BRUNSWICK

Proponents of both Bath Iron Works and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority will be watching this year’s defense spending bill carefully as it navigates through Congress.

The bill contains funding for destroyers that could benefit BIW, as well as an alteration to the HUBZone program that could provide a boost to the authority redeveloping the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, announced in May that the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision he authored to improve the eligibility criteria of HUBZones located at former U.S. military installations closed through the Base Closure and Realignment process.

MRRA has considered HUBZone legislation important to its future.

“It’s another tool” for the redevelopment authority, said MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque, in building the future of the former base.

Current law assists communities affected by military installation closures by giving businesses that are established on the closed bases preferential access to federal procurement opportunities via the Small Business Administration’s HUBZone program.

To qualify for these preferences, at least 35 percent of the business’s employees must reside on the closed base or in other economically challenged areas. Businesses that locate on former bases are only granted this special status for five years after the base closes.

Few live on former bases, making it difficult for businesses locating to former bases like Brunswick Landing to get the workers they need under current HUBZone requirements.

Such restrictions represent “an oversight in the law,” said King in an interview Wednesday.

The provision in the bill allows businesses that locate on a closed base to draw employees from the local community to meet the 35 percent requirement. The amendment would also extend the period of time for which a closed base is eligible for HUBZone status from five years after closure to eight years.

King said HUBZone status for Brunswick would give a “significant boost” to a community that lost the base at the worst economic time.

The House version of the defense bill does not yet have a provision in it. Such differences would need to be worked out in the House-Senate conference committee before being signed by the president.

King and Sen. Susan Collins co-sponsored similar legislation last year. That bill “didn’t make it,” said King, who appeared cautiously optimistic that his HUBZone provision would stay in this year’s defense bill.

“We’re not home yet, but we’ve taken a big step,” said King.

Both the House and Senate versions of the defense bill authorize funding for the construction of Zumwaltclass destroyers — the first of which was built at Bath Iron Works; funds for Arleigh Burke-class destoryers, one of which will but built in Bath as a part of the five-ship multiyear procurement announced last year; and additional funds for Arleigh Burke advanced procurement.

It may be months before the defense bill is signed, and while prospects for the defense bill’s final passage look good, King noted that nothing is certain in Washington.

“This act has passed every year for the past 40, 45 years,” King said, “but the gridlock we’re experiencing is also unprecedented.”

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