The Working Waterfront

Sea Meadow on firmer ground with funding

Federal grant strengthens Southern Maine working waterfront

By Clarke Canfield
Posted 2024-05-21
Last Modified 2024-05-21

A nonprofit that owns a waterfront property in Yarmouth serving multiple marine-related businesses has received $790,000 in federal funding that will allow it to make much-needed improvements and position itself for future growth.

The Sea Meadow Marine Foundation will use the grant to extend water and sewer lines to its property on the Cousins River. It will also replace the retaining wall, or bulkhead, for its wharf and rebuild its boat launch.

The property, simply called Sea Meadow, is used as a base for aquaculture businesses, boatbuilders, dock and boat storage, a marine construction company, and a rowing club. The improvements will help those establishments and make the property more appealing for other marine-related businesses that need waterfront access, said Chad Strater, president of the Sea Meadow board.

“Working boatyards with multiple tenants are at a premium in Maine…”

With pricey waterfront property being bought up and developed in Southern Maine, it’s important to demonstrate that Sea Meadow cannot only be economically viable, but can also serve as an economic driver for the region, he said.

“We want to make this a model and say with these improvements, this is a source for the community for jobs, for connections to food sources, for connections to the water,” Strater said. “It’s something that a hotel or a condo development isn’t going to provide. We want to show it’s extremely valuable as a part of the way of life.”

In announcing the funding, Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said it’s vital to protect waterfront properties for businesses that require ocean access. Pingree nominated Sea Meadow for what is known as community project funding, which was included in the federal appropriations bill approved by Congress in March.

Chad Strater stands on a barge at Sea Meadow’s wharf. With the new federal grant, Sea Meadow will replace the wharf’s retaining wall. PHOTO: CLARKE CANFIELD
Chad Strater stands on a barge at Sea Meadow’s wharf. With the new federal grant, Sea Meadow will replace the wharf’s retaining wall. PHOTO: CLARKE CANFIELD

“In the face of climate change and heavy development pressure, it is more important than ever that we work to protect our disappearing working waterfronts,” Pingree said in a statement. “The Sea Meadow Marine working waterfront supports a variety of businesses that require marine access to Casco Bay including aquaculture and electric boats, along with educational opportunities and scientific research projects.”

Sea Meadow is a 12-acre parcel along the tidal Cousins River, which flows into the Royal River and into Casco Bay. The property is located on a dirt road about a quarter mile from busy Route 1 and has been occupied by two boatbuilders for decades.

Strater headed the effort to create the Sea Meadow nonprofit foundation, which bought the parcel for $1.2 million in December 2021. Strater and his business partner had been leasing land on the site for their marine construction company for a few years, but they were concerned that the region would lose a valuable working waterfront property if it was sold for development.

As a nonprofit, Sea Meadow is now used by a number of aquaculture companies to keep their equipment and launch their boats to tend to their kelp, oyster, and scallop farming operations. It’s also home to two boatbuilders, the Yarmouth Rowing Club, and Strater’s marine construction company, The Boat Yard, which also sells electric outboard motors, pumps, and other equipment.

The grant funding will be used to pay for water and sewer lines to be extended from Route 1 to the property. That will allow for sprinkler systems to be installed in buildings. Down the road, Strater envisions building bathroom facilities for tenants, instead of relying on a portable toilet and water that’s trucked in.

Money will also fund construction of a new bulkhead for the property’s wharf, where tenants load and unload their vessels and barges. Strater hopes to use what’s known as greenheart timber, a non-treated tropical wood commonly used for piers, docks, seawalls, and other marine uses.

The grant will also pay for the reconstruction of a boat launch, which is in bad shape and now can’t be used at high or low tides.

Pingree’s office said it typically takes a few months or longer for the funds to become available, but Strater is hoping that the water and sewer extensions and the wharf improvements can take place by fall. The permitting process is already complete for the wharf construction.

The boat launch, he said, will probably take longer because the Sea Meadow Marine Foundation still needs to get the appropriate permits.

When the foundation bought the property, it was financed through Coastal Enterprises Inc., a community development financial institution based in Brunswick whose goals include protecting waterfront-related jobs.

CEI liked that Sea Meadow would preserve a working waterfront property and help bolster marine-related businesses in Southern Maine. It was also impressed that Sea Meadow planned not only to preserve the property, but also upgrade and strengthen it for the future.

Nick Branchina, CEI’s director of fisheries and aquaculture, said the federal funding is vital for Sea Meadow’s long-term goals.

“CEI understood from the outset how critical it was to support the Sea Meadow project,” he said. “Working boatyards with multiple tenants are at a premium in Maine, and challenges in both gentrification and severe storm damage are making them become all the more endangered. We see in Sea Meadow the resident businesses and aquaculture operations that will be pivotal in sustaining a working waterfront amidst a rapidly changing commercial waterfront.”