AUGUSTA — State money won’t go to a stalled project that would build cabins for homeless veterans on the grounds of the federal veterans’ hospital in Togus this year, but supporters say they’ll continue their fundraising effort.

The money would jump-start the $4 million Cabins in the Woods project from Volunteers of America, a charity trying to build 21 cabins for homeless Maine veterans on 11 wooded acres of the VA Maine Healthcare System’s campus between Augusta and Chelsea. At June’s end, legislators decided to carry over two bills that would have funded the project to next year’s legislative session.

The proposals, sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, would have funded the project either with $1 million from the state budget that would have to be matched by $3 million in private funding or with $4 million from a bond that would need voters’ approval.

Julia Wilcock, vice president for business development for Volunteers of America in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, said “it would be wrong for me to not be worried” about the project’s future, but she and Golden said they will keep working to secure funding.

“Having them carry it over, I think, was an indication that it’s a project worth looking at,” said Golden, a Marine Corps veteran.

The project has been slow to come together. Volunteers of America secured a 75-year lease for the Togus grounds in 2011. In 2012, The Home Depot Foundation pledged $1.37 million in funding for it, but Wilcock has said that the money was pulled back because the charity didn’t raise private money. However, a state contribution could bring that money back and help recruit other donors.


“We are doing everything we can still to fund the project, but funding is very competitive, and because of the location, because it’s very rural, (that) makes it that much more difficult to compete for dollars,” Wilcock said.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who co-sponsored Golden’s bills and sits on the budget-writing committee, said legislators would be more likely to find funding in a bond than in the state budget for the project, since revenue probably will decline after income tax cuts recently passed in the state’s two-year budget. But he said it could happen in 2016, and he hopes “we can make it a priority.”

This year, Katz said, it lost out largely because legislators were focused on passing a $100 million bond package that matched the priorities of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration. The final package passed by legislators Tuesday would ask voters to approve $85 million in bonds for road, bridge and other infrastructure projects that is backed by the Republican governor’s transportation department. LePage signed the bond request on Thursday.

“There’s no question that Cabins in the Woods is a very creative project that would fill a real need, but the unfortunate part is that it has to compete with some very important priorities,” Katz said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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