All four bond packages appeared headed for passage late Tuesday with 71 percent of the votes counted, according to The Associated Press.

• The Question 2 energy package passed by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.

• The Question 3 transportation bond was approved 58 percent to 42 percent.

• The Question 4 economic development bond was holding on to a slim lead, 51 percent to 49 percent.

• The Question 5 drinking water bond was approved 56 percent to 44 percent.

Overshadowed somewhat by the race for governor and a tax overhaul challenge, four bond questions worth $108 million had been vying for voter attention, including funds to build a deep-water pier for cruise ships in Portland, support offshore wind energy research at the University of Maine and buy a financially troubled railroad in Aroostook County.

These and other spending proposals had broad support from many business and political leaders. But fiscal conservatives, led by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said the state had assumed enough debt and should refrain from borrowing at this time. By 11 p.m., the group conceded that the bond questions seemed sure to pass but pressed its message of fiscal restraint.

“With the passage of these four borrowing proposals, Maine’s public debt is now approaching $12 billion,” said Chris Cinquemani, a center spokesman. “Although Maine voters decided these were worthwhile investments, this should not be an excuse for the next governor and Legislature to avoid making the tough decisions to reduce Maine’s public debt nightmare. Only then can we get Maine back on track to economic recovery and long-term financial security.”

The largest share of the spending proposal was connected with Question 3, a $47.8 million transportation bond to pave and rebuild highways, purchase and improve rail lines and make harbor improvements. Supporters estimate these projects would create and support 750 jobs.

Portland will receive $6.5 million to build the new “mega-berth” to handle large cruise ships at the Ocean Gateway project.

“We’re pleased to see the voters have approved the transportation bond. The funding for the pier allows the city to fully realize the potential of Ocean Gateway,” said Nicole Clegg, a spokesperson for the city.

“The project will put nearly 100 people to work now and support hundreds of jobs in the future.”

Also part of the package was $16 million for railroads, $7 million of which would be used to buy a freight system that’s set to be abandoned in Aroostook County.

A solid majority of voters endorsed Question 2, a $26 million bond issue to upgrade campus energy efficiency at the University of Maine campuses, community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy, as well as invest in Maine’s goal of becoming a center of offshore wind power development.

The university will receive $11 million for deep-water wind energy research at a new turbine blade testing and manufacturing lab being built in Orono.

“Our research faculty is pleased to be working with the University of Maine to develop Maine’s offshore wind potential,” said William Brennan, president of Maine Maritime Academy. “Our students will be involved in the design and operation of the deep-water turbines and the vessels that will be needed to service them in the future.”

“We are very pleased and grateful so far that the vast majority of Maine is  supporting energy independence and green jobs creation that deepwater offshore wind will bring to our state,” said Habib Dagher, a University of Maine professor leading the school’s effort.

“Maine appears to be sending a clear and loud message: We want to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and we are willing to invest our scarce resources to do this.” 

Also apparently winning support was Question 4, a $23 million mixed bag of community and economic development projects. The proposal would set aside $1.25 million in a revolving fund to invest in historic properties. The largest share, $8 million, was earmarked to aid in the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station, with half of it going to a new campus of Southern Maine Community College.

Voters also approved Question 5, which dedicates $10 million for safe drinking water and other sewer project spending. It also will leverage $33.25 million in federal and private funds.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: [email protected]