WESTPORT - Area business and industry leaders gathered at White's of Westport on Thursday morning for the 131st Annual Meeting of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito filled in as keynote speaker for Governor Charlie Baker, who was instead attending the funeral of Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Hudner.

The Lieutenant Governor touched on a wide range of state related issues, including the Baker Administration's approach to battling the opioid epidemic, the possibility of a commuter rail connecting the south coast to Boston, and more.

When it comes to developing a commuter rail to connect the south coast to Boston, Polito put a five year timeframe on the project and says that the Baker Administration is “100% committed” to its development. She says the administration is in the position to focus on the Middleboro route and Lakeville line, and is already planning out a facility to service New Bedford.

“It's our administrations priority to make sure that this becomes reality within the next five years,” Polito said. “This is a region that's long advocated for the connection (to Boston) thru South Coast Rail. Two months ago an important first step was taken; a notice of intent filing was filed for the New Bedford Wamsutta layover facility.”

According to Polito, MassDOT will begin coordinating groups to work on the project within the upcoming weeks. She also says that a commuter rail connecting the south coast to Boston would help the administration achieve their goals of reducing traffic.

Polito also discussed the state's bid to host Amazon's second national headquarters, and listed the Whaling City Golf Course as one of the highlighted locations across the state. She says Taunton, Fall River, and New Bedford are all part of the 26 proposed locations in Massachusetts, and that the three cities have much to offer the online shipping giant.

“So I felt a level of confidence in places that maybe a few years ago would've hesitated to put that kind of proposal forward. But in that proposal it's evident that in places here in the south coast you have much to offer,” said Polito. “As I said, in New Bedford your 114-acre green field site was highlighted in the list of proposals.

To close things out, Polito spoke about the opioid epidemic sweeping across Massachusetts and the rest of the country. She praised Governor Baker's proposal to charge fentanyl and heroin dealers whose transactions turn deadly with manslaughter charges.

“All the DA's came up and unanimously supported our bill to go after the traffickers. Make it a manslaughter charge,” Polito said. “If you are intentionally selling fentanyl to people in our communities knowing it could kill someone, they should do a significant penalty for that.”

The Lieutenant Governor went on to explain that 15% of all the opioid deaths in 2016 had a fentanyl component. She then explained that so far through 2017, that number of opioid deaths with a fentanyl component in the drug rose to 81%.

Following Polito's presentation, the chamber elected new board members for the upcoming fiscal year and recognized individuals with Chamber awards.

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