Gov. Paul LePage is not very popular in Portland, and it sometimes seems that the feeling is mutual.

He’s been elected twice statewide, but took a 4-to-1 thumping both times in the state’s biggest and most progressive city. And since taking office, he has battled Portland in his budgets, in court and over the airwaves.

But at least in one area, the LePage administration has been as good a friend to the city as it could ever hope to have in Augusta, and it has made an important contribution to its economic future. That area is the port.

Since LePage came to office in 2011, there has been significant investment of state and federal funds to improve the cargo facility, including land acquisition that permitted an extension of a rail line and the future site of a state-of-the-art cold storage facility.

The administration’s contribution has been more than financial. The state has shown real leadership, attracting the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip to make Portland its North American base, opening a trade route from the United States to Europe that runs right through Portland.

Containers offloaded by Eimskip can now be sent by rail to almost anywhere in America. Containers filled with goods from Maine can be trucked to Portland, and then loaded onto a ship or a train, lowering the manufacturer’s transportation costs. The cold storage facility, which will be under construction later this year, will create more opportunities for shipping items like fish, meat and produce.


“We’re not looking at Maine as being at the end of the transportation trail, but as the front door to a different part of the world,” said Portland Longshoremen’s Benevolent Association Vice President Jack Humeniuk.

Last week, the first train loaded with containers that had been trucked to the port rolled out of Portland. The cargo was Poland Spring water, which was being sent to a distribution hub in Massachusetts, a trip that would have been made truck at a higher cost. Three trains a week loaded with water will make the journey as part of a pilot program.

What’s going on at the port has been a collaborative effort, years in the making. The participation of private-sector businesses like Eimskip, Pan Am Railways and Poland Spring would not have been possible without a commitment of public resources from the state and federal governments, and coordination provided by the Maine Department of Transportation.

Public investment in transportation infrastructure has a much greater potential to create jobs than many economic development programs that rely on tax breaks to lure businesses into the state.

Portland Harbor could serve as very visible proof that government and industry can work together, and if it succeeds, the LePage administration will deserve a large share of the credit.

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