Airport officials plan to build a 734-space parking lot at Portland International Jetport to address increased demand for long-term parking. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A plan to build a 734-space parking lot at the Portland International Jetport is facing mounting criticism from residents who say it contradicts the city’s ongoing efforts to promote sustainable development, reduce surface parking and encourage tree growth.

The controversy comes as newly elected Mayor Mark Dion has identified fighting climate change and expanding Portland’s tree canopy as priorities of his administration, as noted during his inaugural address last Monday. The jetport will host a public meeting Tuesday evening on the parking plan.

The nearly 6-acre parking area would be built near the airport’s existing garage and would include about 3 acres of wooded wetlands that currently shield part of the Stroudwater neighborhood from noise, light and air pollution generated by the jetport.

Airport officials say they need additional onsite parking because demand for 2,325 long-term spaces has increased, forcing travelers to use a 400-space offsite lot on city property that is served by a shuttle. Onsite parking has the smallest carbon footprint, they say, and it will provide a foundation for parking garage expansion that’s at least 10 years away.

But opponents say destroying trees and wetlands to create more surface parking is a short-sighted, environmentally harmful solution with far-reaching consequences. They say the jetport should expand shuttle service to existing underused parking available nearby, such as the Maine Mall – a strategy used by other airports.

“The proposal to clear cut trees is ill-conceived and nothing that Portland Protectors would support,” said Avery Yale Kamila, a leader of the grassroots environmental group.


“This is going against the City Council’s own initiative to increase Portland’s tree canopy,” she continued. “The city is updating its zoning regulations to address climate change. The city is rolling back parking requirements, but the jetport wants more. It makes no sense.”

Kamila and others say offsite shuttle parking adds an element of mass transit to jetport parking that reduces its carbon footprint. They also say the jetport should charge more for long-term parking to encourage travelers to find alternatives, at least until a parking garage can be built. The current per-day parking cost is $14 at the jetport and $9 offsite.

But airport officials say expanding offsite parking is an unsustainable option in the face of increasing passenger numbers.

“Remote shuttle lots are not sustainable,” said Paul Bradbury, the airport’s director. “You really need to get your parking within walking distance of the terminal to make it sustainable and have the smallest carbon footprint.”

Bradbury said it makes sense for the city to limit parking in downtown and densely populated neighborhoods as a way to encourage people to use mass transit, but not at the jetport.

“When your market is the entire state of Maine, there isn’t mass transit available to most people,” he said.


Airport officials will present and discuss a preliminary design for the surface parking project at 6 p.m. Tuesday in conference room A at the jetport. Project applications will be submitted to city planners and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection soon after.


The project actually would add only 380 spaces because it’s reconfiguring and improving existing parking areas, Bradbury said. The jetport also would continue to use the 400 spaces in the shuttle-served Pink Lot, located at 150 District Road, off outer Congress Street near Portland’s public works garages.

A map in the city’s 689-page Sustainable Airport Master Plan, issued in 2018, shows wetlands covering a significant portion of the area to be developed into surface parking. However, Bradbury said, the wetlands have to be reassessed because some were filled with gravel by a previous parking operator.

Airport officials attribute increased parking demand to a post-pandemic shift in work and travel habits, including extended business-related trips that have increased long-term parking times by 9% overall. Passenger numbers have also bounced back, with monthly totals since June surpassing pre-pandemic records set in 2019.

The surface parking project would maintain a 220-foot-deep strip of trees between the jetport and a section of the Stroudwater neighborhood at the end of Cobb Avenue, Bradbury said.


“There’s going to be a tiny strip of green, and the rest is going to be pavement,” said Carter Waldren, a trustee of the Stroudwater Neighborhood Association.

Waldren also noted that the jetport’s Sustainable Airport Master Plan has little to do with environmental sustainability.

“It’s about ensuring the economic viability of the jetport,” he said. “This parking plan is just keeping people in their cars.”

At the same time, the City Council has allocated $435,000 in federal funding to plant more trees, and the parks department is developing an urban forestry master plan to better manage them as a valuable resource.


Dion alluded to the forestry plan in his inaugural address last week, when he said Portland’s future requires “tangible efforts” to respond to climate change. Trees help purify air and combat climate change by producing oxygen and absorbing heat, floodwater, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other pollutants.


“We must respond to the threat of rising sea levels in the Gulf of Maine and the impact that condition will have on the commercial and residential interests in our waterfront corridor,” Dion said. “We also need to develop the master urban forestry plan to enhance the viability of our green canopy as a strategy to add resilience to the ecosystems of our neighborhoods.”

The airport covers 726 acres in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook. Its runways stretch along the Fore River, which flows into Portland Harbor, Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine beyond.

Opponents of the surface parking plan see it as a test case for Sustainable Portland recommendations that the council adopted in 2007, and for the One Climate Future plan that it passed in partnership with South Portland in 2020.

“This would be a good opportunity for Mayor Dion to demonstrate that he is a proponent for trees,” said Bill Weber, a member of the Portland Climate Action Team sponsored by the Sierra Club.

Weber wants the city to do a cost-benefit analysis of the parking plan to determine the best course of action. He believes expanding the parking garage would have a smaller physical and carbon footprint than additional surface parking.

“Maybe, for the time being, shuttle people from remote parking areas,” Weber said. “Because once you have paved surface parking, it’s never going back to being trees.”


Dion and District 3 Councilor Regina Phillips recently met with Stroudwater residents to hear their concerns about the surface parking plan.

Dion didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

Phillips, who chairs the council’s sustainability and transportation committee, said she was aware of residents’ concerns and planned to attend Tuesday’s meeting, but it was too early in the process for her to offer any insight.


One of the sustainability committee’s goals, listed on the city’s website, is to expand Portland’s heritage tree ordinance “to protect and enhance the urban tree canopy in order to reduce urban heat island impacts and better manage storm water.”

One Climate Future calls for reducing carbon emissions at the jetport and reducing or eliminating parking requirements from residential and commercial projects as a way to increase development density while reducing demand for individual car ownership.


City department heads who oversee sustainability initiatives and tree management issued a joint statement in response to interview requests.

“In general, we support keeping as many trees in Portland as possible, and we are actively working to increase our tree canopy,” they said.

However, “there is always a balancing of priorities when considering removing trees,” they said. “Sometimes we choose to remove trees for other city priorities such as housing, accessibility, transportation – even airport parking lots.”

The need to remove trees will be reviewed during the planning process, which includes the city arborist, they said.

“We are always considering the value of trees and how to reduce the impacts to them,” they said. “We can work to expand the tree canopy and still remove certain trees to achieve other goals.”

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