Politics

October 26, 2013

Maine voters to consider $14M bond for National Guard projects

The proposal includes $3M for a yet-to-be-identified 6,000-acre training site.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Question 1 includes $3 million for purchase of a yet-to-be-identified 6,000-acre training site.

Question 1: Bond issue

THE QUESTION READS, “Do you favor a $14,000,000 bond issue to provide funds for the state’s share of maintenance, repair, capital improvement, modernization and energy efficiency projects for Maine Army National Guard readiness centers and support facilities and the purchase of land for training and to draw down federal matching funds?”

THE 10-YEAR BOND includes $11 million to upgrade National Guard armories and $3 million to buy 6,000 acres for a training facility, the operations of which will be funded by the federal government. According to the Office of the Treasurer, the bond assumes a 4 percent interest rate, meaning interest will cost more than $3 million over the life of the bond.

Voters will decide Nov. 5 whether the state should borrow $14 million to upgrade Maine Army National Guard facilities, including the purchase of a 6,000-acre training site.

The location of the site has yet to be identified, according to Peter Rogers, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, but it will be nearly double the size of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. Rogers said there was no immediate timetable for the land purchase, but the state hoped to move quickly if voters approve Question 1 at the ballot box.

The measure is one of five bond proposals that voters will consider on Election Day. Together, the proposals would result in $149.5 million in borrowing, the bulk of which is a $100 million transportation bond. The Legislature voted to send the bonds to voters during a special session in late August.

The bulk of Question 1 – $11 million – would be used for facility and maintenance repairs at 24 armories, or readiness centers, around the state. An official from the National Guard Association of Maine told lawmakers earlier this year that the bond would bridge a funding gap within the department’s Military Bureau that led to outdated facilities. In the past, the bureau had sold obsolete armories to fund such projects, but officials told lawmakers that there were few left to sell.

The state has sold 11 armories since the late 1980s. Others could be decommissioned in the future as the National Guard awaits construction of a $23 million readiness center at the former Brunswick naval base now known as Brunswick Landing.

The armory spending includes capital repairs and maintenance projects, as well as energy-efficiency upgrades to buildings. If approved, the maintenance portion of the bond would trigger up to $14 million in federal matching dollars.

The mystery in the bond proposal is the future location of the 6,000-acre training site for the Army National Guard. Rogers said the plan was to purchase a contiguous swath of property that will be used for large-scale training operations.

However, it’s unclear if the state has identified a nearly 10-square-mile parcel or parcels that would fit that use.

In June, during a public hearing on the bond proposal, Brenda Jordan, testifying on behalf of the National Guard Association of Maine, told lawmakers that the Military Bureau “has identified potential landowners” with property that met Department of Defense standards for maneuver and training facilities.

Jordan did not respond to a call seeking comment Friday.

Rogers said Friday that the testimony referenced the state’s previous attempts to attain land without bonding.

He said the Military Bureau had approached the departments of Conservation and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to see if either agency had land available, but neither did.

The Maine Army National Guard has expressed the need for the training parcel several times before.

Currently, the guard conducts exercises on a series of small parcels that are suitable for individuals or small crews, not large-scale training operations.

With no large-scale training site in Maine, the guard has traveled out of state, including Jericho, Vt., Camp Devens, Mass., and Gagetown, New Brunswick.

Rogers said traveling is costly and time-consuming, reducing training time and extending the time that guardsmen are absent from work.

Rogers said the Gagetown facility is still a viable option, and the guard has conducted exercises there since 1971.

However, in 2006, the Canadian facility was the subject of scrutiny after claims by about 45 guardsmen and their families that veterans had developed illnesses related to the previous use of herbicides, including Agent Orange.

Exposure to that chemical during the Vietnam War led to horrific birth defects among Vietnamese people. U.S. military veterans also experienced increased rates of cancer and serious health disorders.

An independent study concluded that the Gagetown facility was safe to use. However, guardsmen who served there have been pressing disability claims. The use of Agent Orange at Gagetown was referenced by state lawmakers who supported the bond, which has yet to attract any organized support or opposition.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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