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Maine's Governor Works to Secure $54.4M to Strengthen Coastal Towns Hit by Storms

Mon February 12, 2024 - Northeast Edition

The administration of Maine Gov. Janet Mills has two measures under way to help coastal communities in the state to rebuild and become more resilient after January's devastating storms.

Her office is looking to expedite a $50 million proposal to assist towns in rebuilding infrastructure and enhance climate resiliency, Mainebiz reported Feb. 12.

In addition, her office recently announced the availability of $4.4 million in federal funds to help Maine's electrical grid withstand the effects of extreme storms.

Rainy Day Fund, Indeed

During her State of the State Address on Jan. 30, Mills proposed to invest $50 million in the Maine Infrastructure Adaptation Fund to help the state's coastal areas rebuild in the wake of the recent storms and ensure their infrastructure can withstand the impacts of extreme storms in the future.

The money would come from the state's record-high Budget Stabilization Fund, known as the "Rainy Day Fund."

Mills said she would introduce the proposal in standalone legislation, rather than as part of her forthcoming supplemental budget, in order to advance the bill more quickly through the legislative process.

"Communities hard hit by the recent storms are in need of help, and we want to deliver that help as soon as possible," she explained. "By considering this proposal apart from the supplemental budget, I hope we can more quickly move it through the Legislature and, ultimately, distribute these vital funds to Maine communities with urgent needs faster."

The Maine Infrastructure Adaptation Fund, created in 2021, provides grants for significant infrastructure adaptation, repair, and improvements that support public safety, protection of essential community assets and long-term infrastructure resiliency.

Project types may include working waterfront infrastructure, culverts, storm water systems, water system upgrades and other interventions that support reducing or eliminating climate impacts, especially coastal and inland flooding.

The monies are intended for public projects with exemptions available for some types of private infrastructure upgrades with significant community benefits, such as waterfronts.

The legislation is expected to be introduced in the coming days, Mainebiz noted Feb. 12.

Increasing Resilience

The $4.4 million in federal funds through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to increase the resilience of the electrical grid is due to be administered by the Governor's Energy Office (GEO) through the Maine Grid Resilience Program.

Specifically, that money will support projects such as weatherizing critical technology and equipment, moving electrical infrastructure underground, and improving vegetation and utility pole management, among others.

The funds come after a series of severe winter storms in December and January caused significant devastation to communities, several millions of dollars in infrastructure damage, and left hundreds of thousands of Mainers without power for days.

"We know we can expect more severe storms in the future, which means that we need to take action now to strengthen our electrical grid, and that's exactly what the Grid Resilience Program will do," said Mills.

The investments are expected to both improve the grid and reduce the frequency and duration of power outages.

"With the frequency and severity of storms expected to increase as a result of climate change, it's imperative that we make smart investments in our electrical grid to mitigate and reduce future impacts," noted GEO Director Dan Burgess. "Through this program, our goal is to empower Maine households, businesses, and communities to be resilient to future disruptive events."

GEO was awarded the money from the U.S. Department of Energy and anticipates receiving another $6.6 million in future Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for more grid resilience projects in forthcoming years, Mainebiz learned.

Maine entities eligible for the monies include electric utilities, electricity generators and storage operators.

In addition to supporting grid resilience, the program aims to support Maine's climate and clean energy goals and further expand the state's clean energy economy, which is the fastest growing in New England, the Mills administration noted in a news release.

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