A line of vehicles leaves Gate 1 of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery in this Portsmouth Herald file photo. Credit: Ioanna Raptis | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — A collaborative planning effort between the town of Kittery and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, made possible by a grant from the Department of Defense, will hold an open house next week to kick off public input.

Last year, the town, in partnership with the shipyard and Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, was awarded a grant for a Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) from the DoD’s Office of Economic Adjustment.

The project team has already begun its work, and ultimately, the process will lead to the production of a cooperative land use planning document addressing transportation and land use issues shared by the two entities, much of which is a result of the rising employment at the shipyard.

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The planning effort seeks to protect and preserve the military readiness of one of the country’s four public shipyards, while supporting continued community growth and economic development.

On Wednesday, June 5, from 4:30 to 7 p.m., the public is invited to join the JLUS project team for an open house at the Kittery Community Center. The JLUS will look at 24 potential compatibility factors including road capacity and congestion, air and water quality, resilience, marine environment, local housing availability, infrastructure capacity, land use, noise and vibration, and public and military safety.

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“I am particularly excited to get to the solutions development phase,” said Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral. “I know this will be an iterative process of developing ideas, understanding the opportunities, barriers and potential outcomes, revising and repeating until we come to a set of recommendations that are implementable and impactful.

“This will require a strong working relationship with our project partners, and a shared commitment to achieve outcomes that support the shipyard’s mission and the town and surrounding region’s needs,” she continued.

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The town of Kittery awarded Stantec Consulting Services the contract to complete the JLUS, and in January, the Stantec team was joined by a large group of regional planners, town leaders, and congressional staffers for a tour of the shipyard, beginning the process of collecting data, identifying issues impacting local communities, and ultimately recommending solutions.

The amount of the DoD grant is $247,605, and the town will match 10 percent, which will be done through in-house staff time.

Stantec Project Manager Jason Schrieber said the team has been collecting data and input from regional planners and stakeholders for six months.

“We are looking for further input from community members and shipyard workers as we refine our our conclusions and begin drafting recommendations,” he said.

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In 2018, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard sported an economic impact of more than $882 million, which has grown by 41.6 percent since 2013. The yard employs nearly 8,000 workers, which almost rivals Kittery’s residential population of 9,614.

During the summer months, Kittery’s roadways see wear and tear by not only the thousands of workers commuting to the shipyard, but also the motorists getting off Interstate 95 in an attempt to circumvent highway traffic.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has worked over the years to relieve the impacts of its commuters on its host community. Measures to improve traffic and safe transportation have been implemented, and the yard is consistently seeking innovative ways to get workers on and off the base more efficiently.

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In 2011, the shipyard commissioned a pedestrian and traffic study to address specific challenges with motor vehicle congestion on and off base. In 2017, the shipyard initiated a High-Occupancy Vehicle program designed to offer premium parking spots to employees carpooling with three or more personnel. Those who choose to utilize the program receive a parking pass to such premium parking spots.

Workers get reimbursed for a portion of the cost of the COAST bus service that travels to the shipyard every day, a service provided as part of a broader government program known as the Mass Transportation Benefit Program. The program, which covers Rideshare, VRide, COAST Bus and GoMaine, is currently utilized by more than 900 employees, though Morin noted this is not all encompassing of alternative commuters.

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In addition to next week’s open house, the public is invited to fill out a survey to help inform recommendations developed in the final JLUS report. The survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/RKCV97M.

“This is an important step in the Joint Land Use Study,” said Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission Executive Director Paul Schumacher. “Public engagement is critical as the group develops solutions that will impact the Seacoast region. We urge people to get involved.”