After outcry, Fort Kent group awarded grant for youth alcohol prevention

Posted Sept. 19, 2011, at 7:24 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Three months ago, a local organization was told it wouldn’t get federal funding for a youth alcohol prevention program because it was located too far “off the beaten path.”

After local outcry and the intervention of members of Maine’s congressional delegation, however, the Fort Kent-based Community Voices is now in possession of a $328,288 grant.

Community Voices applied for the funding earlier this year to create a pilot program to limit teen access to alcohol through, among other things, educational outreach and increased patrols by local law enforcement.

Community Voices met all of the requirements to secure the grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration but was denied while organizations in Mason City, Iowa, and Louisville, Ky., were awarded funding. So officials from Community Voices asked for information about how to improve their odds of success with future applications.

They and others, including U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, were rankled by the response sent by email from PerformTech, the Alexandra, Va.-based contractor responsible for deciding which communities received funding.

A representative of PerformTech said the Community Voices 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 time consuming 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.’”

Upon hearing about the response, Snowe requested an immediate and thorough review of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’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.

Late last week, Snowe announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had awarded the grant to Community Voices.

Michelle Plourde-Chasse, Community Voices project manager, said Monday that the organization was glad to receive the award and already had started work.

“This will be a two-year project that will involve law enforcement and the media,” she said. “Law enforcement will be out on increased patrols and will also be educating teens about drinking. We’ll also be getting additional education out through the media. We’ve already contacted our source within the NHTSA to get started.”

Plourde-Chasse said that several other groups received NHTSA funding after federal officials reviewed the award process.

“We weren’t the only ones,” she said. “Others benefited from this as well.”

Snowe said she was pleased with the outcome.

“It is critical we ensure the federal government, and the companies with whom they contract, award competitive federal grant funding with the utmost fairness and transparency to ensure the highest level of accountability when it comes to how the government is spending hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” she said in a prepared statement.

Community Voices is made up of volunteers and has helped institute a number of programs to curb underage drinking and drug use. The group was instrumental in getting the state Attorney General’s Office last year to classify a lemonade containing a trace amount of alcohol as imitation liquor and thus keep it out of the hands of minors.

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