2018-08-16 / Front Page

Team takes tour of Saco River

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer


Former mayor Mark Johnston shared anecdotes and pointed out local landmarks along the banks of the Saco River on a cruise chartered by developer Bernie Saulnier. The Island Prince, a Captain John’s charter boat, carried friends, supporters and local officials from Camp Ellis to the east side of Saco Island so all could see the future home of The Waters. (Abigail Worthing photo) Former mayor Mark Johnston shared anecdotes and pointed out local landmarks along the banks of the Saco River on a cruise chartered by developer Bernie Saulnier. The Island Prince, a Captain John’s charter boat, carried friends, supporters and local officials from Camp Ellis to the east side of Saco Island so all could see the future home of The Waters. (Abigail Worthing photo) SACO – “Let’s get out there and have a good time,” said Bernie Saulnier, addressing the 20 people on the Island Prince, the boat that would take them up the Saco River from Camp Ellis to the east side of Saco Island, the future home of his $40 million development, The Waters. The project team invited friends, partners and area officials on a boat tour up the river to celebrate the partnerships that will bring the project to fruition.

Those partners include Jim Brady, developer of the Press Hotel, who will build the 50-room boutique hotel, and Nonesuch River Brewing, which will build its second location at The Waters. According to Saulnier, these are the “last two pieces” he needed, each bringing something fresh to the project.

While contracts were signed between Saulnier and Brady last month, the whirlwind negotiations between initial contact and signing on Aug. 9 took only a couple weeks with Nonesuch River Brewing.

“The team at NRB was adamant that they were the right choice, and I agree,” Saulnier said.

Of those in attendance were Saco’s director of planning and development Denise Clavette, Ward 7 City Councilor Nathan Johnston, former councilor Kevin Roche, project attorney Tom Federle, and the three partners of Nonesuch River Brewing, brewer/owner Mike Schuler, builder/owner Tim Boardman, and chef/ owner Jeff Gambardella with their families.

Former Mayor Mark Johnston, who supports the project, pointed out landmarks and told anecdotes as the boat made its way upriver.

“This was my playground,” said Johnston, father of the city’s Ward 7 councilor. “So much is still the same from here.”

Among tour goers were the Nonesuch River Brewing team and their significant others. Saulnier alerted them to points of interest along the way. Kristen Schuler, Mike Schuler’s wife, and Lindsey Ladd, Tim Boardman’s fiancee, sat at the front of the boat and noted how beautiful the view would be when the restaurant was finished.

“I was a little hesitant at first, but then they took me on a walk of the site and I was sold,” Kristin Schuler said.

“We’re all excited,” Ladd said.

As the boat approached the Saco Island mills, it circled multiple times to give those on board the opportunity to view the property. While the boat circled, the three partners of Nonesuch River Brewing excitedly pointed out where the front of the restaurant would go and speculated about the future of the property.

“It’s going to be a great location,” Gambardella said.

Of those on the cruise were Thornton Academy Career Development Coordinator Linda Verville, who has followed The Waters project closely as an opportunity for students at Thornton Academy. Verville said she sees the development as a way for students to gain job site experience and mentorship, as well as serve as an employment opportunity after high school.

“This would be an opportunity for students to learn about a variety of different fields, from culinary arts to business relations. There could be an opportunity for job site visits and tours or being able to sit in on meetings,” Verville said. “We need more opportunities locally for our students, and I think this will provide that.”


Project spokesman Mark Robinson (pictured in the white hat) thanks the group that participated in the Saco River tour of the East Saco Island property as the charted boat returned to the dock at Camp Ellis. (Abigail Worthing photo) Project spokesman Mark Robinson (pictured in the white hat) thanks the group that participated in the Saco River tour of the East Saco Island property as the charted boat returned to the dock at Camp Ellis. (Abigail Worthing photo) “This is what we wanted from the dredge,” said Bonita Pothier, the York County representative from Sen. Angus King’s office, gesturing to the shoreline. “There is so much untapped potential here.”

Potheir attended the cruise to get a clearer view of the project as well as put a finger on the pulse of the federal struggles that projects may face so King, an Independent, can be informed back in Washington, D.C. This fall, the Army Corps of Engineers will dredge the Eastern portion of the Saco River, having dredged the Western portion in fall 2017. Material from this dredge will be placed in Camp Ellis to fortify its beaches from further erosion. In petitioning for a dredge with the Army Corps of Engineers, the cities of Saco and Biddeford compiled current and potential revenue from businesses and recreation, and came up with a cumulative estimate of between $53 to $54 million in economic impact. The figure was reached by taking into consideration the potential for projects such as The Waters and others that follow, which will benefit from the added river mobility the dredge will provide.

“I came here hoping to get insight from local developers, and wouldn’t you know, I got an earful about how the new tariffs on steel are making it hard on the project,” Pothier said. “That’s the kind of thing that Angus needs to know about so he can work to help.”

The tour featured food and beer from Nonesuch River Brewing, a taste of what is to come with the new location, with a selection of miniature sandwiches featured at the Scarborough brewery, such as their version of a lobster roll and a Maine crab sandwich. Attendees were encouraged to mingle throughout the cruise, enjoying the scenery along the banks of the Saco River.

As the cruise returned to the Camp Ellis pier, project spokesman Mark Robinson took a moment to thank those who attended and then asked former mayor Johnston to say a few words.

“In 1603, an explorer sailed up the Saco River and reported that there was nothing of value anywhere in the area. Three years later, Champlain went up the river and saw potential in everything that could be used up here. Which one had the vision?” Johnston asked. “And that’s what we’re talking about today. Thank you for coming here to Saco, Bernie.”

The planning board will hold a site walk for The Waters Tuesday, Aug. 21 and the team will meet with the Saco River Corridor Commission for the third time on Wednesday, Aug. 22. Should the project receive necessary approvals it plans to break ground in the fall.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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