BREWER, Maine — When erosion along the banks of the Penobscot River began to threaten the city’s wastewater treatment plant, city leaders turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.
When funding was needed to replace the 1950s police and fire station on North Main Street with a new, modern public safety building that improved visibility and accessibility, the USDA was tapped again.
“Over the last 15 years, it’s more than $30 million in grants and low-interest loans” that the Rural Development program has provided the city, Tanya Pereira, Brewer’s economic development deputy director, said Monday. “They have made a significant investment in Brewer.”
As a thank-you, Deputy Mayor Joseph Ferris on Thursday presented a key to the city to Jessica Zufolo, deputy administrator for USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service.
The gathering brought together not only USDA officials from Washington and Bangor’s local office, but also representatives of Maine’s congressional delegation and of local companies that have been involved, Pereira said.
“It was a chance to recognize all of the partners who have worked to make those projects come to fruition,” she said.
The gathering also allowed Brewer to thank local USDA staffers with whom it works regularly to identify projects and handle relevant paperwork, Pereira said.
Zufolo and Ferris were joined by Virginia Manuel, USDA Rural Development’s state director; Brewer City Council members; Gail Kelly, state director for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe; Jessamine Logan, who represented U.S. Sen. Susan Collins; and a member of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s staff.
Officials from Winterport-based Olver Associates and department heads from all over Brewer also attended.
USDA Rural Development’s mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents.
“We’re very pleased with USDA’s interest in our infrastructure,” City Manager Steve Bost said. “The highest-profile [project] of their investment is the public safety building.”
In January 2008, the city was awarded a $6.5 million community facility direct loan to construct the 30,000-square-foot public safety facility.
“They were very interested in helping out in enhancing our public safety,” Bost said. “They offered by far the best terms for the loan portion of the investment.”
The city key was presented to Zufolo at the new police and fire station on Parkway South, and that gave her a chance to talk firsthand with those who benefited from some of the funding.
While visiting Brewer, Zufolo had lengthy talks with local first responders about police and fire communications and what can be done to improve them.
“The USDA is expanding broadband capabilities across the United States,” Bost said. “We are going to meet with her staff locally in the near future to talk about expanding broadband” in Brewer.
In addition to visiting Brewer, Zufolo got a look at Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Critical Care Connection, a telemedicine service for rural patients and providers.
Recent grant and loan funding for Brewer from the Rural Development program includes:
• $3.15 million in federal stimulus funds in November 2009 to combat shoreline erosion by replacing old, deteriorating wooden timber cribwork near the city’s wastewater treatment plant to protect the facility from damage and prevent health and safety problems.
• $865,000 in May 2009 to move and improve the city’s sewage dumping site, which receives waste from out of town, and purchase new video equipment to search out sewer problems.
• $1 million in November 2008 to help Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems expand its existing electronic medical records system.
• $2.48 million in August 2006 for sewer separation projects and the addition of bigger pumps at the Brewer Cove pump station and a new roof, paint and driveway improvements at the treatment plant.