Orrington adopts a proactive approach to economic development

Cutline for North Orrington Village final.tif
Weekly Photo by Brian Swartz
North-bound drivers pass the Snow’s Corner Plaza on Route 15 in Orrington in early January. The plaza underwent an expansion after Orrington voters approved the town’s first tax-increment financing district a few years ago.
Brian Swartz
Cutline for North Orrington Village final.tif Weekly Photo by Brian Swartz North-bound drivers pass the Snow’s Corner Plaza on Route 15 in Orrington in early January. The plaza underwent an expansion after Orrington voters approved the town’s first tax-increment financing district a few years ago.
Posted Feb. 02, 2012, at 1:48 p.m.

When opportunity knocks, someone had better answer the door.

That’s happening at last in Orrington, according to Town Manager Paul White and Ronald Harriman, the town’s economic development consultant.

In the past, “we’ve had businesses knocking on our door, [businesses representing] significant economic development, and the town wasn’t ready,” Harriman said. Now “the town’s being quite proactive to plan for the future.

“Orrington has been doing long-range planning to take advantage of economic opportunity,” he said.

In 2008, Orrington established a program that lets the town authorize tax-increment financing districts. According to White, the goal of a TIF district “is to assist with improvements to your community’s economic development efforts.

“The new valuation that’s generated by these [TIF-related] improvements must be placed in a dedicated reserve account specifically for infrastructure improvements,” he said. The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development must approve all TIF districts; Orrington voters must approve each TIF district authorized by selectmen.

Orrington has two TIF districts. The first “was for the Snow’s Corner Plaza,” located at the intersection of the River Road (Route 15) and the Snow’s Corner Road in North Orrington, White said.

“The largest one (TIF district) that Orrington has done was for improvements to the [Bangor] Hydro substation” on the Fields Pond Road in East Orrington, Harriman said.

Authorized for 30 years apiece, these TIF districts generate funds that Orrington sets aside “specifically for infrastructure improvements,” White said. During the 2012 fiscal year, the town received $136,000 in TIF funds.

White will ask selectmen to expend TIF funds to “do a partial reconstruction” of the Snow’s Corner Road between the Dow Road and the Johnson Mill Road. To be completed during FY 2013, which begins on July 2, 2012, this project would entail removing ledge, replacing culverts, and repaving.

According to White, the project would be the first Orrington roadwork financed by TIF funds.

The town has committed other TIF funds for a future business park to be jointly developed by Brewer and Orrington, Harriman indicated. This park would lie within a TIF district stretching from the East Orrington substation west to the River Road-Snow’s Corner Road intersection and north to the Brewer line.

Orrington has acquired and rezoned 150 acres for the business park, Harriman noted, but neither he nor White knows when development will start. “We’re still very hopeful to work with Brewer in a collaborative way,” White said.

According to Harriman, creating the two TIF districts “has been very advantageous to the town’s residents the mil rate.” He explained “if not for the TIFs, 80 percent of the revenue from the [increased] valuation would be lost to Orrington through those tax-shifting processes done by the state.”

If not for the TIF districts, the higher valuations caused by development at the BHE substation and the Snow’s Corner Plaza would have raised Orrington’s total valuation, Harriman indicated. This would likely result in the town receiving less state education funding, which could adversely impact Orrington’s budget and mil rate.

Gazing farther into the future, Harriman and White discussed the Route 15 Industrial Site, planned for the former HoltraChem property that runs from the River Road to the Penobscot River.

St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Inc. operated a chemical plant on the 235-acre site from 1967 to 1982; under a different owner, that plant later closed. The Maine Board of Environmental Protection has overseen efforts to clean up the site; as the only previous owner still in business, Mallinckrodt was tapped to finance the clean-up efforts.

On Oct. 26, 2010, Mallinckrodt and Orrington reached an agreement that saw the company purchase contaminated areas “and a sufficient buffer” at the HoltraChem site, White recalled. The agreement also required Mallinckrodt to fund future environmental monitoring efforts, and Orrington “will receive a $1.5 million consideration” from Mallinckrodt, he said.

He indicated that Mallinckrodt paid $175,000 for the 63 acres around the contaminated areas. “That leaves another 150 acres that were never contaminated,” White said.

“This is a prime site for economic development,” Harriman said, explaining that a paved road and railroad already access the site, which fronts on deep water on the Penobscot.

However, Orrington cannot develop the 150 acres “until [the] total [environmental] remediation has been completed,” White stressed. “There are [Maine DEP-imposed] covenants on that land that restrict us from doing anything there.

“It does hinder economic development in the Town of Orrington,” he said. “We are asking the DEP to release those uncontaminated acres. There will be no stone left unturned to get this project moved along.”

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