May 21, 2018
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After outcry, federal agency reverses decision, will fund $125,000 Fort Kent project

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — A local organization that initially was denied federal funding to combat teen drunken driving because it was located “off the beaten path” now will receive $125,000 for the project, members of Maine’s congressional delegation announced Friday.

Furor over Community Voices being denied the funding because of its rural location, and the delegation’s intervention, led the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to commit Friday to funding the grant.

“Administrator [David] Strickland has assured me Fort Kent is back in the game,” U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe said Friday in a written statement. “The administrator said that upon review, he determined each of the finalists’ proposed programs, including Fort Kent’s, would serve as an excellent model for similar communities. Each had a strong application and he has committed to exploring additional funding to ensure that all qualified applicants are included in the pilot demonstration. Further, the administrator has assured me this sort of rural discrimination will not recur and the contractor involved will be dealt with accordingly.”

Community Voices applied for a $125,000 competitive grant from NHTSA to create a pilot program to limit teen access to alcohol. The organization intended to use the grant to finance several projects, including increased patrols by local law enforcement.

Community Voices met all of the requirements to secure the grant but was denied while organizations in Mason City, Iowa, and Louisville, Ky., were awarded funding. So officials from Community Voices asked for information on how to improve future applications and better their chances at future awards.

According to Snowe, PerformTech, the Alexandra, Va.-based contractor responsible for deciding which communities received funding, emailed a response that rankled the Republican senator.

A representative of PerformTech told officials from Community Voices that their grant proposal was “quite strong” and “in the top 4 and was the subject of a lot of discussion.” The contractor even indicated that Fort Kent likely would be a “very rich laboratory for certain research projects.”

The PowerTech representative, however, continued, “The other issue was one I’m sure you’ve run into with other projects: Fort Kent is WAAAAAAYY off the beaten path. The panel felt that the logistics of getting our staff and consultants there and back was just too timeconsuming and expensive, compared with other communities. This factor would have been less important had the final four proposals been more disparate, but, as the ratings were quite close, the panel ultimately leaned toward ‘convenience.’”

Last week, Snowe called for an immediate and thorough review of the NHTSA’s procedures for awarding competitive grants. She also spoke with NHTSA Administrator David Strickland about the contractor’s remarks. Strickland was “horrified,” according to Snowe, and promised to evaluate the situation.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Mike Michaud also sent letters to Strickland last week. Collins also spoke to Strickland on Friday to follow up on her letter.

“This is very good news,” Collins said after learning of the decision to fund the Fort Kent proposal. “This grant will help fund an important program that examines ways to put a stop to teenage drunk driving — an enormous concern in Maine and throughout the nation — and the Fort Kent program that will undertake this work is immensely qualified for this endeavor. As a native of Aroostook County, I was particularly offended that the location of Fort Kent was held against the group that applied for the grant. I am grateful to Administrator Strickland for taking the time to reexamine the grant application.”

In a letter sent to NHTSA on June 8, Michaud defended the proposal submitted by Community Voices and asked the agency not to award the grants until it had an opportunity to re-evaluate each proposal based on the relevant criteria that were made available to each applicant. He said in a written statement Friday that he was pleased that Community Voices would now receive the funding.

“While our state is rural, that shouldn’t be a reason to deny our communities the resources they need to get ahead,” said Michaud, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I’m pleased that the agency responded to the delegation’s request and is looking for ways to fund this worthwhile project in Fort Kent. It’s my hope that federal agencies take note of this situation and work to ensure that all rural areas get equal consideration in future federal funding decisions.”

Michelle Plourde-Chasse, Community Voices project manager, could not be reached for comment Friday.

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