LEWISTON — Under a new proposal, economic development in Lewiston and Auburn could soon be guided by a unified committee as outlined Tuesday night by Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte.

In the cities’ 140 years of working together, LaBonte said, “We’ve created a challenging system at best.”

He said he did not want to get into the “weeds” with his plan but wanted to keep his goals clear. He said the councilors had already gone over the fine points and it would just slow down the process.

In his presentation, he demonstrated that for investors, the many points of contact, such as the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, muddied the waters, with each saying, “Give us a call.”

A single point of contact, LaBonte said, would be able to address the needs of businesses.

Citing the Lewiston and Auburn area as the largest dry goods port in Maine, LaBonte outlined both the Interstate 95 area and the downtowns of both cities as areas deserving of shared economic growth.

Part of his plan establishes a Port Authority in charge of boosting economic development and providing a central point for boosting trade. LaBonte said if all members involved agreed, the plan could begin to be implemented in six to nine months.

Councilor John Butler questioned LaBonte’s timeline for implementation, as well as the possibility of new councilors or mayors disagreeing after the election in the fall.

LaBonte asserted that if everyone bought in to the proposal, the timeline would be realistic and since the timeline would cross the election period, new councilors would have a chance to be part of the process.

“If there is a lack of interest in one council or the other,” Labonte said, “the whole house of cards will fall down.” When questioned about one community moving ahead unilaterally if a consensus is not met, LaBonte said, “I would go to the mat to keep these two communities together.”

Councilor Nathan Libby said, “I think there are a lot of great ideas here.”

Councilor Doreen Christ told LaBonte, “I think there’s a lot of benefit to having a joint Lewiston-Auburn. I just don’t see it happening in six to nine months.”

Council President Mark Cayer expressed relief in the tone and direction of the plan, saying he was more comfortable with what LaBonte had brought before the council.

“I think there’s some really good ideas,” Cayer said, adding the matter bears more conversations between the councils.

After council comments, Libby asked LAEGC President Lucien Gosselin for his opinion of the presentation.

“I did not come here to discuss that,” Gosselin said, as he approached the council.

Gosselin agreed with what he called the general concept, organization and outline, although there were some points he disagreed with.

“My 15 to 16 years now with the growth council sought many of the things Jonathan LaBonte talked about,” Gosselin said.

He listed the past projects and accomplishments of the growth council with, “Some just don’t remember those things now.”

Gosselin said, “It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s better than what we’ve got.”

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