Legislature earmarks $8M in bonds for Brunswick air base redevelopment

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BRUNSWICK — The Legislature last week approved a bond package that includes $8 million for the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The entire $150 million package still must be ratified by voters in June 2010. The so-called “responsible investment plan” was pitched by Gov. John Baldacci as the state’s version of the federal economic stimulus package. It originally called for $306 million in spending, including $10 million for base redevelopment. 

However, even after the Legislature slashed the package in half, officials overseeing BNAS redevelopment were pleased to be in line to receive an allocation that constitutes 5 percent of the entire plan. 

“We’re thrilled,” said Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. “There was a point last week when we could have ended up with nothing.”

The $8 million allocation will be used for two purposes. The first portion, $4.75 million, will go toward the creation of a college campus that includes a joint venture between Southern Maine Community College and the University of Maine’s engineering school. The so-called Advanced Technology Campus is designed to double as a new college campus and business-attraction hub.

Levesque has said the campus is vital to base redevelopment because it will allow SMCC to tailor its curriculum to provide a trained workforce for incoming businesses. The partnership with UMaine allows SMCC students to obtain engineering degrees.

The U.S. Navy has already awarded SMCC a no-cost property conveyance for four buildings at the “quad” portion of the base. Levesque said the properties are worth a combined $60 million.

The remainder of the bond, $3.25 million, will go to the redevelopment authority for property acquisition, infrastructure or use as leverage for federal grants. The amount is $2 million less than MRRA had hoped for, but Levesque said it would only prevent the authority from removing fencing around the base, a project he hoped would qualify for other funding. 

Despite early resistance from Republicans, the Senate unanimously supported the bond package, 32-0. Levesque credited the work of the local legislative delegation, in particular Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, who Levesque said worked hard to win support from reluctant Republicans. 

“(Gerzofsky) was amazing up there,” Levesque said.

Levesque said it was now time to appeal to voters by emphasizing that BNAS closure is a Maine issue, not just a Brunswick cause. He said a redeveloped base could be an economic engine for the entire state. 

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