CYR PLANTATION —- For approximately two years, officials in Aroostook County and Canada have been planning for an event that could draw more than 50,000 people to the region.
While the event is still two years away, planners are taking steps to draw as much attention to the World Acadian Congress as possible.
That is why organizers are thrilled with the state’s decision to issue a commemorative license plate to mark the significant event.
It is the first time such a plate has been issued since the U.S. celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976.
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 from Aug. 8 to 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 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.
Opening ceremonies will take place on Aug. 8, 2014, in New Brunswick, and Acadian National Day will be held on Aug. 15 in Maine. Closing ceremonies will be held on Aug. 24 in Canada. One of the major attractions of the event will be the family reunions that are expected to attract visitors from across the nation and the world.
Jason Parent, Maine international president for the event, said late last week that organizers were ecstatic when they heard that the state would issue the commemorative plate. Parent said he believes that the plate will not only serve as a visible reminder of the event, it also will generate some of the cash needed to host it.
A commemorative license plate is different than the official license plates issued by the state to support various causes such as agriculture, the University of Maine, and breast cancer research. It does not have any numbers or letters on its face and cannot replace the legally issued plates.
The legislation passed by state lawmakers will allow for the World Acadian Congress plate to be placed over the face of the existing legal plate on the front of the vehicle. The commemorative plate will expire in December 2015 and can remain as the visible license plate on the front of vehicles registered in Maine through that time. The existing legal plate on the back of the vehicle must remain on and visible.
The special license plate, proceeds from which will support efforts in Maine to organize the activities, was initiated by state Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake. Martin was the lead sponsor of the bill passed in the second regular session of the 125th Maine Legislature. Co-sponsors of the bill were from both Aroostook and Washington counties.
Martin said in a statement that he drafted the bill once he recalled that Maine had issued such a plate for the Bicentennial celebration in 1976.
“The organizers of the CMA in Maine are doing an outstanding job preparing the region for the event and working collaboratively with their Canadian counterparts to organize the largest-ever event to come to northernmost Maine,” he noted. “Although they have received great support from the state, the fact is they are considerably under-funded when compared to the rest of the host region.”
Parent said the state had committed $1 million over a four year period to help finance the World Acadian Congress in Maine, but organizers have failed thus far to secure $1 million in federal funding. The Canadian government has committed $4 million, and the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec each have pledged $2 million.
Parent said that officials are hoping to eventually secure federal funding, but they also are making necessary contingencies should the funds not materialize.
The license plate is currently in production, and officials plan to debut the new design during a press conference later this month or in December.
Parent said that the goal is to have 6,000 of the $25 plates available for sale before the holiday season.
The cost for the state to produce each of the high-quality metal plates is $9. Under the legislation, $16 from the sale of each plate will go to the organizing committee of the World Acadian Congress in Maine.