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Brunswick base agency sets timetable for redevelopment goals

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Brunswick base agency sets timetable for redevelopment goals

TOPSHAM — When the civilian build-out of Brunswick Naval Air Station is complete, base redevelopers hope to create about 14,000 jobs, nearly triple the number expected to be lost in the 2011 closure.

Strengthening the local workforce is cause for optimism, but when the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority set its short-, mid- and long-term job-creation goals Tuesday, it attached an important caveat: Time.

How long it will take for BNAS redevelopment has emerged as a topic of debate between those afraid of setting too-high expectations and those who seeking a fast track to recovery and prosperity.

During its final meeting of 2009 at the Topsham Town Hall, the MRRA Board of Directors opted to temper expectations, voting unanimously to link expectations to job recovery.

MRRA's goals include creating 700 jobs within three years of base transfer from the U.S. Navy, a number that would effectively replace the base's active civilian employment. In 10 to 15 years, MRRA hopes to fully recover $140 million lost in annual payroll, about 2,700 jobs. And, in 25 to 30 years, the agency is hoping to reach the 14,000-job threshold.

MRRA board member Gary Brown was the first to suggest the time line. Brown, Brunswick's town manager, said it was important for residents to realize that base redevelopment is a "marathon rather than a sprint."

"I raise this issue knowing it could cost me," said Brown, who is up for reappointment by Gov. John Baldacci. "But I often worry about high expectations. Too often I hear that everything will be fine once we get the base. But that's not the case."

Brown's sentiments were backed by the board. But some acknowledged the risk of linking timetables to goals, since many important factors are out of MRRA's control, including market conditions, resources for infrastructure improvements and property transfer delays.

Those elements prompted MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque to caution against pulling timetables "out of the air."

In other business, the board unanimously adopted the MRRA's 2010 spending plan. The $1.49 million budget is derived from several funding sources, about 90 percent of which comes from the Department of Defense through the Office of Economic Adjustment.

The OEA's allocation for 2010 is $924,000, down about $300,000 from 2009.

MRRA Deputy Director Jeffrey Jordan said the dip was attributed to proposed reductions in the defense spending bill and Congress scrapping the F-22 fighter program. The latter, Jordan said, came with an OEA mandate to use funds to assist communities that would have benefited from the program.

Despite the cut, MRRA's spending total plan is close to the one it had in 2009 and part of 2008. Jordan said that is attributed to a change that allows the agency to carry over some underspent line items into next year, the lack of outlays for an airport master plan and operations plan, and the recent approval of a $400,000 feasibility study for a proposed Renewable Energy Center.

Included in the 2010 budget are expenditures for economic development and marketing, property management and a municipal services deal between Topsham and Brunswick.

MRRA is also awaiting news about the governor's reappointments to the board. Brown and Charlie Spies are awaiting the governor's recommendation. Baldacci will also attempt to fill three vacancies on a board that has experienced a fair share of turnover due to resignations.

The most recent member to step down was Shepard Lee, who in a Nov. 30 letter told Baldacci that he was not finding his work on MRRA "interesting."

As of Wednesday, Lee, a Cape Elizabeth resident, had not sent his resignation to MRRA.

Baldacci was expected to announce his MRRA appointments on Friday.

The board also unanimously passed a measure allowing MRRA to host an air show in August of 2011. Levesque said that the Blue Angels have already agreed to perform.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net