Coastal groups back job-building legislation

Posted Feb. 15, 2009, at 9:08 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Maine Island Coalition, the Island Institute and several other coastal organizations have announced the launch of an “Affordable Coast Campaign.”

The groups are advocating for three pieces of state legislation totaling nearly $36 million that would create and save jobs in Maine’s island and coastal communities, they said in a press release.

Island residents and sponsoring legislators called on the Legislature and the governor to invest in coastal and island work force housing, working-waterfront preservation and transportation during an event in the state capitol’s Hall of Flags in Augusta hosted by Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree last week,

The housing bill, “An Act to Transform Maine’s Housing Stock,” would provide $30 million in this biennium to put contractors and tradespeople back to work building and renovating coastal and island-based housing — work force housing for fishermen, teachers, medical professionals, caretakers and others who make up the core of Maine’s island and coastal communities.

“What we need is money available so that we can have nimble, flexible, fast-moving community-supported housing groups and, when opportunities come up, we can move on them,” said Ellen Mahoney of Peaks Island in making the long-term case for funding. “We’re seeking a multigenerational solution to the housing issue to address sustainability in our year-round community.”

Also requested is $5 million in bond funds in the governor’s bond package as part of the Land For Maine’s Future Bond to continue funding the Working Waterfront Access Pilot.

There also is a request for $250,000 in the next transportation bond package in support of the Maine Aviation Systems Plan developed by the Maine Department of Transportation. That funding request is for the Knox County Island Airport Consortium. Flying out of the Owls Head airport, Penobscot Island Air provided 147 medical evacuations during 2008, and provides transportation for law enforcement, fire department personnel, mail and freight.

“Islanders are facing an incredibly tough winter and challenging economic times, highlighted by the challenges in the fishing industry, but reflective of everything going on in Maine and the national economy,” said Pingree, who is a sponsor of all three pieces of legislation. “It is so important to move some initiatives that help protect island communities — because of the economic times, they are more fragile than ever.”

Rob Snyder, vice president of programs for the Island Institute, pointed to data in the newly released Island Indicators report, available at islandinstitute.org, that island communities are particularly vulnerable to economic downturns.

“These issues, while perhaps more acute on islands, are factors in the sustainability of all of Maine’s coastal communities,” Snyder said. “In fact, they raise important questions about the affordability of Maine as a whole. Working together we can make strategic investments that will put people to work while ensuring the future affordability of our coast.”

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