EASTPORT, Maine — The port at Eastport will receive $2 million in federal stimulus funds for a warehouse, conveyer equipment and storage pad, Gov. John Baldacci announced Wednesday.
The funding is part of a $14 million stimulus package headed to three ports in Maine — Eastport, Portland and Searsport.
Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority, said the $2 million will be combined with $4.5 million in transportation bond funds approved last November to help the port diversify.
The project includes installing an automated conveyer system for cargo, interior warehouse storage and a 5-acre outdoor cargo storage area.
“We have never had this,” Gardner said Wednesday. Eastport has always handled “break bulk,” which he said was cargo that could be counted. “Bulk cargo is cargo that can be weighed, such as salt, wood pellets.”
Gardner said the port needs to diversify into the bulk market and those markets depend on the automated system and storage.
“Those markets also depend on deep water,” Gardner said. “Eastport has the greatest natural depth of water of any port on the East Coast of the United States and, as the easternmost port in the United States, is significantly closer to Europe.”
Eastport is recognized as the fastest growing port on the East Coast, he said.
“With 100 feet of water on approach channels, 64 feet of water at the pier at low tide and more than sufficient space to turn the largest ships afloat, Eastport is uniquely positioned and naturally endowed to accommodate any size vessel existing or planned,” Gardner said.
The grants are part of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program.
“These grants will enable Maine ports to make vital improvements that will help Maine businesses be more competitive,” Baldacci said in a news release. He said Maine will use the money to diversify Maine ports’ customer base and improve the ability to handle green technology, such as wind turbine components.
Additional funding will be allocated as follows:
ä $5 million to the International Marine Terminal in Portland for capacity and infrastructure improvements. The funding will help improve access to the pier and also improve cargo-handling capability.
ä $7 million to Searsport for investments in new equipment, including a heavy-lift mobile harbor crane and cargo-handling equipment.
Maine’s U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans, lobbied for the TIGER grants.
“Given that our great nation is recovering from the deepest recession since World War II, this funding is a step forward that will assist in the expansion and rehabilitation of these vital ports,” the senators said in a joint statement. “This was an extremely competitive grant process. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, applications from 50 states totaling $57 billion were received and applicants competed for just $1.5 billion in TIGER grant funds. Investing in Maine’s ports will help our state rehabilitate its economy, create jobs, and provide Maine businesses with modern port facilities.”
Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who represents the 2nd District, also commented: “Whether it’s shipping forest products or new wind turbine components, we’ll need increased port capacity to move Maine’s economy forward. These investments will create jobs for Mainers in the short term through port improvement work and in the long term by ensuring that our businesses have the infrastructure to ship our products around the world.”
BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT
A tractor-trailer loaded with two turbine blades pulls slowly away from the cargo ship Jade C, docked at the Estes Head port in Eastport last April. Stimulus funds the port received will pay for a new building and equipment.