Guy Baker stands among debris on the beach at his family鈥檚 property on Bailey Island, where the fish house and wharf, built by his great-grandfather in August 1943, was washed away in a storm on Jan. 13. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Chris Hole watched in horror last month as the storm pummeled his family鈥檚 fishing business at Lookout Point in Harpswell.

It was Jan. 13, and the second of two powerful storms in less than a week leveled Henry Allen鈥檚 Seafood, a lobster wharf, wholesaler and retailer. Strong winds and high tides wiped out the dock鈥檚 seawall, drowned new refrigeration units and flooded buildings with waist-high water.

Guy Baker left his fish house on Bailey Island that day so he wouldn鈥檛 have to bear witness. When he returned, the building that had stood on the edge of Baker鈥檚 family property for more than 80 years had been reduced to a pile of rubble on the shore.

The SarBea at Water Cove on Bailey Island owned by lobsterman Stanley Baker. The fish house that Baker built with his sons in August 1943 was washed away in a storm on Jan. 13. Photo courtesy of the Baker family

Farther up the coast in the Washington County town of Milbridge, all but the supporting structure of Chipman鈥檚 Wharf floated away at high tide during the Jan. 10 storm. Waves swept away thousands of dollars鈥 worth of fishing gear, equipment and bait that Chipman鈥檚 Wharf uses to run its commercial fishing dock, wholesale operation and seafood market.

Some members of Maine鈥檚 working waterfront are simultaneously working to rebuild in time for prime聽lobstering season to begin in late May and pondering how to protect聽their family businesses.

鈥淲e鈥檙e going through stages of grief. There were a lot of tears,鈥 said Amity Chipman, co-owner of the Milbridge wharf. 鈥淚t was almost like losing a family member. It鈥檚 always been a part of our life, for so long.鈥


The Jan. 10 and Jan. 13 storms battered Maine鈥檚 coastline with heavy rain, flooding, ocean swells, high tides and wind gusts of up to 60 mph. State and federal officials have been trying to get a better grasp of damage up and down the coast. The Maine Emergency Management Agency spent two weeks collecting details of the damage, and the state is now reviewing to understand the full scope. Nearly 1,200 businesses submitted damage reports from both January storms to MEMA that could help the state qualify for federal disaster relief.

The Maine Coast Fishermen鈥檚 Association said its preliminary reporting suggests 60% of Maine鈥檚 working waterfront was either severely damaged or destroyed.聽Harpswell, New Harbor, Gouldsboro and Stonington were especially hard hit. High tides ripped away entire wharfs and fish houses. Structural beams, fishing equipment and gear floated in harbor waters. Some buildings have been condemned.

The Baker family fish house and wharf in Harpswell, built in 1943, was lost in the January storm surges.聽Courtesy of the Baker family

Town officials estimate $10 million to $15 million in damage in Stonington, mostly to its private infrastructure, according to Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. In Corea Harbor in Hancock County, Keliher said, all of the waterfront鈥檚 24 wharfs had been harmed in some way.

鈥淭he extent of damage is just staggering. It literally looked like a bomb had gone off,鈥 he said. 鈥淓verything that you could picture being on a dock or associated with a working waterfront 鈥 all of that was in the water.鈥


The last month has been a sobering time for Maine鈥檚 working waterfront.


鈥淲hat really struck me was the look of shock or disbelief on the faces of the fishermen and the business owners,鈥 Keliher said.

Hole took over Henry Allen鈥檚 Seafood, his family鈥檚 business, two years ago. The wharf at Henry Allen鈥檚聽was built in 1960 by a relative. When a younger relative was preparing to sell the property, Hole stepped up to buy the business to try to preserve the working waterfront and save the wharf from being converted into聽residential real estate.

Cody Gillis, a lobsterman who lobsters off the wharf at Henry Allen鈥檚 Seafood, manages some of the damage to the Henry Allen鈥檚 Seafood fishing buildings in Harpswell, at high-tide during the Jan. 13 storm.聽Courtesy of Chris Hole

What he didn鈥檛 fully grasp was how much running the business would be about managing catastrophes.

Chipman鈥檚 Wharf was built in 2002 and doesn鈥檛 have as much history, but to the Chipmans, it鈥檚 no less meaningful. Jason Chipman proposed to Amity Chipman at the edge of the wharf. The fishermen who work there are like extended family.

Amity Chipman鈥檚 husband and children, in-laws, nieces and nephews were all devastated by the recent damage 鈥 but also quick to help. As the storm cleared, family, fishermen who lease dock space and community members worked together to salvage what they could, recovering 900 traps that were swept off the wharf and floating in the harbor.

Hole waded through waist-high water at high tide in the worst of the Jan. 13 storm, trying to protect whatever was still vulnerable.


For Baker, on Bailey Island, there was little to be done. He knew the storm would be a death sentence for his family鈥檚 historic fish house, and he couldn鈥檛 bear to watch. He took his daughter out to get lunch and waited for the skies to clear. When he returned, all that was left was scraps.


Hole, Baker and the Chipmans 鈥 as well as many others up and down the coast 鈥 have been thinking about what it will take to revive their businesses.

But as climate change persists and sea levels continue to rise, the frequency and intensity of storms will only increase, according to the National Weather Service, the National Climate Assessment and the Maine Climate Council.

Chipman鈥檚 Wharf in Milbridge with crews working on the damaged section of the wharf, taken by aerial surveillance after the first storm. Jeff Nichols/Maine Department of Marine Resources

Hole, Baker and the Chipmans know whatever is built or rebuilt can鈥檛 be a carbon copy of what was previously there. These structures will need resiliency to withstand increasingly fierce storms. They all plan to raise their wharves higher 鈥 though not so high that they can鈥檛 get to their boats in the water. Hole wants to use concrete to weigh his dock down. Baker is considering hydraulics that could adjust his dock鈥檚 height 鈥 though that would be expensive.

The Chipman family estimates a fortified rebuild will cost at least $400,000 to $500,000. Hole can鈥檛 fathom how much a rebuild of Henry Allen鈥檚 would run. He suspects the wood alone will cost $150,000, but other materials would be needed, and then there are the labor costs.


Baker isn鈥檛 planning to rebuild his family鈥檚 fish house to replace the one built by his great-grandfather Stanley Baker. But he does need a wharf for lobstering, and he expects that will cost at least $100,000.

He isn鈥檛 so sure that it will be worth it.

鈥淣ext year, the same thing could happen,鈥 Baker said. 鈥淓ven if you do rebuild, it鈥檚 hard telling that there鈥檚 not going to be a bigger storm.鈥

Remains left at Water Cove, where the fish house and wharf, built by Guy Baker鈥檚 great-grandfather in August 1943, were washed away. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

And because Hole, the Chipmans and Barker don鈥檛 have flood insurance 鈥 a type of insurance that, for now, is exceedingly rare in Maine and often not practical 鈥 they are on their own to cover the costs.

Baker is hoping that support from the state and federal government will make the聽process of rebuilding聽easier.

If President Biden issues a federal disaster declaration, relief money could go only toward public infrastructure pummeled by the storm. But coastal businesses impacted by the storms could apply to the U.S. Small Business Administration for low- or no-interest loans.


Gov. Janet Mills also wants to invest $50 million into a state climate change adaptation fund, as she announced during her State of the State address. That, too, would be focused on public infrastructure, but the governor wants to expand grant eligibility to privately owned聽businesses on the working waterfront.

A proposed bill still awaiting action would put $50 million into the Small Business Weather Emergency Relief program.

Guy Baker at his family鈥檚 Harpswell property, where the fish house and wharf were washed away. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Because public funding likely is still months away, a group of fishing and working waterfront organizations have partnered to create the Working Waterfront Support Fund. The fund is a collaboration between The Maine Coast Fishermen鈥檚 Association, Maine Lobstermen鈥檚 Association, Maine Marine Trades Association, New England Fishermen鈥檚 Stewardship Association, Maine Lobstermen鈥檚 Community Alliance and Maine Lobstermen鈥檚 Union.

The seven organizations conducted their own surveys to estimate damage and see where help is most needed. Over 100 people have so far submitted damage reports to the Maine Coast Fishermen鈥檚 Association.

Monique Coombs with the Maine Coast Fishermen鈥檚 Association would not disclose how much money has been donated to the fund but said the organizations are trying to determine how to get help to where it鈥檚 most needed.

鈥淲e鈥檙e not 100% sure yet, but all of the money that鈥檚 in that fund will be going back into the communities to help them clean up and build back in a way that鈥檚 resilient,鈥 she said.



For now, Hole is working to make sure Henry Allen鈥檚 wharf will be ready in late spring, when many lobstermen will start setting their traps.

Fifteen lobstermen use his dock space and sell their catch back to Henry Allen鈥檚 Seafood, which supplies retailers, his own retail shop and food trucks. His wharf needs to be ready聽to carry the load of trucks hauling bait, traps and catch.

The understructure and supporting beams are left after the majority of Chris Hole鈥檚 wharf in Harpswell was swept away during the Jan. 13 storm.聽Courtesy of Chris Hole

鈥淚t鈥檚 like time is the enemy,鈥 Hole said. 鈥淭he pressure is there. Those families are counting on me to get it done.鈥

Shortages of materials and specialized labor will make the rebuilding harder.

Business owners have to make a lot of calculations. Will they be able to get the help and materials they need in time? Is the cost to rebuild worth it? And what do they do if they aren鈥檛 ready when peak lobstering season begins?


Maine鈥檚 working waterfront dates back centuries. The state鈥檚 lobster fishery is one of the oldest ongoing industries in North America, according to the Department of Marine Resources. And it鈥檚 one of the best-known things about Maine, representing its culture and values.

鈥淭he working waterfront is not just a space for business 鈥 It provides a sense of place for a lot of fishermen and fishing families within a community,鈥 said Coombs, with the Maine Coast Fishermen鈥檚 Association. 鈥淎nd everybody knows Maine for its lobster, for the colorful buoys on the coast and the lobster boats in the coves. When鈥檚 the last time you saw a commercial about Maine, a political ad or a bank ad that didn鈥檛 have a lobster boat or some image of the ocean that was sort of lobster-focused? It鈥檚 just so iconic.鈥

All that history adds a great weight to the damage.

鈥淏ut fishermen are incredibly resilient,鈥 Coombs said. 鈥淭hey鈥檙e amazing problem solvers and they will continue to rise up to the challenge.鈥

When Hole took over the family business, he imagined that when he retired, the commercial fishing dock would still be operating. And he鈥檚 not ready to let go of that plan.

Chris Hole wades through waist-high water at his business, Henry Allen鈥檚 Seafood, during the Jan. 13 storm that flooded his fishing buildings and swept away his wharf. Ordinarily, the water level sits at least 3 feet below the deck at the Henry Allen鈥檚 Seafood retail shop. Courtesy of Chris Hole

鈥淚 can鈥檛 see myself walking away. I have too much in this. I鈥檝e been there my whole life,鈥 he said. 鈥淪o one way or another, we鈥檒l get through it. We鈥檒l build it bigger and stronger.鈥

Hole doesn鈥檛 see his prospects as sunny 鈥 but he鈥檚 set on rebuilding, no matter the challenges.

鈥淭here are not that many of these places left on the working waterfront 鈥 and that was before the storm,鈥 he said. 鈥淭o lose any more is a cultural hit.鈥

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