$1.7M federal grant flows to former Brunswick Naval Air Station

Posted Aug. 31, 2011, at 4:54 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Millions of state and federal dollars have flowed into Brunswick since the Pentagon’s 2005 decision to decommission Brunswick Naval Air Station, but a $1.7 million grant announced this week represents the first federal money funneled toward infrastructure improvements for private businesses.

The grant is smaller than the $3 million requested by the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which is overseeing the base’s conversion to civilian use, but MRRA Deputy Director Jeffrey Jordan said it will jump-start the creation of hundreds of jobs.

“This is not all the funding we applied for but we’ll go back for supplemental grants,” said Jordan. “We’re very pleased.”

The federal grant, which came from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, will be matched dollar for dollar with private funds, and the proceeds of a $3.2 million statewide bond package approved by voters in November 2010.

More than $717,000 will benefit Kestrel Aircraft Co., which is hatching a plan to build a new brand of turboprop-powered aircraft in the hulking Hangar 6, which was built shortly before the Pentagon’s decision to close the air station as a Navy airfield. The Kestrel project is planned to create more than 300 new jobs.

According to Jordan, the money will purchase and install an elaborate paint booth and air-handling system.

Another $700,000 will fund the demolition of several buildings that are either inappropriate for civilian use or in poor condition. Jordan said the doomed buildings include a former Navy Seabee construction battalion complex located close to Bath Road and visible to passing motorists. Also scheduled for razing are a dilapidated wooden building that formerly housed a credit union and some structures at the former Navy Annex located in Topsham.

The rest of the grant will address building, plumbing and electrical code compliance issues and the installation of a metering system for electricity, water and sewer.

“When the Navy was here, they had one meter for electricity and one meter for water,” said Jordan. “For now [until the project is complete] it looks like we’re going to be the utility company.”

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation hailed the grant.

“This is great news for the region,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, in a press release. “Closing the naval base leaves a big hole and it’s critical to get new economic drivers off the ground as soon as we can. … This federal investment will bring a huge return to the community.”

Not funded in the $1.7 million grant are building renovation projects, upgrades to street lighting, sewer and water projects and the removal of miles of fencing that surround the property.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both R-Maine, announced that $341,500 was given to the Brunswick Executive Airport — the new iteration of the Navy airfield. That money will be used to update the airport’s master plan and assess wildlife hazards.

“This grant will help in the redevelopment efforts at Brunswick Naval Air Station and provide the MRRA with some necessary tools to continue rebuilding the area,” said the senators in a joint statement. “These are necessary upgrades and the developments from this grant will help make this previously noncommercial airport become accessible to the public.”

According to Jordan, more than $7.4 million has been poured into the base from federal, state, local and private sources, of which approximately $5.4 million has been spent on administering the change-over, hiring consultants and conducting a range of studies.

The MRRA is in negotiations with the Navy for the official hand-over of the base property later this year. Jordan said that following the passage of a bill this year that was sponsored by Snowe, the MRRA will dedicate a portion of its lease proceeds to the Navy for a period of time that has not yet been determined. To date there are nine private entities already operating at the base, plus a Southern Maine Community College campus that began its first classes this week.

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