Groups unite to improve Washington County

Posted Oct. 20, 2010, at 6:24 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — It was a meeting of the sort unheard of in many places in this state — nearly two dozen agencies and groups putting aside their individual missions to come together as a united force to better Washington County.

Washington County: One Community hosted Wednesday’s meeting that began by listing the county’s problems and issues but wrapped up with solutions for action.

“We need to begin focusing on our assets,” moderator and county Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said. “We are the beginning of the country, not the end.”

By stressing the positives within the community, change can be effected, those attending agreed.

And there is much to tout, said Judy East, director of Washington County Council of Governments. She said a recent $800,000 federal grant to help with transportation, economic and water issues is evidence.

“We often think that because we look bad on paper, we get this kind of money,” East said, “and the data is grim. But it is only 10 percent of the rating factor. We were successful because we already have this type of an active consortium in place.”

In just the past six months, more than $90 million has been infused into the county, between grants and business investments, evidence that, as East said, “The real story is truly a positive one.”

Gini King of the Washington County Food and Fuel Alliance said the county is well on its way to a brighter future because of its ability to collaborate.

“We are a community,” Barbara Drisko of the Washington County Development Authority said. “The whole county must be a community to effect change.”

The first part of the meeting involved listing problems within the county, which included: a lack of public transportation for medical appointments and employment, health problems and limited access to treatment, and drug abuse. The groups also want to improve educational opportunities, enrichment and recreational activities for youth, support for an aging population and food security, and they seek greater public promotion of available services.

Fitzgerald acknowledged that “change is difficult” and pushed the group to be creative in its problem solving.

Some suggestions made early in the day included increasing after-school programs, creating a comprehensive web of public transportation, increasing access to health care, providing support for the county’s elders, establishing drug addiction treatment and counseling facilities, and actively dispelling negativity about the county’s future.

Those agencies and businesses represented at the meeting included Down East Community Hospital, the University of Maine at Machias, Axiom Technologies, Food and Fuel Alliance, The Greenhouse Project, Maine Seacoast Mission, Washington County Council of Governments, Washington-Hancock County Agency, Maine Veterans’ Home, Eastern Area Agency on Aging and Healthways Regional Medical Center at Lubec.

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