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September 14, 2023

As Hurricane Lee churns toward New England, Maine businesses batten down the hatches

Power worker Courtesy / Central Maine Power Central Maine Power said that "tree health remains a concern" as the utility calls in extra crews ahead of Hurricane Lee.

Hurricane Lee, a powerful Atlantic storm, is heading up the East Coast — and, on the Maine coast this week, a wave of businesses are battening down the hatches.

Around the state, boatyards were already hauling boats, cruise ships were altering schedules, schooner fleets were looking for safe harbor and tour operators were making alternative arrangements.

The state's two primary electric utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant, issued warnings about the potential for heavy rain and wind gusts up to 65 mph uprooting trees and knocking down power lines. The storm is expected to hit Friday night, with the brunt of it on Saturday. 

“We are actively planning for additional crews, including support crews from Avangrid sister companies located in New York and Connecticut,” CMP spokesman Jon Breed told Mainebiz.

Peter Van Allen
Custom House Wharf in Portland was partly submerged during the winter storm of Dec. 23, 2022.

CMP issued a statement Thursday saying it is working closely with meteorological teams, state officials and local municipalities to ensure our customers have the best information available regarding the storm’s track and impact so they can plan ahead. In addition to anticipated power outages, CMP said it is preparing to coordinate with state officials should significant road closures or coastal flooding occur.

The storm comes amid ongoing concern over tree health in the wake of an unusually wet summer.

Versant Power said it is preparing for the impact of high winds and heavy rains, with gusts up to 65 mph projected throughout its service territory, particularly in the Bangor region and along the coast.

“The storm path is still uncertain, but we’re preparing for outages throughout our service territory and have secured contract crews to support our internal crews over the weekend into the beginning of next week as necessary,” said Kevin Black, storm manager for Versant Power. “With already saturated ground and leaves on the trees, we’re anticipating downed trees and branches to bring down lines.”

A Versant spokeswoman told Mainebiz that “extra contract crews are secured if needed.”

In Portland, the Sea Dogs Double-A affiliate said they still plan to have their game Saturday at Hadlock Field, weather permitting. It has moved its annual "Field of Dreams" promotion to Friday, Sept. 15, citing the weather. 

Cruise ship impact

Royal Caribbean, whose Vision of the Seas was due to set sail on a nine-day Canada and New England cruise, including a day in Portland, let guests know it will spend an extra day in Baltimore, leaving Friday instead of Thursday, Cruise Hive reported.

American Cruise Lines, which routinely has cruise vessels in the Portland this time of year, has a plan to keep ships in port as long as needed.

"American Cruise Lines will have all our small ships in the region docked Thursday evening and Friday morning ahead of the storm. They will remain at dock as necessary depending on the weather, and any other changes will be made accordingly," Alexa Paolella, public relations manager, said in an email to Mainebiz. "We have a few of our small ships docked in Portland, one in Bangor and another in New Bedford, Mass." 

Busy boatyards

This week, boatyards have been scurrying to get boats onto land or at a secure mooring in a protected cove or harbor. 

Early Wednesday morning on the Royal River in Yarmouth, fleets of boats from the Freedom Boat Club site in Portland were being relocated to the marina at Yarmouth Boat Yard in Yarmouth. 

Steve Arnold, owner of Yarmouth Boat Yard and Freedom Boat Club of Maine, among other holdings, said most of the Freedom Boat Club boats had been pulled from the water including about two-thirds of the club’s boats at Yarmouth. 

“We are not nervous but my guys are working hard,” Arnold told Mainebiz. “Hopefully, we get less of what they are predicting but either way we will be ready. We created a storm committee early this year and did a lot of prep.”

In Harpswell, the harbormaster urged recreational boat owners to take their boats out of the water before Friday morning, saying the peninsula expects high winds and damaging waves. 

At Fore Points Marina in Portland, Vanessa Donnelly, the general manager, said the marina is as protected a spot as you can find on Casco Bay. Consequently, "a lot of boaters are coming in" seeking slips.

"We're offering boaters a checklist" of items to take care of, including adding extra lines to the float, or dock, putting on extra fenders to protect the boat from banging against the dock and taking down Bimini (canvas) covers. The marina itself is taking in lawn furniture and grills — anything that could fly away in a gust. 

"We'll monitor conditions Friday night," Donnelly added, saying that the marina also has the option of shutting down power and fuel lines if the weather takes a dramatic turn for the worse.  

Ocean Gateway
Peter Van Allen
At Portland's Ocean Gateway pier on Thursday, the windjammer Timberwind (foreground) and American Cruise Line's Pearl Mist remain tied up.

Windjammer fleet

Maine's tall ships, or windjammers, are expected to be safely in their berths during the storm, a spokeswoman said. 

"Most cruises luckily will not be interrupted, as they are either scheduled to begin or end just before or after the impacts of Hurricane Lee will be felt along the Maine coast. Some trips, however, will be cut short by a day or will start late by a day in order to keep the guests and crew safe. The Windjammers will be in their respective berths during the storm, safely secured by the crews and monitored by the owners and captains," Nicole Jacques, spokeswoman for the Maine Windjammer Association, said in an email to Mainebiz. 

"The safety of our guests and crews is the top priority for the Maine Windjammer Association. The Windjammers have easily weathered many storms over the decades or centuries since they’ve been working or cruising our coast, and these vessels are certainly built with strength and endurance amid storms in mind. Each of the vessels is independently owned and operated, so each owner and/or captain makes individual decisions about hurricane preparations for his or her vessel."

Camp Ellis prepares for the worst

Many Camp Ellis residents are gearing up for the storm, putting out sandbags, putting up hurricane shutters and even leaving their homes to prepare for Hurricane Lee. 

The Saco Shoreline Commissioner Chair Richard Milliard and Camp Ellis resident told Mainebiz he will be hunkering down for the storm but like any nor’easter, Camp Ellis seems to get the brunt of the storm. In past years homes and roadways have been washed away.

“A storm like this is a threat to the area due to the erosion,” said Millard. Ferry Beach Park Association and the state park will see the highest erosion.”

"Any home that is on the water will be damaged by rocks or the surge. Right, now people are moving in furniture and a resident on the shoreline is putting up hurricane shutters to avoid damage from the rocks.”

Milliard said the harbormaster is clearing out boats to avoid damage and moving them upriver. Many boat owners have been down in the area taking their boats out of the water before the storm hits on Saturday. 

Emergency management

Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Emergency Management Agency are urging Maine people to be prepared in advance of Hurricane Lee potentially making landfall in Maine at the end of this week.

MEMA is closely monitoring the path of Hurricane Lee and is coordinating with state public safety and transportation officials, federal and local emergency management officials, and Maine’s utilities in advance of the storm. MEMA has placed the emergency operations center on enhanced monitoring status.

The National Weather Service offices in Caribou and Gray, in coordination with the National Hurricane Center, reported that Maine will experience impacts from Lee beginning Friday night into Saturday morning due to a westward shift in the storm track and widening storm radius.

The storm is predicted to slowly weaken to a Category 1 storm and eventually downgrade to a tropical storm as it makes landfall. Tropical storm force winds, coastal flooding and high surf, and riverine flooding are all possible impacts from the storm.

“The track of Lee is still unknown, but we want folks to pay attention to this storm through the weekend,” said Peter Rogers, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

“MEMA is working with state, federal, non-profit, and private sector partners to assess resources and ensure readiness in advance of the storm. We want everyone to stay safe and please check in on your neighbors.”

Acadia closures

To ensure the safety of park visitors, the National Park Service will close several areas of Acadia National Park on Friday, Sept. 15, in preparation for Hurricane Lee.

On Friday at 5 p.m., Ocean Drive and the one-way section of the Schoodic Loop Road starting at Frazer Point will be closed to motor vehicles until further notice.

All park campgrounds will close on Friday at 10 a.m. until further notice. As a result of the road closures, some of the Island Explorer bus system will be disrupted.

Visitors should stay back from the ocean’s edge to avoid rogue waves that can wash people out to sea even in the storm's aftermath. Visitors should also be aware of high winds that can cause trees and branches to fall. Visitors should exercise caution while visiting the park throughout the weekend.

Crashing waves

The National Park Service warned people to keep a safe distance from crashing waves.

“As thrilling and beautiful as heavy seas can be along the coasts of Acadia, please approach the experience with respect, and give it space,” the service said.

As recently as September 2022, a Massachusetts woman was swept off the rocks at Thunder Hole and was rescued. In April 2018, an Ellsworth man fell 40 feet from cliffs past Sand Beach and landed in the water, where he was brought to safety in stable condition by a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

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