Funds a concern for Acadian Congress organizers

Posted Jan. 14, 2011, at 8:33 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:38 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Although the event isn’t until 2014, organizers of the World Acadian Congress have been working for more than a year in preparation of what will be one of the largest events ever held in the region.

Putting on such an event requires a great deal of organization and money, and planners said this week that they are pleased so far with the support from the community and state and congressional officials. But they are struggling to garner the funding needed after Congress failed to consider a bill that would have brought in more than $1 million in federal money for the event.

“It is a source of huge concern for us,” Jason Parent, president of the Maine delegation to the international organizing committee of the 2014 World Acadian Congress, said earlier this week. “Our Congressional delegation has been very supportive of us and they are just as disappointed as we are about the turn of events. No one has officially come out and said that we won’t get any money, but it isn’t looking good.”

The World Acadian Congress is held every five years in different regions populated by Acadians. The 2014 gathering will be staged in northern Maine, northwestern New Brunswick and the Temiscouata region of Quebec on Aug. 8-24. This will be the first time in the event’s history that it will span two countries.

In the past, the event has attracted more than 50,000 visitors for two weeks to host regions including Louisiana and the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick.

The congress typically features more than 300 events, including family reunions, regional celebrations, and sporting and cultural events. Hotels, restaurants, stores and other facilities typically see a significant influx of revenue. The economic spin-off from recent congresses has ranged from $30 million to $50 million in the host region.

In winning the 2014 event, the Maine-New Brunswick-Quebec region, operating under the unified title “Acadia of the Lands and Forests,” beat out applications from Quebec City and Louisiana.

Maine’s commitment in state and federal dollars for the fete is $1.9 million. Early in the planning process, organizers met with representatives from the state’s congressional delegation to discuss federal funding options.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins requested $1.1 million in federal funding in a bill that was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last July. Collins pointed out Thursday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid never brought the bill to the floor for a vote, so the funding never materialized.

Collins said she was “disappointed” that the bill was never considered by the full Senate.

“I know how hard the people of The County have worked to bring this historic event to the St. John Valley, which has a long and storied history as the bedrock of Acadian culture,” said Collins. “These Acadian traditions deserve to be celebrated, and the upcoming World Acadian Congress will provide a major economic boost to Aroostook County by bringing tens of thousands of people from around the world to the Valley. I will continue to work with community leaders to identify sources of federal funding that could help support this important event.”

Parent said organizers are discussing options with the congressional delegation to see whether any additional federal funding is available. They also are working to raise as much private money as possible. He said that Maine’s partners in Canada know about the funding issues but have been “immensely supportive” and want to move forward to put on the event as a group.

“That has been extremely positive and heartwarming, but without federal dollars, we will be at a huge disadvantage,” Parent said. “We will be working with one hand tied behind our backs.”

At the same time, Parent said that organizers have been “thrilled” with the support Gov. Paul LePage has expressed for the 2014 event. He expressed support for funding the 2014 event both in a candidates forum held in Aroostook County before the election and after he was elected in an interview with Radio Canada.

Organizers have asked for a $1 million commitment from the state.

During the Radio Canada interview, conducted in French, LePage told the reporter, “I believe that it is a million that they asked for. If it is a million, it is what we will do. What they have need for, we will help them.”

Parent said that organizers have not yet met with Gov. LePage about a potential financial contribution from the state. A spokesman for LePage wasn’t available Friday, a state shutdown day.

At this point, planners are moving forward and hope to hire an executive director to coordinate the Maine part of the event. Once hired, the director “will begin private fundraising in earnest,” Parent said.

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