ASHLAND, Maine — A local company is rising from the ashes of a devastating fire after the town received a significant grant that will help put the pellet manufacturing firm back in business.
U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins announced late Monday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program has granted $99,999 in grant funding to the town of Ashland. The funds will be used to assist in the acquisition of equipment to help restart Northeast Pellets LLC, which closed after a fire on March 31, 2009. The accidental fire put 17 people out of work.
After the blaze gutted the facility, town officials immediately pledged to seek state and federal assistance to help rebuild the company. Once the town purchases the equipment needed by the Realty Road business, it will lease it to the company.
Owned by Matthew Bell, the pellet manufacturing facility first opened in Ashland in 2006. Before the blaze, Bell had successfully increased production at the plant to more than 10 times what it was when he first launched the business.
Bell said Tuesday that he was excited to hear news of the grant.
“We are almost ready to reopen,” he explained. “All of the buildings that we need to operate have been rebuilt, and we are looking to start up again in June.”
Since the fire, some of Bell’s employees have relocated for work or taken other jobs. He said Tuesday that he plans to rehire all of the remaining employees who want to return to work.
Town Manager James Gardner also was excited about the funding.
“This is really going to put his business back to work,” he said Tuesday. “At times like this, every little job here helps, and Matt runs a great business. This is just wonderful news.”
Gardner said that the town also is waiting to hear news about two other grants the municipality applied for, which could bring in an additional $400,000 to assist Northeast Pellets.
“We expect to start the process of purchasing the equipment within a few days,” said the manager. “It will be great to see that place up and running again.”
Snowe and Collins also were pleased to hear news of the grant funding.
“This funding will help save much-needed jobs in Aroostook County, which has been hard hit by the recession,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We are pleased that USDA Rural Development recognizes the importance of supporting economic opportunity in Maine’s rural communities.”
The USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant program provides grants to public agencies, private nonprofit corporations, or Indian groups for rural projects that finance and facilitate development of small and emerging rural private business enterprises.