Written by Craig Lyons
A City Council committee approved a proposed lease with Nova Star Cruises for the use of the Ocean Gateway Terminal.
The Housing and Community Development committee recommended the full council pass the lease agreement with the new ferry service, which aims to start on May 1. The council could take up the lease at its April 7 meeting.
The company will lease the facility at $19,200 per year, with a $10,000 deposit, according to a memo. Nova Star will be responsible for $225,000 in facility improvements needed to accommodate the service, and could finance that through a loan from the Portland Development Corporation.
The lease will run for seven years and be renewed after the first two years upon mutual agreement of the ferry service and the city.
"I think this [service] is going to be very good for all involved," said Mark Amundson, of Quest Navigation and Nova Star Cruise.
The company has submitted its fee structure and draft application to the Federal Maritime Commission, according to a company representative, and once the approval is granted, the company can start advertising rates and selling tickets. The company expects that the bond for the service will be issued in the coming weeks.
"We working diligently to get the service in operation," Amundson said, of Quest Navigation, which is a partner in ferry service. The ferry vessel is leaving Singapore on Friday, he said, and will be inspected and tested at ports in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland, he said.
The city estimates the revenue from the agreement could range from $150,000 to $400,000.
The lease will grant the ferry service exclusive use of the departure building for its office and ticketing; the queuing area from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; the berthing area from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily; and the terminal building's ground floor for Customs and Border Protection screening from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., according to a memo.
The company will have non-exclusive use of the receiving building from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Parking will be provided for up to five employees and up to 10 part-time parking spaces for up to 10 employees at an agreed upon cost and location, according to the memo.
Councilor Nick Mavodones — who is also operations manager for Casco Bay Lines ferry service — said he's heard from residents of the island communities with concerns about parking around the terminal and if the new ferry service will impact that.
Katherine Alves, of the Recreation and Facilities Management Department, said unlike with cruise ships coming into the terminal, the ferry service will not require any meters to be bagged. She said passengers won't be relying on the on-street parking around the terminal.
"We don't foresee any issue with that," she said.
Mavodones asked about traffic for Ocean Gateway and how that will mesh with people going in and out of the Maine State Pier and Casco Bay Lines.
Alves said they're working with the Department of Public Services to change the timing on the light at Franklin and Commercial to allow traffic to move smoothly. She said Nova Star is developing a safety and operational plan that will have a person on site to help direct traffic.
People departing on the ferry will enter through the entrance at Hancock and Thames and exit at Franklin Street, Alves said.
Nova Star Cruises announced in November that daily ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland will be restored in May.
The company plans to run daily round trips from May 1 to Nov. 2 using a new 528-foot cruise ferry, the Nova Star. The service will between the two coastal cities will be the first since the CAT discontinued its runs in 2009.
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 March 2014 01:44
Written by David Carkhuff
A meeting next week will give the public a chance to advise a state authority about how Amtrak could improve its recently expanded Downeaster passenger rail service in Maine.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority — a public transportation authority created in 1995 by the Maine Legislature to develop and provide passenger rail service between Maine and Boston — will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 19 in Portland City Hall to receive feedback regarding future improvements for the Amtrak Downeaster passenger rail service.
The meeting will take place in the State of Maine Room on City Hall's second floor.
NNEPRA has contracted with Gannett Fleming to complete the Downeaster Service Development Plan.
In 2011, NNEPRA received a grant for $600,000, which will be matched with $150,000 in state funds, to complete the plan. But completion of the plan and its related public outreach were put on hold while Amtrak expanded service from Portland north to Freeport and Brusnwick, according to NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn.
Brunswick service was "hypothetical" at the time the planning process began as a federal requirement, Quinn said.
"It's taken us a little bit longer to complete it because we wanted to give a chance for the new improvements we made to settle in," she said.
June of this year, NNEPRA hopes to "wrap it up," Quinn said of the planning document.
"We solicit feedback all the time, so I think we have a lot of good information about what people want to see, but this is another opportunity for people to bring us their ideas," Quinn said.
The plan, according to NNEPRA, will "assess the current condition of infrastructure along the corridor and propose an improvement plan; model the operating plan for the Downeaster and consider impacts on other services using the corridor; (and) evaluate the Portland Transportation Center to determine the costs, benefits and issues associated with remaining in the existing station location or relocating to a new site."
"Hopefully people will come and they will bring us some ideas and thoughts," Quinn said, acknowledging that a typical request is for more trains to increase choices.
Those concerns don't go unheeded, Quinn said, noting that "being able to extend more service to Brunswick is one of our objectives."
February ridership was up about 10 percent from last February, and fiscal year to date the Downeaster reported an increase in ridership of about 6 percent, Quinn said. (Fiscal year to date refers to statistics compiled from July 2013 to today.)
"The service is going very well," Quinn said, stating, "Ridership continues to grow, revenues are pacing a little bit ahead of ridership, about 6.5 percent."
In December, NNEPRA reported that during the second quarter of FY2014 (late 2013), the Downeaster transported 131,455 passengers the equivalent of 10.8 million passenger miles, generating $2.15 million in revenue. This represented a ridership increase of more than 13,000 passengers (11 percent) and a revenue increase of more than $94,000 (6 percent) greater than the second quarter of FY2013, the authority reported.
"Increases are in part due to construction and weather-related service interruptions last year, but still represent solid growth. Fiscal year 2014 to date, ridership of 295,069 is 6 percent greater than FY13 with revenues of $4.6 million, pacing 6.5 percent ahead of the same period last year," the authority reported.
Amtrak also logged a January ridership that was up 5.7 percent from a year earlier (36,100 vs. 34,134), the authority reported.
The Nov. 1, 2012 introduction of Downeaster passenger rail service to Brunswick highlighted the authority's annual report for fiscal year 2013 (July 2012 to June 2013).
"Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) was a groundbreaking year for the Downeaster," the report stated. "Most significantly, the rehabilitation of the 30-mile rail line between Portland and Brunswick was completed, and the Downeaster began operating daily passenger rail service between Brunswick and Boston on November 1, 2012 for the first time in nearly 50 years. This NNEPRA-managed project was the first passenger rail expansion project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to be completed in the nation, and it was delivered on time and on budget. ... The Amtrak Downeaster makes five round-trips daily between Portland and Boston with two of those trips extending to Freeport and Brunswick linking 12 communities in 3 states. ... The response to the limited Downeaster service to Freeport and Brunswick has been overwhelmingly positive, exceeding daily average ridership projections by 50 percent in the first 8 months of operation and generating millions of dollars in economic impact."
The report added, "In FY13, operating revenues of nearly $9.2 million exceeded budget projections by 4 percent while expenses of $16.8 million were 8 percent less than projected. As a result, the total additional funding required of $7.6 million was 20 percent less than projected."
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 March 2014 01:44
Written by Timothy Gillis
At his apartment/studio on Cumberland Avenue, during a breakfast of bacon and eggs and black coffee, Hafid Lalaoui takes, and serves, his coffee black.
"Once you add the cream, it becomes a different drink," he says.
His black and white photographs, however, somehow achieve a creamy perfection, mixing the two tones into infinite others. Seven of his exquisite shots are on display this month at Blue on Congress Street. The artist's reception is Thursday night, March 13, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Lalaoui was born in Marrakesh, Morocco, and moved to the United States in 1980.
"I went to art school in New York City (School of Visual Art), and majored in photography," he said. Back then, he used an Olympus OM-2, what he calls "a poor photographer's Leica" and delighted in the darkroom after a day's worth of taking photos of big city life.
He traveled back and forth, from New York City to Chefchaouen, in the Moroccan northwest, at least five times, taking photos for what began as a school assignment. He finished the work, but something made him return.
"It's a beautiful town. You feel like you are back in time," he said. "The quality of light on the mudhouses and the whole mystery of that town — for a photographer, it's exciting to work there. Visually, it's very compelling."
The seven photographs in the exhibit come from a body of work that was produced between 1980 and 1985. Lalaoui had a darkroom when he was living in Casablanca, and was using the school's studio in New York City. He moved to Portland in 1997, looking for a more leisurely pace, and shared space at the Bakery Photo Collective when it was in Portland.
A year ago, he made the move to digital and purchased an Olympus-EPL2.
"Digital made life easier, saving on all the chemistry, and is faster, but still the quality of silverprint ... you cannot compare," he said last year. "The problem with photography as an art form is that it's expensive. It's not like writers who need just paper and pen. Painters needs a canvas; musicians needs an instrument. Photographers need a camera, equipment, and paper for prints, frames."
While the move made his art form more affordable, he lamented the change.
"I had that other camera all my life. It's like you're divorcing some lover," he said.
He's getting used to the new equipment, and likes the technological advance that allows you to see what you're doing right away, "unlike the old days of contact sheets."
But for every automated improvement there is a manual maneuver that, like the subjects of his photography, are part of a distant past.
Lalaoui misses the B (bulb) setting for longer exposures, and little tricks like pressing the rewind release (so the film doesn't advance when resetting the mirror) for double exposures.
"There was some magic about the darkroom," he said. "You see the image coming up. You dodge (make it lighter) and you burn (make it darker). In other words, you balance the image. Now this kind of thing can be done through Photoshop."
Lalaoui has a vast collection of his work, and purchased a digital scanner recently to begin the painstaking task of converting his numerous negatives into prints.
For the exhibit, he will display some of his finest images of men, women and children in the streets of Chefchaouen, a town built in the 17th century. Each of the photos conveys a palpable, creamy texture of ancient architecture and evocative characters.
Lalaoui lived in the town when he was photographing there, working each day to break the ice with his celluloid subjects.
"Speaking the same language helped," he said. "Before I showed up with a camera I'd have to go and feel the place, with no camera. And then I start to work."
On a few occasions, in a remote part of southern Morocco, Lalaoui experienced some tension with the people he was photographing, but his calm and gentle demeanor helped to diffuse things.
"There is always a way to excuse yourself," he said of a souring situation. "How you talk to them makes all the difference."
In his photography, Lalaoui captures frozen moments of a child at simple play, a man with morning coffee, or a woman dressed in haik, a large, outer wrap.
When he returned to Chefchaouen five years ago, the women were no longer wearing them, he said. "Now women wearing modern clothing."
Lalaoui met the mayor of the town who asked him to return for an exhibit.
"He was aware of the fact that European people want to see something like this," Lalaoui said, "something original from their culture, something that may be dying."
He discussed his perceptions in a formal statement.
"As a visual artist, I felt immediately captivated by this town. The contrast between the highlights and darks has a beautiful softness quality to it, and it is in harmony with the narrow, peaceful streets. I love the people with their traditional outfits, the hustle and bustle of the public market, and the old bakeries and baths and, of course, the bazaars. These qualities go together to give this Moorish town its mystical character," he said.
He hopes the show at Blue is the first step in sharing his work with his chosen home. These days, Lalaoui is taking pictures of Portland, "shooting the city, the people, the architecture. The light in Portland is beautiful," he said.
Although photographic equipment has developed dramatically over the last two decades, Lalaoui's advice to young photographers has stayed the same. He says they should "sharpen their eyes. That takes a little practice to be able to see, if you want to do documentary photography. Still life is another thing, but when you work with people, you don't want to be intruding. You want them to feel comfortable."
He's excited about his exhibit, and effusive in his thanks for several patrons who helped make it possible.
"Steve Luttrell, Katie Benedict, Ben Monihan, Megan Grumbling, Yorgo Papachristo, Terez Fraser — so many people. It's good to know that local artists in this town are willing to help," he said. "I want to contribute to the arts and culture of this town. We are all immigrants here, and we all have something to give back to the public, to the society, by sharing our art, our vision."
The Photography of Hafid Lalaoui
Thursday, March 13, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Blue, 650 Congress St., Portland
Photography on display during March
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 March 2014 01:46
Written by Timothy Gillis
Women Around the World fifth annual International Women's Day Fashion Show was held this past Saturday at the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland.
The evening raised money for vocational training for women through a celebration of food, fashion, music and entertainment.
The scene was varied. Dorcas Thete gave a spoken word performance. Emma Holder and Dominic Tracey danced the Argentine tango. Adele Ngoy, president of WAW, introduced the participants.
A variety of fashions were showcased on the runway.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 02:13
Written by David Carkhuff
OLD ORCHARD BEACH — An Amtrak Downeaster train struck and killed a man who walked into its path, according to eyewitnesses, police reported Tuesday.
On Tuesday at 2:53 p.m., the Old Orchard Beach police and fire departments responded to a train and pedestrian collision at the Union Avenue crossing of the rail line, police said. Upon arrival, the first responders confirmed a pedestrian was struck by a southbound Amtrak train, according to Lt. Timothy Deluca, Old Orchard Beach Police Department. The person was pronounced dead at the scene.
The deceased white male had not been identified at presstime. Deluca said that upon identification, the identity of the victim will not be released until family has been notified.
According to several eyewitnesses, the pedestrian was awaiting the train's arrival and then walked directly into the path of the train upon its approach to the Union Avenue crossing, Deluca reported in a press release.
The Old Orchard Beach Police Department is investigating the incident with the assistance of the Amtrak Police and Boston and Maine railroad police.
About every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train, according to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit group that educates about railway safety.
Last August, a man was seriously injured when he was struck by the Amtrak Downeaster train traveling southbound in Scarborough at Highland Avenue and Black Point Road. In April 2012, an Amtrak Downeaster train struck and killed a pedestrian in Biddeford. But Tuesday's incident was being investigated as an apparent suicide, officials said.
Amtrak initially reported that Train 686 was "involved in an incident" around 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, in a posting on its website. By 5:45 p.m., Amtrak reported, Train 686 was "back on the move, running 1 hour 45 minutes late due to the earlier incident. Train 687 will also be delayed approximately 2 hours because of this delay," the rail service reported.
Old Orchard Beach is a seasonal stop that is open from April through October. Service to Old Orchard Beach resumes April 14.
Gregory Palkovic, who lives on Union Street near the crossing, said he saw the train stopped on the tracks and witnessed arrival of police.
"I hear the train go by every day, but I just happened to be looking out the window, and I saw the train stopped there," he said.
Palkovic called the crossing "a pretty safe place to cross," noting he walks his dog across the tracks frequently to reach the ocean.
"They're pretty cautious when they came through here," he said of the engineers, "and they slow down and hit their horns like nobody's business."
Police said the investigation will continue as investigators gather additional evidence and witness statements.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 02:12
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