As everyone knows, Maine's two Republican Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, played a key role in passing President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package earlier this month. So what does Maine get from the stimulus package's heavy spending?
There's no indication that horse-trading based on local needs was part of the deal that Senators Collins and Snowe (along with Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter) finally made to help the package get the necessary three-fifths majority (60 out of 100 votes) to pass the Senate. (No other Republicans in the Senate or the House voted for the bill.) Generally, Maine is treated the same as every other state in the spending program's formulas. It's still early to say how, where, and when much of that money may eventually get spent. But a look at the preliminary breakdowns gives some idea of how Maine, and other coastal states, will be affected by the federally-backed spending surge.
Portland, Maine's Coastal Journal passes on some figures supplied by Senator Collins' office. Major chunks of the money come as continued or increased spending on big existing programs that have no special relevance for the building or remodeling industries. Top examples: Maine will get $470 million in federal Medicaid money, and $116 million in food stamp dollars. Maine will also get a $196 million from the "State Stabilization Fund" — general support for state activities such as education, school construction and maintenance, and public safety. Maine workers will also get a tax credit of up to $400 apiece ($800 for couples).
A few line items may affect contractors and the building trades directly. For example, Maine's low-income housing weatherization program will get $42 million extra dollars to spend, and the state's Energy Efficiency Program will get $27 million. And Maine will get $50 million to spend on water and sewer infrastructure.
As Maine Goes ... When it comes to that last item — updating the state's sewers — Maine has some "shovel-ready" projects. Like most coastal states and most of the nation, Maine has a problem with "combined flows" — a situation where stormwater runoff and sewage flow through the same set of pipes and run to the same place (the sewage treatment plant). In many communities, a heavy rainstorm typically overwhelms the sewage treatment plant, and overflows of untreated sewage run straight into rivers and the ocean. A map posted on The Vigorous North blog shows combined sewer overflow discharge points located around the City of Portland, Maine.
Portland Combined Sewer Overflow Outlets (CSO's) -- locations where street runoff combined with raw sewage dumps into streams and ponds during wet weather -- are shown as circles. Stars are locations that dump only street runoff, which can contain animal feces.
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, 34 Maine communities have a total of 190 combined overflow discharge points, resulting in an annual flow of 1.5 billion to 3 billion gallons of mixed stormwater and sewage to rivers and oceans each year. Those overflows violate both state and federal clean water laws; state legislator John Nutting is pushing a bill to force all of Maine's towns to clean up their acts within four years.
Portland Mayor, Jill Duson, is asking for $12 million from the stimulus package to help fund Portland's $61 million sewer upgrade program aimed at eliminating combined overflows.
At a White House meeting between mayors and the President, Duson also endorsed Obama's goal of providing accountability and transparency for public tracking of how all the stimulus money is spent. (The administration released a 25,000-word documentlast week detailing how federal, state, and local authorities are expected to report spending so that citizens can follow the money on the White House's new stimulus package website.)
Mayor Duson told the Maine Press Herald, "I am personally committed to make sure that our senators – who went out on a limb for the package – can demonstrate that it was administered properly and efficiently and created jobs in the Portland region." At the state level, Maine Governor, John Baldacci, has pledged to keep the stimulus money separate from other state spending, setting up special accounts at all state agencies to isolate and track the federal funds.
Municipal efforts to clean up contaminated stormwater overflows are mostly big civil engineering projects. However, builders and developers can also play a key role in preventing stormwater overflows, experts say, by applying "Low Impact Development" stormwater management methods. "Integrated Management Practices" like green roofs, cisterns, rain barrels, landscape swales, "rain gardens," and permeable sidewalks and driveways can allow most or all of the stormwater that falls on a site to soak harmlessly into the earth and recharge groundwater, rather than running off into waterways or the ocean — and this can eliminate the need for costly civil engineering solutions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has information on LID methods at the EPA website. But it's not clear whether federal stimulus money will stretch to cover these advanced methods — even though LID has been demonstrated to cost less and perform better than old-fashioned "end of pipe" approaches. Look to Coastal Connection later in the year for more information on green methods for stormwater management.