Lewiston-Auburn: Merging will create single powerhouse

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Jim Howaniec made a very compelling argument in favor of merging the Twin Cities last week.

Yes, the same Howaniec who serves as spokesman for the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston Auburn Consolidation.

He says he’s opposed to the merger, but his own experience strongly supports merger.

So do we.

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Howaniec served as Lewiston’s mayor some 25 years, and while in office he and then-Auburn Mayor Dick Trafton collaborated on a number of projects as partners, and were wildly successful in boosting the common interests of Lewiston and Auburn.

The one most keenly touted was purchasing the railroad trestle that — quite literally — bridges the cities at Simard-Payne Memorial and Bonney parks. That purchase eventually led to the Auburn Riverwalk, and Simard-Payne has since become the go-to site for community events.

The two also collaborated to protect the Lake Auburn watershed, which serves as the cities’ shared drinking water source.

Howaniec recalls his relationship with Trafton as equally beneficial to both cities, and the mayors’ accomplishments have stood the test of time.

It was — by any measure — an uncommonly collegial relationship, and, as One LA spokesman Gene Geiger has noted, that kind of mayoral kumbaya is a thing of the past.

It’s not something we’ve seen since Howaniec-Trafton left office, and is certainly not evident today, even with mayors from the same political party serving each city. Today’s mayors have exhibited no desire to work together, and virtually stare each other down from opposite sides of the Andro.

Lewiston could only watch last year as Auburn pulled its funding from LA Arts, the cities’ shared arts organization.

LA Arts began as a project of the Lewiston Public Library in 1973 and was soon joined by Auburn’s library, working together to bring artists into our schools. It quickly became the cities’ premiere arts organization, and has been hobbled by Auburn’s funding decision.

In one move, over 40 years of quality collaboration was over.

Lewiston could only watch again when Auburn pulled out of the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council, preferring to bring marketing and economic development back to City Hall.

LAEGC — a Lewiston and Auburn partnership since 1981— provides free marketing services, attractive financing, grants and other economic services to both cities.

It provided essential gap financing when new owners purchased Lost Valley last year, a key move to help a long-standing Auburn enterprise that employs more than 190 people stay in business.

It also provided a low-interest loan, through its Auburn Business Development Corp., to Auburn-based Safe Handling for land and equipment, allowing the company to expand.

For decades, community, academic and business leaders from both cities — including Howaniec and Trafton — have collaborated with LAEGC, making it a model of economic development across the state, but with Auburn out, that work is stalling.

Merging the cities would bind our vision and tie our efforts. We wouldn’t be dependent on political winds or like-minded leaders.

One of our letter writers — who is opposed to the merger — told us, “Lewiston and Auburn are two great cities with two great, but separate and distinct, histories. City officials should continue to be friends and work with each other while preserving the two cities’ unique and wonderful identities for many more years to come.”

We agree that collaboration should continue, as does Howaniec. But, the years of Howaniec-Trafton are over.

We’re starting to see a split in the collaboration that made L-A a model across the state, and there is absolutely no guarantee that destruction will stop. We have the power to make it stop — as two communities — by voting to make the sometimes cooperative cities of Lewiston and Auburn into a single, stronger Lewiston-Auburn.

Merging will not destroy our memories, our neighborhoods or our schools. Identities will remain intact. EL and LHS will remain rivals, and neither city will be forced to pay the debt incurred by the other.

What merging will do is create a single, stronger, economic, educational, cultural, political, recreational, motivational and innovative self.

The future city of Lewiston-Auburn will be designed by people who live here, who love this place and who want a better future for our children.

Merging opens the enviable opportunity to intentionally build a better future together.

Let’s grab it.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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