Finally, something that brings everyone together: clean water. Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, business groups, organizations representing sportsmen and environmentalists, public health advocates, state agencies, and more, have joined a coalition and appeared at a press conference last month to support L.D. 1455. Seems as if the Clean Water and Safe Communities Act is a sure thing.
Well, that’s what I thought when this $50 million bond issue was up for consideration last year at the Legislature. In fact, I already had written a column predicting victory, when I had to edit it hastily after the bond failed before the column could be published. So I’m going to be a bit more cautious now.
At a mid-March press conference, we heard strong supportive remarks from Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, assistant House majority leader and sponsor of the bill; Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, House minority leader; Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce; Matthew Marks, CEO of Associated General Contractors; Dave Trahan, executive director, of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine; Maureen Drouin, executive director of Maine Conservation Alliance and spokeswoman for Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition, and others.
The news release emailed to me by Tom Abello of The Nature Conservancy contained three pages of glowing testimony from these leaders in support of the water bond. Seems like a sure thing.
Well, maybe this time the Legislature will get this right. And here’s what is right about this bond issue.
It provides money for Maine’s Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Fund to upgrade drinking water systems and wastewater treatment.
Some of the money will be used to upgrade culverts and stream crossings, storm water management, and irrigation systems. This is particularly important to those of us who treasure native fish, too many of which have been cut off from spawning grounds by poorly installed culverts.
Perhaps most importantly, bond money will be used for natural infrastructure, including conservation and restoration of drinking water aquifers, headwater forests, freshwater and coastal wetlands, lakes and ponds, and rivers, streams and their floodplains.
Fredette spoke eloquently at the press conference, offering his personal experiences as testimony and emphasizing that “this bond will make sound investments in creating and preserving jobs in areas like construction, tourism, fisheries and engineering to strengthen Maine’s long-term economic base and competitive advantage.”
McCabe got it right when he said, “Maine’s water resources are critical assets that support our economy and quality of life. This is a jobs, clean water and wildlife bond that will have an immediately, measureable impact on Maine’s natural resources.”
Jeff McNelly, executive director of the Maine Water Utilities Association, noted that “this state funding would trigger some $25 million in federal match to invest in Maine’s drinking water systems and wastewater treatment facilities.”
Trahan spoke for me and hundreds of thousands of other sportsmen when he said, “Protecting habitat for native brook trout, waterfowl and other species that drives Maine’s outdoor recreation economy and attract millions of tourists is tremendously important.”
Perhaps all of these people spoke for you, too. And yes, it’s wise to position this as a jobs bill, but it’s really a quality of life bill — and I don’t mean for tourists, although that’s important too — I mean the quality of life that you and I are privileged to enjoy as Mainers. Without doubt, keeping our waters clean is becoming both a challenge and an opportunity. Most Americans envy our clean water.
An impressive list of some of Maine’s best legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, have cosponsored the bill, including Sens. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and Reps. Russell Black, R-Wilton, and Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade.
Saviello and Keschl bear the burden of representing me in the Senate and House respectively, and I am very proud of them. It certainly doesn’t surprise me that they actively support this important bill.
If the bond gets on the ballot and we vote for it in November, and the governor actually does what we want and sells the bonds, the money would be granted to cities, towns, community groups and conservation organizations in a competitive grant process, with grants awarded by a newly created Water Resources Board, consisting of members of the public and state agency leaders.
I suppose it didn’t hurt that a recent poll found nearly seven in 10 Mainers will support the bond, including large majorities in both political parties. Seems like a sure thing, doesn’t it?
Well, the water bond will be a sure thing if legislators and the governor let us vote on it. That most definitely is not a sure thing, until it happens.