What’s not to like about clean water, 3,000 jobs and new systems – not to mention the ability to leverage federal funds?
by Kate Dempsey, Matt Marks, and Matt Timberlake
Portland Press Herald op-ed
On Monday, Maine legislative leaders have a significant opportunity to create or sustain 3,000 jobs, protect clean water, support our river and ocean fisheries and support Maine’s rural and recreational economy. They can accomplish all those goals by supporting one piece of legislation: the Clean Water and Jobs Bond package.
This bond package has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate for a good reason. This year’s $60 million bond is modeled on the one that passed the House 126-19 and the Senate 30-2 in 2014. That bill, like this one, enjoyed the strong support of a diverse coalition representing Republicans, Democrats, independents, business leaders, contractors, sportswomen and men, municipal leaders, economic development professionals and environmentalists from every region of Maine.
Protecting Maine’s clean water and investing in water infrastructure is good for our economy, our bottom line and our environment. An Associated General Contractors analysis of the 2014 bill projected it would create or sustain more than 1,000 jobs and add $119 million to Maine’s gross domestic product and $38.5 million to personal earnings. The bill also allowed Maine to leverage over $21 million in federal matching funds. The 2014 bond delivered substantial environmental benefits as well, including protecting clean drinking water, stormwater system upgrades to keep sewage out of our waterways, and restoration of natural habitat so Maine’s fish, game and wildlife thrive.
The good news is the 2014 water bond delivered. In three rounds of grant awards, 72 projects from Fort Kent to Kittery were funded. Each of these projects is rigorously evaluated and prioritized based on multiple factors, but here is just one example of how important these investments are economically: alewives and the Maine lobster fishery.
This spring, Maine’s historic alewife runs happened again. Hundreds of thousands of fish went up brooks and streams from the ocean to spawn. There are only 24 municipalities in Maine actively harvesting alewives, which are an essential bait fish used by lobstermen and women up and down our coast. Culvert upgrades undertaken with funds from the 2014 bond – in Ellsworth, Newcastle, Lincolnville, Orland, Phippsburg and West Bath, as well as two in Dresden – were critical to maintaining eight of those 24 alewive fisheries. Failing culverts and closed streams in these places could shut off a vital part of Maine’s $547 million lobster harvest.
Here is the not-so-good news: There is so much more critical water infrastructure in need of work and in danger of failing. For example, while 72 projects have been selected and funded since 2014, the total number of projects seeking to fund was 207. That means there are 132 projects are still pending.
A new analysis by the Maine chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Maine a D-plus grade for wastewater infrastructure and a C-plus for drinking water, noting that water infrastructure in many instances is “10-50 years” beyond 100-year replacement cycles. We know from a recent University of Southern Maine study for the Portland Water District that investments like the ones included in the 2014 water bond and this year’s bill can save taxpayers 2½ times the cost of delaying investments until there is a failure.
Here are two more practical, tangible reasons to support the Clean Water and Jobs Bond package. If legislative leaders pass the package, Maine will receive $121.5 million in federal funds to invest in wastewater projects across the state. If we do not pass the package, it will be much harder for Maine to leverage federal funds. And according to an analysis by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Associated General Contractors of Maine, the passage of this package will create or sustain well over 3,000 Maine jobs.
For all of these reasons, we urge legislative leaders to fully fund the Clean Water and Jobs Bond package on Monday. Fixing our roads, culverts, bridges, drinking and wastewater systems offers direct, tangible and immediate benefits for people all over our state. Let’s get something good done that supports 3,000 Maine jobs, clean water, Maine’s fisheries and Maine’s rural economy by passing this package.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Kate Dempsey is state director of The Nature Conservancy, Matt Marks is CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Maine and Matt Timberlake is president of the Maine Water Environment Association.