As 2022 begins, much of our policy focus has shifted from making a case for why public funding is needed to supporting projects and communities in applying for the numerous new or enhanced funding opportunities. Over the next few months, we will be diving in deeply to help the communities we work with understand these funding streams and make the best use of this opportunity to make generational investments in their communities.
Multiple pieces of legislation passed by Congress in 2021 included significant federal funding. Some of this funding flows through existing programs, and some will flow through new programs. As many Maine communities have found out, applying for and receiving federal funding can be an arduous task. The “free” money often comes with significant transactional costs in terms of paperwork, reporting, restrictions on the use of funds, and lengthy delays in getting projects started. Federal funding is suited for projects that are well planned and have the human capacity to see the funding through from application to award to implementation.
State agencies are working hard to implement various programs that were funded last spring and summer through the appropriations process and the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan. This document proposes how the State should use the Federal American Recovery Plan funding. Many of these funding streams are better tailored to meet the needs of Maine communities and businesses. Additionally, State agencies are more accessible and often can be a good partner in making generational investments in your community.
Three significant opportunities that are currently open include:
- $16 million for broadband connections from ConnectMaine: These funds, which will be awarded through a revised grant program, are a mix of the remaining bond funds from the 2020 broadband bond and an additional $10 million from the new Maine Connectivity Authority. You can learn more about the Maine Connectivity Authority their purpose and objectives in this Strategic Summary. In addition, Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, recently wrote an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News that highlights the importance of getting to work and being ready for these funds.
- The Working Waterfront Access Protection Program from the Land For Maine’s Future and the Department of Marine Resources: The Land for Maine’s Future program has $40 million over the next 4 years and at least 10% of these funds are dedicated to working waterfront preservation. The workbook can be found here and letters of intent are encouraged, with a February 28th deadline.
- $10 million at Maine Housing Affordable Homeownership Program: In an effort to increase the supply of moderately-priced homes available to Mainers, the State of Maine is making $10 million available to facilitate the development of subdivisions with affordable single family homes. The program is intended to help lower the costs to developers building single-family subdivisions by providing zero percent interest, forgivable loans. This funding will help to offset the rising costs to developers for land acquisitions, labor, and materials.
Additional state funding programs coming soon that we have our eye on:
- $20 million at the Maine Department of Transportation to protect infrastructure from climate change.
- $10 million at the Maine Department of Marine Resources to support seafood processors and dealers to make upgrades or repairs that build resilience.
- $8 million to expand municipal and public Electric Vehicle charging, administered by the Efficiency Maine Trust.
- $7 million at the Maine Department of Marine Resources for fish passage and habitat restoration work.
Reports to the Legislature
State agency staff are busy briefing legislative committees and reporting back on legislatively requested studies or work from the active 2021 session.
Here are some of the developments relevant to our work and the Maine coast.
- Maine Climate Council: The Maine Climate Council provided a progress report on the first year of implementation of Maine’s climate action plan, “Maine Wont Wait.” Additionally, the State provided a report on how State agencies can lead by example on addressing climate action. The Maine Climate Council did a report back to the Marine Resources Committee. That report back included an update on the current state of marine sciences by the Island Institute’s Susie Arnold, which starts about 46 minutes in. Additionally, Maine has a new Clean Transportation Road Map – and slide deck presentation.
- Island Institute supported legislation: Based on legislation passed in 2021 that the Island Institute supported, various state entities provided additional in-depth reports:
- The Maine Department of Environmental Protection led a review of state statutes to understand what changes would be needed to incorporate legislative approved sea level rise projects. That report back is available here and starts about 1 hour and 8 minutes in.
- The Maine Service Commission developed a proposal on how best to structure and implement the Maine Climate Corps and is preparing to launch the Maine Service Fellows
- The Maine Climate Council’s Equity Subcommittee will be presenting recommendations to the council in early February about how to ensure all Mainers can benefit from programs designed to address climate change.
- Zoning, land use regulation, and housing: One of the more prominent legislative study commissions this fall looked at the connection between zoning, land use regulation, and the availability of housing. The report is available here as well as this YouTube video of the presentation. This commission received several reports and aggregated a significant amount of information about the current state of housing in Maine. The Commission’s materials and meetings highlight the strong agreement around the need to expand the availability of housing and the importance of supporting municipalities as they make changes to their zoning and land use laws. The Commission’s recommendations also include allowing accessory dwelling units in all areas currently zoned for single-family homes as well as the elimination of single family zoning in all residential areas of the state and generally allow up to four units subject to some exceptions.
- Right to Know Advisory Committee: Finally, the Right to Know Advisory Committee produced their annual report and presented it to the Judiciary Committee. This report discusses the newly adopted state policy of allowing remote meetings by public bodies. At the Island Institute, we know boards and commissions are adopting the required policies and also that some bumps in the road are appearing.
In Maine, this legislative session offers numerous opportunities and impacts for our coast and islands coming out of the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan and other community investments. We will be keeping an eye on all of these issues and funding programs as they develop further and look forward keeping you up to date with periodic updates. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out about any of this work.
Nick Battista is the chief policy officer at the Island Institute.