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Maine snares a TIGER

Maine ports get $14 million in recovery funding

A federal tiger grant of $14 million will go to help Maine’s three ports diversify their customer base, Governor John Baldacci announced in mid-February. “These grants will enable Maine ports to make vital improvements that will help Maine businesses be more competitive,” said Baldacci in a news release announcing the grant.
 
The TIGER grant (TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) was a fraction of the $89.7 million Maine had requested in two TIGER grant proposals. In addition to diversifying the customer base of Maine’s three major deepwater ports, Baldacci said, the ports will be able to improve their ability to handle green technology, such as wind turbine components.
 
“Whether it’s shipping forest products or new wind turbine components, we’ll need increased port capacity to move Maine’s economy forward,” said U.S. Representative Mike Michaud at the announcement.
 
“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.
 
Portland will receive $5 million for 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.
Searsport will receive $7 million for new equipment, including a heavy-lift mobile harbor crane and cargo-handling equipment.
 
Eastport is to receive $2 million in federal funds for a warehouse, automated conveyer equipment and a five-acre storage pad. The $2 million in TIGER funds will be paired with $4.5 million in transportation bond funds approved last November to help the port diversify, said Chris Gardner, director of the Eastport Port Authority, who said the bulk market depends on an automated system and storage.
 
 “We have never had this,” Gardner told the New Brunswick Business Journal. “Eastport has always handled ‘break bulk’ cargo.” Eastport hopes to attract bulk cargo customer shipping freight such as salt and wood pellets.
 
“Those markets also depend on deep water,” Gardner added. “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.”
 
Competition for the TIGER grants was heavy and Maine’s congressional delegation lobbied hard for the grant money. In all, states submitted $57 billion worth of proposals for only $1.5 billion in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
 
“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,” Senators Snowe and Collins said in a joint statement. “Investing in Maine’s ports will help our state rehabilitate its economy, create jobs, and provide Maine businesses with modern port facilities.”
 
Some port advocates expressed disappointment that Maine did not receive a larger piece of the TIGER pie. In Portland, local officials vowed to continue to seek federal funds for a second cruise ship “mega berth.”
 
“We’re disappointed,” Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman told MaineBiz. She said the city needs the second berth because cruise ship traffic is expected to continue to increase. Last year, 48 cruise ships brought 70,000 visitors to the city. In 2010, 71 cruise ships and 80,000 visitors are expected to call on the port.
 
Portland officials have said that it was unlikely, given the city’s current budget constraints, that the city would be able to finance the project on its own. There still is hope, according to Senator Collins, who told local news reporters that the mega berth project could be funded when the next round of TIGER grants are announced.
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