland's International Marine Terminal was made possible by the port authority's taking over the terminal's management in 2009.

"The city didn't have the resources to staff or upgrade the IMT on its own," Henshaw says. "When we took it on, it was in pretty rough shape. At that time it was a mixed freight and passenger terminal. The city wanted to segregate the passenger services [at Ocean Gateway], so our first real task was to turn this into a dedicated cargo terminal that was viable."

Using data from a 2007 report by a Fairfax, Va., transportation consulting firm hired to assess Maine's three-port strategy, which dates to the late 1970s and was seen as needing to be brought forward into the 21st century, the port authority successfully applied in 2009 for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money being made available by the Obama administration.

Maine received $14 million and was one of only 51 recipients out of 1,380 proposals seeking ARRA funding.

Improvements funded at the International Marine Terminal — targeting the goals of increasing freight tonnage for both imports and exports, increasing revenue and improving the IMT's marketability to new customers — set the stage for the 2013 decision of Icelandic shipping company Eimskip to make Portland its U.S. port of call.

Additional investments since then have expanded the IMT's footprint westward, increasing storage space for containers and adding a mile of train track that enables Eimskip and other shipping companies to truck freight directly from the IMT to the Merrill Marine Terminal on Cassidy Point Drive.

Next step: Completing the cold storage facility?

More recently, Henshaw has been a strong advocate for the multimillion-dollar refrigerated waterfront warehouse to be built by Americold Logistics LLC at the IMT next to the rail line and close to Interstate 295. Those plans, which are making their way through the city's zoning approval process, face a challenge from some Portland residents opposed to the city waiving its 45-foot height restriction in the Waterfront Port Development Zone in order to accommodate the facility.

A citizens' initiative appearing on the Nov. 7 ballot, if approved, could could block construction of the 65-foot-tall cold storage facility since it would allow Portland residents to block zoning changes if a quarter of property owners who live within 500 feet of the site object.

A developer, however, could override the objection if 51% of registered voters within 1,000 feet of the disputed zoning change approve the rezoning within 45 days.

"There are opportunities to grow the food and beverage industry in the greater Portland area that will be realized because there's a cold storage facility here," Henshaw told Mainebiz this May.

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