A large chunk of money that Portland Waterfront officials had been counting on for a harbor dredging project may have been restored just days after Gov. Mills proposed applying it elsewhere.
Maine’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to keep $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for the Portland Harbor Dredging project, rather than reallocate the funds as originally proposed by Governor Janet Mills.
After learning of Mills’ proposal to reallocate the funds, Portland officials and waterfront leaders scrambled to advocate for the funding, assembling a video aiming to show the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee of the economic and environmental impact of dredging the harbor. According to their reports, the harbor has accumulated 70 years’ worth of sediment buildup, making it difficult, in some cases impossible, for commercial, passenger and fishing vessels to use the wharves.
The recommendation must be approved by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Mills for her signature before the funds will be allocated.
The $10 million is a crucial piece of the estimated $31.9 million total sought for the Portland Harbor Dredging Project, which is nearing its application deadline for the remainder of the funding at the end of February. Prior applications to the United States Department of Transportation for the rest of the funding have been denied all three times, and proponents of the project expressed concern that losing another $10 million of funds that were already secured would put the fourth application in jeopardy.
A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services told the Phoenix last week that Gov. Janet Mills took the three denials of prior applications into consideration for her budget proposal. Mills thought the $10 million would best be allocated toward the Small Business Health Insurance Premium Relief Program, which reduces small businesses’ health insurance premiums for employees, set to expire in April.
With the $10 million in ARPA funding confirmed for the project, the dredging project team has a total of $22 million of the necessary funding, and can request the remaining $10 million with their application.
Dan Haley, Chair of the Harbor Commission, felt confident on Friday about the fourth application for federal funding, knowing that the ARPA funds have potentially been restored. It means the group can ask for less funding from the federal government.
“The Portland Harbor Commission and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross are also looking for support from the Cumberland County Government, which would result in a smaller ask from the federal government,” Haley said.