Waiting, watching, wondering. At the end of the 125th Legislature, we are still waiting for answers to the big questions. By Randy Mace.
Staying alive. Four Maine companies talk about surviving the ‘Long Recovery.’ By Kathryn Buxton.
Statehouse report. What did and what didn’t happen at the statehouse this session.
Captain Thomas christened. A new ferry joins Maine’s fleet.
Ch-ch-ch-changing. Calls for change at Legislative Breakfast.
Something different. New location for fall outing.
Managing the uncertainties. R.W. Gillespie & Associates helps clients deal with risks. By Kathryn Buxton.
Three win Build Maine awards.
‘Skin in the game.’ MaineDOT’s Municipal Partnership Initiative. By Dale Doughty, P.E., MaineDOT Director of Maintenance & Operations.
Waiting, watching, wondering
By Randy Mace, MBTA President
Transportation advocates spent much of their time waiting during this most recent legislative session – waiting to see if legislators would be sending a bond for highway and bridge and other transportation repairs to voters. And after the Maine House and Senate passed a $95 million bundle of bonds – including $51.5 million for transportation – we all were waiting to see if Governor LePage would allow the bond to go forward. Now, that wait has come to an end just as this issue of Maine Trails was going to press – with positive results. On May 25, the governor opted to allow the transportation bond and four others to go to voters (He did elect to veto a $20 million bond for research and development).
That is good news, but the wait is not quite over. There still will be a voter referendum in November and, if the transportation bond is passed, there is a chance the governor will hold back the funds for some time. In a written statement, Governor LePage said: “I cannot personally support any of these bonds and will not vote for them at the polls in November. Even with the voters’ authorization to borrow this money, my administration will not spend it until we’ve lowered our debt significantly. That could be several years.”
The truth is, we need this bond, and we thank the legislature and the governor for allowing it to go forward, so the voters can decide whether they want to make these investments.
The $51.5 million transportation bond includes essential funding – $41 million for roads and bridges, $1 million for transit, $6.5 million for ports, $1.5 million for the Industrial Rail Access Program and $1 million-plus for aviation. Because the legislature will not convene again until 2013, this will be the last opportunity to address – at least in part – funding to help fix Maine’s failing roads and bridges. And that’s a long time to wait, especially for the hundreds of thousands of Maine citizens who depend on our highways and bridges for work, school and family.
As Representative Emily Cain, the Democratic leader in the House, has pointed out, Maine voters, now and in the past, agree transportation investments pay off. They make Maine business more competitive and they produce jobs. We hope that, if voters do pass the transportation bond, the money will be released in the 2013 construction season, so we can begin to put it to work to create jobs and economic opportunity throughout Maine – and make our roads and bridges safer for all.
Transportation has been a prominent topic in Augusta this year as legislators took up a number of different issues, from state police funding from the Highway Fund to state underwriting for a new east-west highway study. Still, at the end of this session, we are left wondering about the most challenging transportation issue of all: how will we fund much needed repairs to our roads, bridges and other transportation systems?
One thing we do have is a new estimate of how much more is needed: $150 million a year over the next 10 years. We have this thanks to L.D.1753: An Act To Improve Transportation in the State. That bill was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor and is the result of work by MaineDOT to develop performance standards and apply them to the state’s transportation network. It will help the state prioritize the dwindling pot of money available for highway and bridge repairs.
Determining that Maine has a $150 million-per-year transportation funding problem is a good first step. But we need our leaders in Augusta to do more. A $51.5 million bond with $41.5 million going to highways and bridges will be a good start, but is only a start. We need our leaders to work together to identify new long-term funding sources. One of those logically could be the General Fund. At the beginning of the 125th Maine Legislature, both Governor LePage and legislative leadership had voiced support for more General Fund money going to highway and bridges, but two years later, we are left waiting, watching and wondering about how we will address Maine’s failing roads and bridges.
I would like to say thanks to everyone for their support this past year, in the form of volunteering on a committee, recruiting new members, advertising, sponsorships, talking with legislators and our congressional delegation – and urging others to get involved. Your membership in our association is crucial to our mission!
I have enjoyed leading the MBTA. This is an organization that truly works on behalf of the people of Maine and its members and staff are tireless in their support of safer, more efficient transportation investments for all of the state. I also want to thank my wife, family and employer for their understanding of time spent away from home, family and work.
As I pass on the gavel to our new president, Doug Hermann, I urge you all to stay informed and involved – with the bond referendum, we will need everyone working to get the message out about its benefits (jobs, mobility, safety) to friends, family, co-workers and neighbors and to counteract negative messages about borrowing. Roads, bridges, ports, transit, rail and aviation are worthwhile investments that improve our communities, enhance safety and bring economic opportunity for decades to come.
Thanks again for your part in making this past year a rewarding one working with a great organization.
For many Maine businesses, surviving the ‘Long Recovery’ has been nearly as challenging as living through the ‘Great Recession.’ Here’s how six Maine businesses are coping in lean economic times.
By Kathryn Buxton
“This economy has pretty well ruined our business,” said Ron Farrin, an owner of Farrin Bros. & Smith, an earthwork contractor based in Brighton, Maine. But that hasn’t stopped him. Farrin let us know that he and his two partners have taken major steps to carry the business through the recession and seemingly never-ending recovery, including cutting their workforce by half, sharpening their pencils on all the bids they put out, and looking in new markets for work.
Maine’s construction industry and the service businesses that support it continue to suffer disproportionately compared to the rest of the state’s economy. According to the Maine Department of Labor, the state has lost 6,000 jobs since January 2008 when the job count stood at 31,600. (The 10-year industry employment high was April 2006, when 31,900 were employed in construction jobs.) In March 2012, construction employment figures were stagnant at 24,600 – up just 700 jobs since the recession low of 23,900 in July 2010. Farrin’s frustration is echoed by almost all of the businesses interviewed for this story. Many have been through multiple rounds of job cuts and have undergone other cost-cutting measures to stay afloat.
Letting employees go has been difficult, Farrin said, particularly because he can see the impact those laid off workers without a paycheck have on local families and on the local economy. He knows the belt tightening measures his business has taken also have reverberated through other areas of the state and other industries– such as equipment suppliers.
“We haven’t bought any new equipment in the past four years, and we used to spend $150,000 to $250,000 a year on new equipment,” said Farrin.
What’s more, Farrin said, the belt tightening that MaineDOT has had to do has placed rural based businesses like his own in a precarious position.
“MaineDOT does a good job stretching a dollar,” said Farrin. He is concerned, though, that means fewer lower priority roads in his region – Somerset County – are getting fixed while higher priority roads in areas like southern Maine and the Bangor region are getting the bulk of state transportation funds. That, he believes, is one of the many reasons unemployment in the region has been running about three points higher than the state average and local posted roads have reached an epidemic level. MaineDOT trying to get by with less also is at the heart of the persistent problem of aging, substandard transportation infrastructure that plagues so many of Maine’s businesses and has become a major impediment to rural economic development.
“Posted roads are absolutely up this spring,” said Farrin. “We can’t even get out of town to some job sites, because the state roads are so busted up. And I have a feeling they’re never going to get fixed.”
Momentum vs. gridlock
While Farrin remains pessimistic about the 2012 construction season, some in the industry are more positive.
“I’m very optimistic that we’ve hit the bottom and things are getting better,” said Rodney Lane, district manager for The Lane Construction Corporation based in Bangor. “We’ve seen an uptick in building permits for the commercial and private construction markets across the nation.” Still, Lane admitted that his company has been hit hard by the recession and has made some difficult decisions since the recession began more than four years ago.
Even for businesses that have begun to see an upturn, there is a persistent pessimism in discussions of the economy and construction. Ask Tim Folster how business is going, and he almost sounds surprised by his answer.
“We actually had a pretty good year last year,” said Folster with a detectable note of caution. Folster is vice president of operations at Sargent Corporation in Stillwater, and while he said business last year was better than it has been, it is uncertain that momentum will continue to build.
“Our volume has been up and we’re being aggressive in the jobs we’re bidding, but we’re looking at 2012 and thinking this could be the toughest year yet,” said Folster, who also is a former MBTA president and current board member.
Folster cited the gridlock in Washington, a series of short-term federal funding extensions that have created less certainty, as well as the Maine Legislature’s decision last year to hold off bonding. A $51.5 million bond with $41 million for roads and bridges will go out to voters this fall. If passed, it will fund some badly needed projects for roads, rail, aviation and ports.
Like Folster, Farrin expressed frustration at how transportation funding, once a source for bipartisan agreement, has fallen prey to partisan bickering on the state and national level.
“The last time there was much money for fixing roads in Maine was the federal stimulus,” said Farrin, who said the lack of political support for transportation – whether it is bonding or identifying new funding sources for roads and bridges – has been particularly frustrating. “The governor doesn’t appear to support transportation improvements, and no one wants to talk about raising the gas tax, and that is killing our industry.”
For his part, Lane said he believes that Governor LePage’s emphasis on austerity and reducing the state’s debt load has been a good thing and will serve Maine well in the long-term. Still, he said, our roads and bridges need to be cared for, and everyone in the state will benefit from money spent on transportation – from construction workers to local businesses that can ship their products more efficiently.
“I think the governor is right. His job is to balance the budget and find solutions to the shortfall,” said Lane. “On the other hand, it is not an option to let things go.”
Typically, when road construction slows, firms look to other markets for work. In this recession, that strategy has not been possible. Inventories in the traditional complementary markets – commercial, retail and residential construction – remain high, so there has been limited demand for construction in the private sector.
That has left many companies to look inward to see if they can apply their skills to other projects within transportation construction. Lane and Farrin both said their companies have branched out from traditional road-building niches and bid on selected bridge projects. But it is not a comfortable or completely viable solution.
Farrin said his company has picked up some small bridge projects, and that has helped keep crews busy. Competition for those bridge jobs is fierce and margins on the jobs are tight.
Other firms have looked to new markets. Energy construction is one of those markets, particularly wind power, which has seen a boom in recent years as developers have rushed to take advantage of tax incentives. There is increasing opposition to government funding of projects in the renewable energy sector, and those tax incentives, unfortunately, have come to an end.
Folster said that for companies like Sargent, that have been able to keep crews working on wind projects, the reversal of government policy supporting the new technologies represents a lost opportunity and is another worrisome factor for the construction industry.
Still, by diversifying – both geographically and by adding new services and specialties – many businesses are making it through the recovery.
Randy Mace of Anderson Equipment, which has locations in Cumberland and Bangor, as well as in Vermont and New Hampshire, said that his company has focused on building its equipment rental business to serve the market.
“A lot of businesses just can’t afford to invest $250,000 in a new piece of equipment,” said Mace, immediate past president of the MBTA. “Renting it helps them get the equipment they need without the long-term investment.”
For Macdonald Page & Co LLC, a South Portland and Augusta-based accounting and business consulting firm with a specialty serving the construction industry, the recession has been a mixed bag. The firm’s strategy throughout the recession has been to fill an emerging market for IT security services, as well as provide on-call outsourced financial reporting and management services for non-attest clients who may no longer have a full-time CFO on staff.
“That has kept us very busy,” said Lauren Corey, a former MBTA president. She said that by staying nimble, expanding its services to accommodate emerging client needs and looking for new opportunities, her firm was able to avoid layoffs and is emerging from the recession in a strong position.
“Two thousand and nine was the worst of it,” said Mace. “We did all the obvious things. We reduced personnel and cut back on inventory. Then we waited for things to come back. Well, then we realized that the problem was things were just not coming back.”
Sebago Technics, a Westbrook-based engineering firm, had to lay off nearly half of its workforce during the height of the recession. Those were dark days, according to Steve Sawyer, the firm’s vice president of transportation services. Sawyer is a former MBTA president and current board member.
“In 2008 we had a horrible year and for the three years after that,” said Sawyer. He noted that the firm began to feel its own recovery kick in just last year, a full year and a half after economists had declared the recession over. “In mid-2011, we began to achieve a kind of equilibrium, but we’re still waiting to see what the 2012 construction season will bring.”
He said thanks to the mild winter and dry spring, the firm’s survey crews have been able to get out into the field earlier than usual and that has helped fuel a feeling that things are turning around. The firm, which typically has about 50 percent municipal and state and 50 percent commercial work, has seen some movement in the private markets. “For a long time, there was no private market at all,” said Sawyer, who characterizes the current outlook as stronger, but still “tenuous.” Sawyer said: “It used to be we could look out and see work for six months, right now, it’s just two."
Economists have predicted that it could be late 2015 or 2016 before Maine’s economy returns to pre-2008 levels. In the meantime, many MBTA members are continuing to watch what they spend and trying to find new opportunities in old and new markets. Here are some of the survival strategies the businesses we spoke with are using to beat the recovery blues:
1. Get good input
Several businesses have a committee made up of employees from different departments that meet regularly and give input on ways to save and to suggest or create new business opportunities. Meeting regularly helps keep everyone on track and thinking strategically.
2. Cast a wider net
Many companies are traveling further to keep their crews busy and their job docket full. In some cases that has meant looking across state lines for work. Lane Construction and Sargent Corporation have operations out of state and have shifted employees to where there is more work. That strategy has helped Sargent, which also has an office in Ashland, Virginia, limit its layoffs. However, it can be taxing on employees and their families. “Being geographically diverse can help, but all that travel puts a lot of pressure on employees,” said Sargent’s Tim Folster.
Sebago Technics’ Steve Sawyer said his firm has been able to market its services in New Hampshire. He also noted that in some ways that can be a double-sided coin, because his firm is having to compete for Maine projects with more out-of-state firms.
3. Consider your strengths
Some businesses have expanded their roster of core services. Farrin Bros. & Smith has looked to where its crews’ experience in highway and road construction could be an asset. Ron Farrin said his company has added small bridge/culvert replacements and airport construction projects to its rèsumé.
4. Fill new needs
Lauren Corey of Macdonald Page & Co LLC in South Portland, an accounting firm with an extensive client base in the construction and transportation industries, said her firm has looked at services they could offer clients on an ad hoc basis including “CFO for rent,” auditing and IT security services.
“There has been a lot of downsizing, and some firms can’t afford to have a CFO or bookkeeper on staff. So we have been providing that on an on-call, consulting basis,” said Corey. She said that tighter scrutiny from banks and more stringent reporting requirements on government contracts also have created opportunities for audits and financial reviews performed by an outside auditor.
5. Build strategic alliances
Sebago Technics has identified certain new areas where the company’s expertise would be applicable – including energy – and has formed alliances with companies already working in those fields to bid on projects.
2012 transportation debate was dominated by prioritization, State Police funding, bonds and an east-west highway study
As the 125th Maine Legislature wrapped up, the Department of Health and Human Services shortfall dominated the news, but there were times when transportation made headlines during the extended session. And as Maine Trails was preparing to go to press, budgets and funding continued to make headlines. On May 25, despite his personal disapproval of bonding, Governor LePage decided to allow four bonds to go to voters, including a $51.5 million transportation bond. (He vetoed a $20 million research and development bond.) In addition to passing the transportation bond, legislators addressed several other transportation issues during the session. They agreed to fund a feasibility study regarding a private east-west toll route, debated Highway Fund support for the Maine State Police and established new priorities and funding expectations for maintaining the state’s highways and bridges.
While the legislative session addressed these important transportation issues, MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes said there are many issues that the 125th Maine Legislature did not address and that still hang in the balance.
“We did get a modest bond that will go out to voters this fall, and we are grateful for that,” said Fuentes. “But frankly, there are a lot of other issues that didn’t get addressed during this session.”
MBTA President Doug Hermann agreed. “The truth is they have left a big order of work for the next legislature – legislators didn’t address General Fund support for highways – with the exception of the bond issue - or state police funding or the long-term funding challenges facing the Highway Fund.”
While there were budget and other bills that could have addressed these issues, none of those early promises came to fruition. Some majority party legislators said many times that they wanted the General Fund to contribute to the Highway Fund. Still, by the end of the session, the only General Fund support for transportation that materialized was in the form of a bond that, if approved by voters, will be repaid with General Fund dollars.
Moreover, highway maintenance suffered a setback in the legislature’s final supplemental budget for 2012-13, in which more than $6 million was cut from capital highway and bridge projects. Those cuts were due to lower than expected Highway Fund revenues.
Private take on east-west debate
In mid-February, the Transportation Committee took up a bill to fund a feasibility study for a privately owned and operated east-west transportation corridor. The bill called for $300,000 in funding from MaineDOT for the study, and during public testimony on the bill it received broad public support from a number of groups, including the Maine Better Transportation Association.
There were some concerns from committee members about using public money for a private enterprise during such tight economic times, and as a result, the original bill was amended to require that the corridor developer repay MaineDOT if the project proceeds.
Many in Maine see the considerable potential in a private east-west route – from jobs created during its construction to the connectivity and economic development potential the route holds for northern and Downeast Maine. At the February 14th Transportation Committee hearing on the measure, Peter Vigue of Cianbro told the committee such a highway would give “Maine every potential to become the Northeast trade gateway.” Vigue has been an outspoken proponent of a privately funded and managed east-west route, and has expressed his views frequently to groups throughout the state.
The measure passed the committee with a majority ought-to-pass vote, was approved by both houses of the legislature and signed into law by Governor LePage on April 5.
At the public hearing on the bill, there was opposition from groups concerned about environmental impacts of the project. Also, the project will need to attract hefty private investment to move forward, but the major reason for the study is to show that this project is necessary to improve Maine’s economy, and will be attractive to investors looking for a return on that investment. The MaineDOT is expected to hire a consultant to complete the study soon, and hopes to have the study completed by January 2013.
The legislature also took up L.D. 1623 – An Act To Simplify Toll Discounts and Amend Certain Powers and Procedures of the Maine Turnpike Authority. The bill called for amendments to the Maine Turnpike Authority’s (MTA) commuter discount program established by the Maine Legislature in 1981, as well as other changes to the agency’s governance and operations.
The bill passed handily in both the Transportation Committee and legislature at large. It was signed into law by Governor LePage on February 22. The MTA is expected to raise tolls by 2013, and this will help to simplify the rate structure and administration of the agency’s E-ZPass program. Under the new law, the agency estimates approximately 44 percent of E-ZPass customers would pay less, while 45 percent would pay about the same. About 11 percent would pay more.
The legislation also includes a provision that will help the MTA reduce the cost of collecting tolls from violators. Under the old rules, the MTA had to send violation notices via certified mail. Under L.D. 1623, the authority can use first-class mail.
Police funding saga
The Transportation Committee also continued its long-running debate on the role of the Highway Fund in support for the Maine State Police. In 2007, a study on Maine State Police funding by the legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability (OPEGA) reported that the Highway Fund was overpaying for highway-related state police activities. The current percentage being paid by the Highway Fund is 49 percent; OPEGA said that the agency spends between 17 and 34 percent of its time on transportation-related activity. A more recent report completed by the Maine State Police, for which troopers recorded actual hours spent on traffic enforcement, indicated the agency is spending no more than 34 percent of its time on transportation.
That debate came to a head in early April when the committee considered a request for $36,000 to help fund a forensic chemist position for DNA analysis in the state police crime lab.
“It is this committee that is now again placed in a position where we have to decide. I would even say our back is to the wall where we are not going to be doing the function of the crime lab if the Highway Fund doesn’t pick up the tab for it when, in fact, I am not sure the Highway Fund should be picking up the tab for this,” commented Transportation Committee Chair Rich Cebra (R-Naples) during a work session on the measure.
The committee ultimately agreed to fund the position for the remainder of the biennial budget. Still, many committee members were conflicted. The MBTA intends to continue to advocate for a more equitable split of funding of state police activities. If successful, a 34 percent division of funding could free up approximately $8 million in highway fund dollars to support MaineDOT’s annual budget for maintaining the state’s roads and bridges.
Last year, MBTA retained Tim Woodcock of the Eaton Peabody law firm to review Article 9, Section 19 of the Maine Constitution, which dedicates the use of highway funds. Woodcock was asked to determine if current legislative actions were consistent with this language. His analysis called into serious question the constitutionality of current levels of highway fund support for the State Police. If there was an alternative point of view to Woodcock’s in the legislative or executive branch, it was not offered through any of the deliberations in committee or on the floor of the Senate or House.
Ironically, the research also found that the constitutional amendment approved in 1943 was intended to stop highway funding of the State Police for activities other than traffic enforcement. The legislative record of that time notes the advocacy of the Maine Good Roads Association in securing the constitutional amendment.
Meanwhile, the legislature passed L.D. 1753 – An Act to Improve Transportation in the State with little fanfare, a bill that is bound to impact the future of Maine’s transportation system for years to come. (Governor LePage signed the bill into law). L.D. 1753 sets new standards and priorities for maintaining the state’s network of roads and bridges.
It also establishes a new estimate of Maine’s transportation funding gap, noting it will require an additional $150 million per year over the next 10 years to bring Maine’s roads and bridges up to the standards set in the new MaineDOT legislation. That estimate is approximately half of the funding benchmark set by the legislature in 2007, a result of an increasingly dark outlook for future state and federal transportation funding.
MBTA Senior Policy Advisor John Melrose spoke before the legislature’s Transportation Committee on January 31st in support of the bill: “There is a bit of irony here as MBTA supports legislation that would cut Maine’s commitment to capital investment in transportation roughly in half.” Melrose’s testimony took into account the fiscal realities that have forced the hand of MaineDOT and the legislature to focus limited resources on the state’s most heavily traveled roads, but faulted the new guidelines for the potential neglect of much needed rural road improvements that are classified as Priority 4 and 5 highways under the new law.
The MBTA also raised concerns about funding for “extraordinary” transportation projects including the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge that connects Maine and New Hampshire, which currently is unfunded.
The project was once estimated to cost $130 million, but the price tag may eventually be considerably higher. New Hampshire recently changed the scope of the bridge project to accommodate larger ships, and that could drive the cost of construction to $190 million. Cost for construction of the bridge will be shared between the two states.
FMI: MBTA advocates for investment in safe, efficient transportation for Maine. To learn more call 207-622-0526 e-mail Maria@MBTAonline.org
Capt. Thompson christened
A new $9.4 million, 154-foot ferry serving Vinalhaven has begun regular runs between Rockland and the island. It was christened at the Maine State Ferry Service terminal in Rockland on April 20.
U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who lives on the island of North Haven called ferries “a lifeline” and “a necessity.”
Bruce Van Note, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, agreed. At the same time he pointed out the road to launching the new ferry had been a long one. Planning and work to secure funds for the new Vinalhaven ferry, the Captain E. Frank Thompson, started in the late 1990s. Half the new ferry money was federal stimulus money approved by Congress and President Obama three years ago, said Pingree.
This was the first time since 1993, when the Captain Neal Burgess was christened, that the state has replaced a ferry in its service. The Burgess serves North Haven.
Also speaking at the ceremony was former Maine State Senator and chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, Dennis Damon, a member of the state ferry advisory board. “I first posed the question back in 1993 as to whether we should look at trying to build a new ferry,” said Damon. “It is 2012 and we have delivery. Given the age of our overall ferry fleet, and the fact that it isn’t getting any younger, perhaps we should start the conversation now about building another new ferry.”
Damon suggested planning begin now for a new Penobscot Bay ferry, given it took 15 years after the first legislative vote on the Captain E. Frank Thompson to reach the christening stage.
“While in the legislature, I had the great honor of chairing the Joint Standing committee on Transportation. And I had to remind members of the committee, on occasion, that we were the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation; we were not the Joint Standing Committee on Roads and Bridges . . . The new addition to our transportation infrastructure, the Captain E. Frank Thompson, is but the latest example of Maine’s varied transportation needs, I have long felt it is our responsibility to provide a means for all Maine citizens to get from their town to the rest of the towns in the state. Whether it means going simply from Bangor to Brewer, or in this case, Vinalhaven to Rockland, our responsibility remains the same.
More than 100 people attended the christening. The bottle used in the christening sported a handcrafted red, white and blue covering provided by former longtime Maine State Ferry Service Manager Captain Richard Spear of Rockland. Than Hopkins performed the christening, breaking the traditional red-white-and-blue covered champagne over the new ferry’s bow. She is the daughter of the new ferry’s namesake, Frank Thompson, a long time ferry captain who had served for 22 years with the ferry service. Thompson retired in 1990 and died in 2003. Thompson’s grandson Kevin Hopkins served as ceremonial captain for the inaugural voyage held after the christening. Mitchell Hopkins, Thompson’s great-grandson, played in the community band that played at the ceremony.
The 494-ton ship replaces the Governor Curtis and was constructed at C & G Boatworks in Mobile, Alabama. The ferry took two years and three months to complete. The Alabama shipyard was the low bidder for the project, according to James MacLeod, manager of the ferry service.
The Captain E. Frank Thompson can carry up to 22 motor vehicles and 250 passengers. The Curtis and the Captain Charles Philbrook, that also provided service to the island, both carried 17 vehicles and about the same amount of people. The newly-christened ship had been outfitted with supplies and inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard. Drills with the crew also were required before final Coast Guard approval.
The Thompson can reach about 12 knots (about 13 miles per hour), slightly faster than the Curtis or Philbrook, holds 6,000 gallons of low-sulfur diesel fuel and is more fuel-efficient than the older ferries in the fleet, according to MacLeod. Last year, the ferries carried about 150,000 passengers between Vinalhaven and the mainland.
Talk of change – in government culture, public perceptions and support for a bond – dominates at Legislative Breakfast
Change was in the air at the 2012 Transportation Legislative Breakfast March 30 at the Senator Inn in Augusta. The breakfast was sponsored by the Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA), the Associated General Contractors of Maine (AGC Maine) and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine (ACEC Maine).
The event brought together legislators and the organizations’ members to discuss transportation issues. This year, the big question was whether the legislature would change its stance on bonding and send a transportation bond to voters. All four speakers – Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Washington County), House Minority Leader Emily Cain (D-Orono), Representative Teresea Hayes (D-Buckfield) and Representative Dennis Keschl (R-Belgrade) – said that the Maine Legislature was poised to change its stance on bonding and send an infrastructure bond package to voters. But the circumstances would have to be just right.
‘Projects made to last’
This year’s panel discussion was kicked off by Senator Raye who made it clear that, if a bond package was approved by the legislature, it would be after lawmakers addressed other budget issues, including the 2013 Department of Health and Human Services budget. (Editor’s Note: Both houses of the legislature did pass a $51.5 million transportation bond, at at press time were waiting to see if the governor elected to veto it and other bond measures.)
Raye, who has been a vocal proponent of a bond ever since the legislature tabled discussion of one during the last session, noted how critical capital infrastructure investments are for the state “to expand economic growth and commerce in Maine.”
Raye spoke about what he believes is “good debt and bad debt.” The good debt, he said, “is for projects made to last – roads, bridges, rail, sewer and water.” He warned against a “Christmas tree approach” that treats taxpayers’ money like a credit card. He also talked of the need to increase support for highways and bridges from the state’s General Fund.
Raye, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Maine’s second district, noted that the current Highway Fund budget includes $689 million for highway and bridge expenditures over two years and is estimated to create or support approximately 2,100 jobs. He also had words of praise for the head of the Maine Department of Transportation. He said the commissioner has worked over the past year to cope with decreased funding by finding efficiencies within his department and “wringing every mile of work out of the budget. . . David Bernhardt is doing a terrific job,” Raye said.
Representative Cain was also candid in her support for a bond package that focused on improving the state’s infrastructure.
“We need a bond package,” she said. “I’ve been a vocal, sometimes annoying proponent of a bond, like a dog on a bone,” said Cain making fun of her single-minded advocacy for more investment in infrastructure. “I can pivot to a discussion of a bond from any topic.”
Cain said that the right sort of investment – in infrastructure and education, including classrooms and labs – is an investment in the long-term economic well-being of the state.
After being briefed on current legislation under debate by the legislative leadership, Representatives Keschl and Hayes shifted discussion to issues of perception and priorities.
“It’s not just about bonding, it’s about resetting priorities,” said Keschl, who noted that state funding for transportation has declined in recent decades from 13 percent to just seven percent today.
The former town manager said he knows that roads are important to his constituents because that topic is a constant wherever he goes. “I am hearing about roads all the time. We have to do something about them.” He blamed gridlock in Washington as the major culprit. “When I was growing up, it seemed our government could agree.”
Representative Hayes talked of the need to create “enthusiastic taxpayers” who understand the need to think and invest long-term rather than settle for short-term solutions and quick fixes.
“We have to look at the future,” said Hayes. “We are so used to looking at the end of our noses.”
“We have been more reactive than proactive and spent a lot of time talking about things that don’t make an impact. If we focused on things we knew could make a difference, imagine what we could do.”
Now for something completely different
This fall, MBTA members, family and friends will be heading to a new location – the Portland Marriott – for the annual fall convention, September 14-16.
The change in location and venue comes after convention attendance has declined during recent years. And there already is excitement building for an urban-themed MBTA outing in the fall.
“Since the organization was founded almost 80 years ago, the convention has been an important event,” said MBTA Convention Committee Chair Tom Gorrill. “It traditionally is a time to celebrate the winding down of the construction season. In recent years, it’s also become an important fundraiser for the MBTA Infrastructure Development Fund.”
He said that the Convention Committee evaluated several things as they began organizing this year’s event – from location and venue to activities. The committee also surveyed several members to get a feel for what would work and what wouldn’t.
“We asked all the hard questions, including why they thought attendance had dropped off during the past two years,” said Gorrill. He noted that, not surprisingly, the economy has been the primary reason. Nevertheless, the members surveyed overwhelmingly wanted to continue the MBTA Convention tradition but in a new setting and with a new, flexible format.
Shopping and activities?
“September is a busy time for many MBTA families with school and sports just getting underway,” said MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes. “And we know from the survey responses that everyone is watching their bottom line, so members also liked the idea of being able to just come for one night, and this is more possible if we choose a location like Bangor or Portland.”
The idea of moving the center of convention activities to the Greater Portland region struck a chord with almost everyone the committee interviewed. People like the idea of an urban coastal outing. Also families like having a pool at the hotel, as well as beaches, shopping and recreational activities nearby. That made the choice of the Portland Marriott, near the Maine Mall and just minutes from Portland’s Old Port, a top pick.
With the location and date set, the committee will soon be busy rounding out the convention schedule. This is the time, too, that committee members begin rounding up convention sponsors.
“We are so fortunate to have so many companies willing to sponsor this event. Members really appreciate how important it is to support the association and the Infrastructure Fund that is so close to our mission,” said Gorrill.
The committee also is lining up three days of activities. Plans are to kick off the weekend with a harbor cruise on Casco Bay. “This puts a nice twist on our traditional grand opening reception,” said Fuentes.
Convention Chair Gorrill was quick to note that there are some traditions members said they were unwilling to give up – including the annual golf and cribbage tournaments.
“We want everyone to know that we are preserving the heart of the convention – and that is the time MBTA members get together to celebrate our accomplishments of the season and share time with families and friends.”
MBTA Fall Convention
Friday - Sunday, September 14 - 16
Portland Marriott Hotel, So. Portland
Managing the uncertainties
Founded in 1986, R.W. Gillespie & Associates, Inc. has been committed to assisting owners, developers, designers and contractors manage their project uncertainties. Now, the company has new leadership.
By Kathryn Buxton
R.W. Gillespie & Associates’ (RWG&A) mission is to provide high quality services in the fields of geotechnical engineering, environmental consulting, and special inspections and testing for construction projects. Rob Gillespie learned early in his career that a project can look very different in the field than it does on paper. The ability to be resourceful and examine data with a clear-eye – even in the field where conditions can be challenging – is a talent that Gillespie used to his clients’ advantage throughout his career in California, Florida, Montana and, for the past 26 years, in Maine and northern New England. Recently, Rob and Phyllis Gillespie turned their firm over to a new generation of owners.
RWG&A was founded in an unheated Sanford warehouse. Gillespie had grown up in the northeast and attended undergraduate and graduate school in Boston (the Franklin Institute, Northeastern University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He chose Sanford when he returned to New England with his family. “It was just an open warehouse bay, and when Phyllis joined me, we added two little offices with heat,” said Gillespie. The firm grew quickly after that. “We added our first employee in the spring of 1987 and by Christmas 1989, the company had 15 on the payroll.”
Over the past two and a half decades, RWG&A has expanded its reach and hired strategically to add services and build a niche in the New England market. You can see the RWG&A stamp on high profile projects throughout the region. RWG&A performed material testing for the Maine Turnpike Widening project (among other consulting they did on the project, RWG&A had an engineer on site in Canada to test the concrete bridge beams that were precast at a plant there), the construction of Hadlock Field in Portland, Gulf of Maine Research Institute as well as commercial developments including Augusta and Biddeford Crossing, the Target retail site in South Portland and numerous schools and residential complexes. RWG&A did the environmental consulting and materials testing on three redevelopment projects at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, as well.
“When we started, we were primarily a construction materials testing company,” recounted Gillespie. “We just did soil and concrete. But in 1989, we added bituminous paving, fireproofing, groundwater work and steel inspection,” he said (the firm is one of a few in the region to have construction material technologists on staff certified to test welds on steel construction). Currently, the company offers a broad range of geotechnical engineering, environmental consulting and special inspection and testing services for transportation, energy, government, commercial and municipal projects throughout northern New England.
In 1995, Gillespie hired Charlie Nickerson as the company’s chief geotechnical engineer (he later became president of the firm). It is easy to see how the two men’s rather different styles have complemented each other. Together, they led the company through a period of major expansion during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
By 1998, the firm had outgrown its original Sanford offices. That is when the firm moved to its current headquarters in Saco that today includes geotechnical and materials testing laboratories, offices and a file room that is filled to overflowing.
The firm added a second location in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1994. Currently the company employs 18 at its Saco location and three more at its Portsmouth office.
RWG&A also has made other strategic hires over the years. In particular, Erik Wiberg came on board as chief geotechnical engineer, Matthew Grady, materials testing services manager, and Marc Grenier, project geotechnical engineer.
Wiberg noted there have been recent changes at RWG&A. Rob and Phyllis Gillespie have retired to South Carolina, leaving Wiberg, Grady, Grenier and Nickerson with ownership of the firm. Wiberg is the president of RWG&A and will lead in the management of the new regime. Grady is overseeing the special inspection and testing group; and Grenier has taken charge of RWG&A’s Portsmouth office. Nickerson, with 36 years of experience, 16 with RWG&A, will continue as a principal engineer and assist in managing the company’s geotechnical group. New hire Jean Graunke, with an MBA and past experience at architectural and other professional service companies, has taken over human resource and accounting duties from Phyllis Gillespie.
The change in ownership has not affected the business operations since Wiberg, Grady and Grenier individually have 14 to 20 years of professional experience including 8 to 10 years at RWG&A. During a visit on a recent April afternoon, there was a great deal of activity at the company’s Saco headquarters. Technologists were testing a range of materials and processes in the firm’s laboratories and the company’s team of geologists and geotechnical engineers were gearing up for the hectic summer construction season. The firm has remained busy throughout the recent economic downturn following the steady course its founder set during its early days, providing timely results and providing clients with good value.
“We are out straight,” said Erik Wiberg. “Our personnel experience runs the gamut from heavy earthwork construction to dams, highways, and bridges to offshore marine structures. Clients come to us because we have a familiarity with the nature of their projects and expectations. We have the technical capability and we are efficient, so we can do the work at a fair price.”
It has helped that the firm has placed an emphasis on staff education and certification. “Our staff is well qualified in multiple areas and that is a great advantage on large and complex projects,” said Grady, who heads the firm’s testing services group.
RWG&A has several notable jobs underway. Its engineers have been performing geotechnical work for the $38.5 million rehabilitation of Building 178 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.
They also are providing materials testing services to a 20-plus turbine wind farm, a biopower plant, and a new tissue paper machine in New Hampshire. The firm has consulted on airfield improvement projects in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut, and has others in the pipeline. RWGA maintains qualifications and contracts with both the Maine Turnpike Authority and Maine Department of Transportation. The company also has significant geotechnical engineering capability with power transmission and substation projects.
Wiberg said that RWGA has recently hired additional construction technologists and summer interns, and is looking for geotechnical engineers. The seasonal positions typically are filled by engineering students looking to gain on-the-job experience for their resumes. Over the summer, they will collect samples in the field and help out in the firm’s soil testing laboratory.
Wiberg said that it’s an excellent way to learn the business from the ground up.
RWG&A also has remained active in advocating for the industries it serves. The firm, an MBTA member, has supported MBTA’s recent advocacy efforts to raise awareness of the need for public investment in infrastructure. Wiberg and Nickerson are former presidents of the Maine Section, American Society of Civil Engineers. During Wiberg’s term, the organization compiled and released its first Maine Infrastructure Report Card. Nickerson was a founding member of the DEP Task Force and a past chairman of the Transportation Conference.
“The health, safety and welfare of our citizens are directly tied to the quality of our infrastructure,” said Wiberg. “Maine’s economy is built on its infrastructure. If Maine is to grow economically and sustain its quality of life, investment in our infrastructure needs to be a higher priority.”
Three receive Build Maine awards
Three MBTA members recently received 2012 Build Maine Awards from the Associated General Contractors (AGC Maine) at a ceremony in Augusta on April 11. They were Wyman & Simpson, the Ted Berry Company and Cianbro.
Wyman & Simpson of Richmond took the top award in the Bridge Division for construction of the first bridge in the world to use multiple hybrid composite beam spans. The new Knickerbocker Bridge in Boothbay crosses the Back River and serves as the main access point to the mainland for the communities of Hodgdon and Barters Islands. The 540-ft. long bridge uses eight composite spans ranging from 60 to 70 feet in length. The beams were constructed by Harbor Technologies of Brunswick. There are only two other bridges using this new technology; both are single-span bridges.
The Ted Berry Company of Livermore won a Build Maine award for a sewer line replacement for the Warren Sanitary District. The firm used static pipe bursting technology to replace 1,600 feet of an active sewer line that carries 30,000 gallons of flow each day to the district’s treatment plant. The pipe bursting technology inserts the new pipe into the path of the old pipe underground without digging a lengthy trench. To keep the plant operational, an above ground bypass pipe was used during the course of the project.
Cianbro Corporation of Pittsfield took two first-place awards. One was for the construction of a new three-story, 38,000-square-foot offshore wind laboratory for the University of Maine. Designed by WBRC Architects – Engineers of Bangor, the facility offers testing capabilities for offshore wind blades, anchors and towers, as well as other industrial uses that require testing of very large pieces of equipment. The second Cianbro award was in the Industrial Category for the rebuilding and extension of a dry dock at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. The extension is approximately 90 feet wide, 50 feet long and 40 feet tall. It required 850 cubic yards of concrete and 126 tons of reinforcing steel. The new dry dock now can handle ships nearly 600 feet long with beam heights of more than 80 feet.
A fourth award went to the Penobscot Company for its work to restore three Maine lighthouses.
FMI: The Build Maine awards are annual honors by AGC Maine. To learn more, visit www.agcmaine.org
‘Skin in the game’
MPI program allocates $7 million to locally driven capital projects
One of the concerns we hear about the operations of state government is the amount of time it can take to get things accomplished. As the director of maintenance and operations for MaineDOT, I am proud to say that in an emergency – flooding, road washout, snow event, etc. – our response is immediate, efficient and effective. However, when it comes to planned capital projects, the process may seem rather slow, especially from the municipal perspective.
The Municipal Partnership Initiative (MPI) program was conceived and developed in early 2011. It is a creative way to develop, fund and build projects of municipal interest on the state infrastructure system with MaineDOT as a partner. It is our intention that this program remains simple, flexible and fast moving. The program has taken off quickly, and we have already received proposals from more than 20 municipalities to participate.
The overall goal of the MPI program is to respond to municipal interests, leverage economic opportunities and improve safety whenever possible while ensuring the public gets good value for their tax dollars. The program allows projects that are of a lower statewide priority but of importance to the community to receive improvements. If the town is willing to have “skin in the game,” then we’re going to work with them to help meet their needs.
Unless waived by the commissioner, the state funding contribution for a project is capped at $500,000 and generally has a state share of 50 percent or less. State funding for MPI is limited by available funds, which may be impacted by revenue projections, legislative budget deliberations, bid prices and the severity of winter weather. For the FY 12-13 biennium, MaineDOT has $7 million for the MPI. Funding shares are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, depending on the extent of regional or statewide benefits. Consideration is given to the impact a project has on eliminating the need for current and future projects and maintenance needs. The option also exists for municipalities to propose shifting long-term maintenance responsibilities as part of their share. Municipal interest has been high, meaning available MPI funding for the next year and a half is dwindling.
In order to be eligible, each project must meet the following criteria:
- Professional Engineer Certified: Unless waived by MaineDOT’s chief engineer, all projects must be designed by an engineer licensed in Maine. Once constructed, the engineer of record must certify that the project was built in accordance with the plans and specifications.
- 10-Year Useful Life: Unless waived by MaineDOT’s chief engineer, the work must have a minimum 10-year useful life.
- Deliverability: Usually construction will be administered by the municipality, when this is the case the municipality must demonstrate to MaineDOT that they have the ability or can obtain the ability to administer the project. Construction must be certified complete 24 months from when a cooperative agreement is signed.
- Public Involvement: The municipality is responsible to lead the public involvement process consistent with all laws, including Maine’s Sensible Transportation Policy Act.
- Betterment to the State Transportation System: The work covered must be betterment to the state transportation system above and beyond the requirement of any law or permit condition. For instance, investments must be improvements above and beyond mitigation for a traffic movement permit or above and beyond the legal requirements of a highway opening permit.
- Multiple Party Agreements: The municipality and all involved parties must be willing to enter into an agreement whereby the MPI grant amount is capped, based on project estimates prior to construction.
- Right-of-Way Acquisition: MPI grants will only reimburse for the right of way required for the transportation betterment. Most projects are expected to be within existing rights of way. However, the municipality may be asked to secure any needed property rights in accordance with all applicable State and Federal
In closing, MPI projects are a great way for the state and municipalities to work together to get projects of more local importance done quickly and cost effectively.