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Gov. Mills aims to fast-track storm relief funding

Flooding damage along the Androscoggin River in Bethel and Rumford, as seen on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023.
Brian Bechard
/
Maine Public
Flooding damage along the Androscoggin River in Bethel and Rumford, as seen on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023.

The Mills administration hopes to fast-track a bill that would provide $50 million to communities to repair infrastructure damaged during recent storms.

Gov. Janet Mills told lawmakers last weekduring her State of the State address that she would include the $50 million allocation in a larger budget bill. But lawmakers likely won't finalize that budget until spring. So on Friday, Mills' office said she would introduce a stand-alone bill that could hypothetically move faster 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,” Mills said in a statement. “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.”

Coastal and riverfront communities were hit hard by flooding, storm surge and powerful winds during three storms that hit Maine over the course of less than a month. The first, in December, caused widespread power outages and the worst flooding in decades in many riverside town. Thenin January, two storms packing hurricane-force wind gusts in some areas caused severe damage to roads, commercial fishing piers, seaside restaurants and homes all along the coast.

Mills wants to move $50 million from Maine's nearly $1 billion Rainy Day Fund into a special infrastructure adaptation fund. That program provides grants to repair or improve roads, culverts, storm water systems and working waterfronts. It can also be used to help communities strengthen infrastructure against the severe storms that are becoming more frequent as sea levels rise and the climate changes.

To take effect immediately, the governor's bill would need to pass both chambers of the Legislature with two-thirds support. Otherwise, funding would not become available until mid-summer. Some Republicans have questioned the need to tap into the state's Rainy Day Fund, however, when the Maine state treasury is currently sitting on a surplus.