HOWLAND, Maine — The prime motivator behind the redevelopment of the former Howland tannery, Town Manager Jane Jones will resign her position effective Nov. 2 to move to the Midwest, she said Thursday.
The Board of Selectmen accepted Jones’ letter of resignation during its meeting Monday night. Jones said she was leaving due to personal reasons that had nothing to do with her job.
“It has come to a time when I need to move on,” Jones said Thursday. “I love the town of Howland. I’ve got some wonderful projects ongoing and I am hoping to have a really productive summer. I’d love to finish the razing of the tannery building.”
New board Chairman Glenn Brawn said he would be sad to see Jones go. Brawn was appointed Monday to succeed Selectman Mike Harris, who resigned in April, Jones said.
“She has done a lot of very, very good things for the town that were desperately needed,” Brawn said Thursday. “I wish she could have stayed on. I really, really do.”
Jones said she offered her resignation effective Nov. 2 to give selectmen time to conduct a thorough search for her replacement. Selectmen seemed to accept that timeline, she said.
The board unanimously voted to hire Jones, Milo’s former town manager, and pay her about $43,000 in April 2009 as part of a one-year contract. She replaced the retired Glenna Armour, who later died after a lengthy illness.
Jones, who now earns $53,000, said at the time that one of her first job performance goals was to research and write grants to get the town some of the millions in federal stimulus money expected to be available locally over the next couple of years.
Her primary goal: To revitalize the town’s economy and take better advantage of its direct access to Interstate 95 and the Piscataquis and Penobscot rivers, assets that would in other contexts be valuable but had not produced any significant economic benefits in recent years.
That focus led naturally, Jones said, to the tannery building. Formerly the town’s largest employer, the tannery had closed decades previous and languished, an empty and rotting building on several acres in the center of town adjoining the Penobscot and Piscataquis River bridges and Route 2.
“Standing there as it is, it is probably the best commercially developable piece of land that we have,” Brawn said.
“In order to position Howland for growth in the future, the tannery area is the first place you look for economic development,” Jones said Thursday.
Previous efforts to revitalize the building never really got off the ground, but Jones applied for and received more than $1 million in grants. The cleanup began in 2010, and that effort will culminate in two weeks, when workers begin preparing to demolish the large building.
“Getting rid of it will be huge because the tax base in Howland has been diminishing for years,” Brawn said, calling its languishing for decades “just a lack of effort on the town’s part.”
“There have been chances missed to demolish that building,” he added. “For too many years it was viewed as a viable building to be restored when it had been long past that state for many, many years.”
As corollaries to the restoration project, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust plans to install a fish bypass at the Howland dam. The Maine Department of Transportation is replacing or preparing to replace both bridges over the rivers, which adjoin the tannery property.
As that work is done, town leaders will continue the process already begun of marketing the several acres of tannery land in search of a jobs-creating tenant. Beautification work, including the installation of walking trails, and improved boat landings, are already part of the tannery improvements.
Jones said she will be there for as much of the work as she can.
Jones will be missed, Brawn said, because she was sensitive to the town’s elderly and others who needed help.
“I am in hopes that we can find her twin,” Brawn said, “male or female, don’t get me wrong, but someone who has her skills.”