Maine gets stimulus funds for repowers

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Maine has gotten creative in securing federal stimulus dollars for its marine industry.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection was granted $1.2 million in federal funds to help repower at least 40 commercial vessels, from lobster boats to ferries.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved the move that would repower all 40 boats with cleaner diesels that are Tier 2-compliant, said Susan Swanten, executive director of the Maine Marine Trades Association. Local boatyards many of which service both commercial and recreational boats will do the work, keeping mechanics busy as an already sluggish season slows for winter.

"We're really excited about that because it's a totally different approach to boosting our economy here, and it's a huge environmental initiative because it will remove an incredible amount of pollutants [from the air and water]," Swanten said. "With diesel engines, you're worried about nitrous oxide and particulate matter, so these owners will get to breath easier when boats are repowered."

Though the program was rolled out just last week, a few boats have already been repowered. Because the program uses stimulus money, the work has to be completed by August 2010, Swanten said.

The grant picks up half the cost of the new engine and half the cost of the repower work. The balance will be paid by the vessel owners, who are largely lobstermen.

"It's not easy for them, as you can imagine," Swanten said.

However, a technician who has completed one repower told Swanten that vessel operators should save around 20 gallons of fuel a day, which should eventually offset their share of the expense.

The Harvard School of Public Health has also gotten involved. The school has performed baseline testing with 20 of the commercial operators to examine their lung functions. A year after the repowers, the school will check the owners again for changes.

— Reagan Haynes

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