AUGUSTA – Supporters of a railroad in northern Maine and a deep-water pier in southern Maine told lawmakers Monday that state money is needed to retain jobs and boost tourism.

Dozens of people packed the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee room to testify in support of two bond proposals: a $99 million package sponsored by Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, and a $79 million proposal from Gov. John Baldacci.

The packages include money for roads, railroads, ports, energy-efficiency projects, and water and waste-water improvements.

Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. advocated for $8 million in Baldacci’s proposal to allow for construction of the Ocean Gateway Deep Water Pier, to accommodate large cruise ships, tankers and freighters in Portland Harbor.

He said the number of large cruise ships calling on Portland has doubled in the last five years, and there’s room for growth.

“The only thing hindering further growth is inadequate deep-water berthing space,” he said.

Mavodones said the city estimates the $8 million would cover the entire cost of the project.

Vaughn Stinson, chief executive officer of the Maine Tourism Association, spoke on behalf of his group of restaurant owners and merchants, in favor of the deep-water pier.

He said surveys have shown that one-third of tourists who visit Maine on cruise ships come back on their own.

“If you make the investment, you will see that money returned over and over again,” he said.

Both bond proposals would set aside money to buy about 240 miles of rail line now owned by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. Supporters said the track, which is to be abandoned this summer, is used by 22 companies that rely on the line from Millinocket to Madawaska.

“It’s the moment of truth,” Transportation Commissioner David Cole said. “Odds of getting that back are remote” if the line is abandoned.

Lawmakers will soon begin negotiating on a bond package, which would need support from two-thirds of the Legislature and would go to voters for approval in June.

Republicans have said they are concerned about borrowing at a time when the economy continues to struggle.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said some Republicans aren’t interested in borrowing additional money and others are focused on specific projects. Either way, he said, both proposals are “way too big.”

“There’s widespread sentiment in the Republican caucus that the amount proposed is not realistic,” he said.

Last year, lawmakers agreed on a $150 million package to be sent to voters in three installments.

Democrats argue that low interest rates and contractors’ need for work make this a good time to invest in the infrastructure projects.

Mitchell, a Democratic candidate for governor, said her $99 million bond proposal would draw $76 million in federal money and retain or create more than 3,100 jobs. “If ever there was a time for a jobs bond, it is now,” she said.

Cole said most of Baldacci’s proposal — $62 million of the $79 million — is for highways, ports and railroads. Of the $62 million, half is for highway reconstruction or heavy paving.

Mitchell’s bill includes $47.5 million for highways and $20 million to pay for energy-efficiency improvements in schools and the University of Maine System.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]