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January 22, 2019

Scarborough fishermen seek to protect working waterfront

Courtesy / Google Earth
Courtesy / Google Earth
The Pine Point Fisherman's Co-op in Scarborough is eyed by a prospective buyer, prompting concerns from local fishermen.

Scarborough fishermen have expressed concern about the preservation of working waterfront as the town weighs selling the shorefront property on Pine Point to a private business owner.

Before anything changes, thought, town officials first have to untangle the ownership structure of the property, located at 96 King St. and home to the Pine Point Fisherman's Co-op and the next-door Rising Tide Restaurant.

At a Jan. 16 workshop on the matter, Town Manager Thomas Hall told the town council that the town initially bought the property from a private landowner to create a town landing.

In 1963, the town sold the property and a structure on it, for $1, to the Pine Point Fisherman's Co-op. The conveyance came with a deed restriction that the town must consent to any subsequent sale. There was also a limitation on total indebtedness or mortgage that could be held on the property, and a limitation on any expansion of the building.

But in the 1990s, two businessmen, Gary Johnson and Tim Staples, bought all of the member shares in the co-op, based on an agreement with the fishermen that the two men would continue to operate it as a fishermen's co-op.

"Legally, we're still a co-op," Johnson told the council.

Johnson explained that, in order for the property's deed to change hands, the transaction still needed to be approved by the town council.

Prospective owners promise to maintain 'working waterfront'

Enter local business owners Susan Bayley Clough and Vincent Clough, who approached Johnson and Staples about purchasing the property. The couple owns Bayley's Lobster Pound and an eatery called the Bait Shed, both just a few blocks from the co-op, and The Garage BBQ restaurant elsewhere along the waterfront. The pound has been in Bayley Clough's family for over a century, she said.

"We currently operate a business similar to what the co-op does," she told the council. "We buy lobsters from fishermen, we buy steamers for our restaurants, we operate a trap-to-table concept in our restaurants. We see this as a really good fit for us."

She said the couple intends to maintain the property as working waterfront, not only as the right thing to do but as good business planning that would allow them to work with local harvesters, establish efficient transportation logistics, and therefore offer better prices to harvesters without them having to go through a middleman. The plan might include a facelift for the restaurant and improvements to the wharf, she added.

"The transfer we see as a win-win for everyone," she said. "We're local people. Tim and Gary want to sell the building."

Chief concern: Working waterfront

But members of the town's Shellfish Conservation Commission and Coastal Waters and Harbor Advisory Committee presented a list of concerns about the potential sale. Concerns included continued access to the bait cooler on the co-op's wharf, which is used by a significant number of local fishermen who would otherwise have to motor to Portland to access or store bait, said one fisherman.

Another concern centered on selling product to a private business owner rather than to a cooperative ownership, and the prospect of a private owner changing the operation to the detriment of harvesters.

Continued access to parking at the wharf was also a concern, especially during the summer — with fishermen saying customers at the Cloughs' restaurant might take up parking space needed by fishermen.

Overall, fishermen asked the council if a provision could be put in place to ensure that if the property goes to private hands, it would remain working waterfront for fishermen.

The council will vote on the sale at its Feb. 6 meeting, The Forecaster reported.

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