A crumbling pier bulkhead on the Portland waterfront may be restored to make berthing space for fishing and research ships, thanks to a $1 million earmark tucked into a bond passed by Maine voters Tuesday.

The funding is directed to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which owns the pier behind its Commercial Street headquarters.

The science nonprofit intends to use public funding to access federal grants and private donations for the $3 million project, said institute President Don Perkins.

Gulf of Maine Research Institute has long-term plans to expand laboratory and research space on the pier to attract top international researchers. Renovating the pier will also make space for fishing and research vessels.

“The broader aspiration is that this property becomes a magnet for marine science research and technology,” Perkins said.

But to make that plan work, the institute has to renovate the pier’s western supporting bulkhead, which is on the verge of collapse.

“It’s a nightmare waiting to happen,” Perkins said.

On Tuesday, Maine voters passed a $105 million borrowing package by 76 percent.

Most of the money, $100 million, is pledged to repair and rebuild Maine’s roads, bridges and other transport facilities and $4 million will match local funds to upgrade culverts. The remaining $1 million is reserved specifically for the institute’s bulkhead project.

With interest, the 10-year bond will cost taxpayers almost $130 million.

The state funding is the latest round of public support the institute has received since 1998.

Its Portland headquarters was finished in 2004 with help from a state research and development bond. Money from transportation bonds in 2005, 2007 and 2009 helped restore the institute’s pier on former Navy property.

Those investments have brought in $90 million from federal grants and contracts, as well as private funding, an 18-to-1 return, according to the institute.

Delaney Giroux waits for her turn to look at plankton from the Gulf of Maine through a microscope at LabVenture in the Gulf of Maine Research Institute last year. GMRI received $1 million from a bond voters passed Tuesday that can be used to repair a pier and allow the institute to do more research. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

About 73 employees work at the institute and it specializes in youth education, scientific research – including a focus on climate change effects in the Gulf of Maine – and supporting entrepreneurship in aquaculture and marine industries.

“Governors from both parties and an independent and legislatures over the last 20 years have consistently invested in research and development to encourage marine development and entrepreneurship,” Perkins said.

The funding was sponsored by Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, and folded into the bigger package proposed by Gov. Janet Mills.

Considering the institute’s importance to the region’s economy through its support for entrepreneurship and its contribution to of how climate change will impact Maine, the public investment is warranted, Sylvester said.

“The benefit that will come from sharing their science will go to entrepreneurship, to start and maintain businesses, but also to communities trying to understand what sea level rise and warming waters will mean for them,” Sylvester said.

“The money we spend is going to come back to us tenfold, I heartily believe that.”

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