The Working Waterfront

Cliff Island, Portland work together on key property

Sustainable Cliff Island group secures former store, pier, fuel depot and house

Tom Groening
Posted 2015-07-20
Last Modified 2015-07-20

CLIFF ISLAND — A key waterfront property is now controlled by an island-based nonprofit and the local group is crediting the cooperation of Portland city government for the transfer.

A small parcel of land that includes a pier, fuel depot, former store and house had been seized by the city when its owner failed to pay property taxes. The city put the property out to public bid, but probably because it had attached several restrictions, the Sustainable Cliff Island (SCI) group was the only bidder. The group landed the property on a $10,000 bid.

Among those restrictions is that the house on the parcel had to be rented or sold as affordable housing for 20 years and the fuel depot had to be maintained as such for 20 years.

If SCI ever sells the property, it must reimburse the city $53,000 in property taxes that were owned on it.

“It was safeguarding our own interests,” islander and SCI volunteer Cheryl Crowley said of the terms. “They wanted it to be island-focused.”

The fuel tanks were above ground which meant any environmental remediation work would likely cost less than if the tanks were buried, she added. The city conducted a phase I environmental assessment on the property and SCI completed a phase II analysis.

“Amazingly, it was pretty minimal,” Crowley said of the problems that were identified.

The group received a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection to clean the soils and it is in the process of getting new fuel tanks. The new tanks will be more secure than double-walled tanks, she said.

The fuel depot has been a source for gasoline for cars, #2 heating oil for homes and diesel for boats, Crowley said, so SCI’s top priority is to get the fuel depot up and running.

The small house probably will need to be gutted and rehabbed. “I think we’re looking at a rental,” she said.

The store had not been operating for years, “But it was the only store on the island in my younger years,” Crowley remembered. “In its heyday, for people going to Jewell Island [by boat], it was the stop.”

If the store is revived, it probably would sell a few staples for boaters, such as snack foods, beer and ice.

“We don’t want to compete with the existing store,” she said.

The pier is in rough shape, but because it is on a protected cove, it was a favorite for fishermen and other boaters.

The Sustainable Cliff Island group grew out of an effort to address affordable housing needs on the island, Crowley said. The group is working toward tax-exempt status, and for now, the Island Institute (publisher of The Working Waterfront) is its fiscal agent.

“This property became a catalyst for us,” she said of SCI.

And the group’s dealings with Portland officials were cordial, Crowley said, crediting city staffer Mike Murray with being particularly helpful. Residents of the Casco Bay islands that are part of Portland sometimes feel neglected by city government.

“We just had the nicest interaction with the city over this,” she said.