MACHIAS, Maine — The Washington County Development Authority, which has languished for the past several years, was recently reinvigorated by both an influx of new members and a new direction.
The authority was formed by state legislation in 2001 to take title to — and sell — the U.S. Navy Computer and Telecommunications Station at Cutler. Once that task was accomplished, the WCDA continued to meet, but over the last couple of years its 12 members were unsure of the scope of their power.
With the help of state Rep. Dianne Tilton, R-Harrington, however, the organization’s role has been clarified. Tilton sponsored legislation that was recently signed into law expanding the WCDA’s authority so that it can now, among other things, work with Washington County towns to seek out state Community Development Block Grants.
“There are not enough projects that come along in Washington County for each town to need its own development agency,” Tilton said. She said WCDA can now be part of a tool kit that includes the Sunrise County Development Corporation, the Washington County Council of Governments and individual communities. Each of the entities brings their own skills to the table, she said.
During a meeting with WCDA members on Tuesday, Tilton said the authority could, for instance, purchase or accept the donation of blighted commercial buildings, seek grants to renovate and revitalize the properties, and then sell them.
“WCDA can step in and be the developer with a lot of flexibility because you don’t have to turn a profit,” Tilton said. “This is the kind of gap WCDA can fill. This is really the missing link to economic development in Washington County.”
WCDA member Barbara Drisko responded, “I can think of lots of possibilities. This opens up a whole new world for us.”
“And it clearly gives us some motivation,” added WCDA Chairman Harold Prescott.
Although there weren’t enough members present at Tuesday’s meeting to make up a quorum, those present agreed to draft a letter to each Washington County community explaining their new mission. Member Betsy Fitzgerald suggested WCDA immediately begin working with the Machias Downtown Revitalization Committee. “This will give us both credibility,” she said. “We can benefit each other.”
Also at the meeting, new members that are awaiting Gov. Paul LePage’s confirmation were announced. Although the terms of four members had actually expired, enabling legislation gives them the ability to serve until replaced.
The new WCDA members will be appointed for five years. The complete roster and the end of individual terms includes:
Dean Pike of Eastport, replaces Ed Pellon whose term expired in 2008.
Betsy Fitzgerald of Machiasport, 2014.
Harold Prescott of Whiting, 2012.
Brent Hartford of Milbridge, 2012.
Shirley Erickson of Machiasport, 2012.
Bill Daye of Lubec, replaces Normand LaBerge whose term expired in 2008.
Barbara Drisko of Columbia Falls, 2012.
Mary Anne Moore of Calais, replaces James Parker who resigned.
Harry Bailey of Grand Lake Stream, replaces James Porter.
Michael Radeka of East Machias, 2014.
Linda Pagels-Wentworth of Baileyville, fills a vacant seat.
There is also a seat assigned to a representative from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
The next meeting of the WCDA is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Career Center in Machias.