USDA state director: Recovery Act aids County

Posted Feb. 18, 2010, at 9:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2011, at 8:58 a.m.

EAGLE LAKE, Maine — While there are critics who say President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been too costly and has not delivered on the promise of job creation, Virginia Manuel is not one of them.

Manuel, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development state director, said Thursday the $787 billion Recovery Act has “definitely” helped the state, including assisting with the financing of significant projects in Aroostook County.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Recovery Act funds have made a difference in Maine,” she said during a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where she is meeting with other state directors and federal officials. “To date, USDA Rural Development has invested $233 million in Maine communities through the Recovery Act, assisting local businesses, water and waste infrastructure, community facilities, and homeowners across the state.”

The result is that jobs are being saved and created, keeping and putting citizens back to work during a difficult economic period, she said.

USDA Rural Development works to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents. Its programs are designed to enhance the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents and farmers, and improve the quality of life in rural Maine.

The Recovery Act Obama signed into law on Feb. 17, 2009, provides $787 billion nationwide for a wide range of federal programs, including measures to modernize infrastructure, enhance energy independence, expand educational opportunities, preserve and improve affordable health care and provide tax relief.

Obama lauded the first anniversary of the economic stimulus law on Wednesday, calling it a major accomplishment, and saying that it staved off even tougher economic times by keeping up to 2 million people on the job.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agreed.

“President Obama’s Recovery Act has helped create jobs and lay a new foundation for economic growth during the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said. “USDA has used Recovery Act funding to create badly needed jobs and stimulate local economies, help farmers and rural businesses make it through tough times, ensure that struggling families can put food on the table, and build and revitalize critical infrastructure in rural communities across America.”

Critics have pegged the act as too costly and have remained skeptical about how many jobs have been created as a result of the relief measure.

While Manuel acknowledged that some of the jobs created are temporary, she said, “You can’t invest $233 million in communities across the state without seeing an impact.”

Manuel touched on a number of USDA Rural Development projects in The County that have benefited from Recovery Act funding.

In Eagle Lake, Northern Maine General Hospital received $1 million through a community facility direct loan to construct a new office building.

Among other problems, the current office building does not meet some safety codes and is not compliant with standards set forth by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. The two-story structure also is more than 60 years old and originally was a residential facility. It was not set up to handle the electrical needs of a busy office building. There have been two electrical fires in the building in the last few years, raising additional safety concerns.

Construction on the new building is approximately 50 percent complete. The building will house a business office as well as service program offices that will ensure an uninterrupted continuum of care for the clients the hospital serves.

Hospital CEO Reynold Raymond said the project would not have become a reality without Recovery Act funds. He said the funding helped assure that 20 people would keep their jobs, and the additional space will make it possible for the facility to increase its program staff by adding 10 new employees.

“The funds also added a boost to our community’s economy by providing jobs during what is usually the slowest season for carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and distributors,” he said. The facility is set to open June 1.

In Fort Kent, USDA Rural Development assisted the community with a Water and Waste Disposal Loan of $531,000 and grant of $2.6 million to replace water and wastewater infrastructure that was severely damaged by flooding in April 2008. The damage left the infrastructure unable to meet health and safety codes.

Work on the project began last November and included installation of a bypass piping system to minimize the effect of floodwaters. Work will resume in April 2010. The second phase of the project is in the bid phase, a contract expected to be awarded in March. Construction could begin in April, and the work should be completed this year.

“The Recovery Act has helped to save jobs, and I believe that Maine will continue to benefit from the act,” said Manuel. “We are not the only agency getting money; we are just a part of it. I believe that every bit we get is going to help the state and the people in it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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