Snag holding up $14M in federal funds for Maine ports

Posted Sept. 30, 2010, at 10:31 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — A permitting snag at one of three Maine ports is holding up a combined $14 million in federal stimulus funds awarded last February to upgrade the facilities. With Maine’s winter fast approaching, the delay is threatening to put off critical construction until spring.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation was awarded to upgrade the infrastructure of ports in Portland, Eastport and Searsport.

On Thursday, John Henshaw of the Maine Port Authority said two key factors have held up the process.

The first was a major delay in the state’s receiving the draft agreement from the U.S. DOT’s Maritime Administration.

“We didn’t get the agreement until Sept. 8,” Henshaw said. He said this is a brand-new program and that contributed to the delay. “Obviously that impacted our schedules since Maine has a construction season,” he said. “We had planned to start work at all of the ports in March.”

That problem was solved two days ago, however, when Maine signed the agreement. It now has gone to the U.S. DOT for ratification.

The second glitch is a “Buy American” requirement in the agreement.

“Searsport needs to buy a mobile harbor crane and that equipment is not made in the United States,” Henshaw said.

The state is seeking a waiver and has asked that the process be expedited. Henshaw said Gov. John Baldacci has written a letter to the Maritime Administration of the USDOT, and members of Maine’s congressional delegation also are pressing to speed the waiver along.

“Everyone is working really hard to move this along as quickly as possible,” Henshaw said. “Other than that, each of the ports is ready to go. I mean, we’ve obviously had lots of time to get ready.”

The three ports and their projects are:

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 innovative new equipment, including a heavy-lift mobile harbor crane and cargo-handling equipment.

ä $2 million will go to Eastport for a warehouse, conveyer equipment and storage pad.

Eastport needs to drill and blast this fall to move its project forward, Henshaw said.

“We’re permitted, all ready to go,” Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority said Thursday.

Gardner said the port authority received the news earlier this week that it had been awarded a $260,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission, which was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The funding will be used to build a mainline 900-foot bidirectional conveyor system, to buy related ship loading equipment and to construct bulk yard receiving and storage facilities on the port’s existing property. This project will result in the retention of the equivalent of 18 jobs and the creation of 26 new jobs, he said.

The project’s total cost will be $8 million, Gardner said, and all the financing is in place.

However, the federal funds that are stalled are earmarked for the groundwork necessary for the bulk yard.

“We can’t move forward until that yard is ready,” Gardner said.

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