Sen. Collins visits Dragon Cement, supports investment
Thomaston — Sen. Susan Collins visited Dragon Cement on Tuesday, Sept. 4 to tour the facility and meet with local officials and representatives from Maine Eastern Railroad and Dragon Cement.
Collins is a co-sponsor of the Short Line Railroad Rehabilitation and Investment Act of 2011. The bill is currently in an extension phase and will be voted on for an additional year of tax credit before 2013.
The federal credit is for short line railroads. For every $1 of private investment in the railway system, 50 cents is reimbursed. The credit is worth $165 million per year. For seven years, the federal investment has totaled $1.1 billion and private investment money totaled $2.3 billion, said Tabitha Layman of the Short Line Association.
Layman said without the tax credit, the short lines would be in danger of shutting down. The railways are privately owned by companies in the Northeast, including Maine Eastern Railway. All railways in Maine are short lines and connect the state to larger, national networks through PanAm Rail.
Maine Eastern Railroad is owned and operated by Morristown & Erie Railway of New Jersey and has been in operation since 2004.
Maine Eastern Railroad transports Dragon Cement products from the plant in Thomaston to Atlantic Point in Rockland Harbor where material is loaded onto a barge and taken to Boston, Mass. The railway also hauls cement to a second railroad to deliver products to Canada.
Maine Eastern Railroad provides rail transport services to Dicaperl Corporation in Thomaston, where raw perlite ore is turned into a filtration product for use in the manufacture of carrageenan at Marine Colloids in Rockland.
Besides freight operations, Maine Eastern Railroad also provides a seasonal passenger service between Rockland and Brunswick with stops in Wiscasset and Bath. The Amtrak Downeaster is expected to expand that service to Portland and Boston in late 2012.
"It has not been a stellar year, our passenger ridership is not where we would like it to be this season," said Gordon Page, vice president and director of passenger operations of Maine Eastern Railroad.
He added that tax credits are important to Maine businesses like Dragon Cement and small railroads and maintain jobs.
"It really keeps investment coming and that is so important," Collins said.
Collins said she is in favor of subsidies for Amtrak, but believes the company needs a plan to reduce the amount of federal money it receives each year by attracting more passengers. Collins said she disagrees with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's basic point to cut funding for Amtrak, but says a goal for the railroad system should be to become more profitable and self-sufficient.
Dragon Cement employs about 100 workers in the state and is able to produce up to 700,000 tons of cement a year if dictated by high demand.
Plant Manager Ray DeGrass took Collins on a tour through the plant, including the pre-heat tower, which was part of a modernization effort in 2004, totaling $50 million. The tower is 360 feet tall and provides views of the Weskeag River and Rockland Harbor.