April 21, 2018
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How to strengthen the economy of the lower Penobscot Valley

By Richard Campbell, Special to the BDN

I believe we possess four of the most valuable assets in the lower Penobscot Valley that could change our local economy and that of the entire state of Maine: our river, roads, rails and power lines.

It’s commonly believed that government cannot truly affect the ebb and flow of our local economy, which is driven more by national and international forces than by what we can manage ourselves. We are, after all, no longer living in the 1800s when Penobscot County had a thriving lumber trade and harvested ice from the Penobscot River.

But the natural assets that set us apart from other areas of the state even two centuries ago are still our natural assets, including our rivers, forests and proximity to international markets.

The most recent adherence to both our history and our future is the development of the Cianbro Corp. manufacturing and assembly plant in Brewer, which now occupies land abandoned by the former Eastern Fine Paper Co. In a remarkable convergence of public and private determination, that site was quickly remediated of its environmental pollution and put back to work with more than 500 skilled tradesmen.

Just in the small representative district that I am campaigning in for the Maine House of Representatives, we have an opportunity to focus local economic development in a strategic way that will increase our chances of success.

For example, we have a network of highways that are readily accessible to workers and freight carriers. We have direct access to the Penobscot River and can replicate Cianbro’s reliance on the river to barge completed drilling platforms to Newfoundland and the Gulf of Mexico.

We also have a network of rail lines that run through Orrington and into Bucksport that can carry more freight, whether it’s logs to the Verso paper mill or finished product out to domestic and international markets.

The recently upgraded power lines, together with the Bucksport biomass and Penobscot Energy Recovery Co.’s generators in Orrington, make our region energy-rich for any manufacturer looking for abundant power.

Contrary to popular belief, one legislator can make a difference if he understands how to market our natural assets. The town of Orrington owns more than 200 acres along the Penobscot River at the former HoltraChem Manufacturing Co. site and has entered into an agreement with the company responsible for its environmental cleanup to support the town’s economic redevelopment plan for that site.

Here is where government can either help or hurt that cause.

Since 2010, the company, the town and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection have been locked in a bureaucratic battle about how best to move this cleanup process forward. The company recently hosted residents and town officials to tour the site and a new groundwater treatment plant.

They are making good progress, but the cleanup could have been completed by now if our state government was also determined to settle on an equitable solution, so we could begin improvements and market the site. This process has dragged on for more than 10 years, during which time this prime development site has not generated property taxes or jobs.

We may not have the power to affect international economic forces, but we should be able to resolve issues in our own backyard and be ready to seize opportunities when they come.

Richard Campbell lives in Orrington and is seeking to represent Orrington and Bucksport in the Maine House of Representatives.

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