The city of Sanford plans to use funds from a recent federal grant to access this former mill site for future redevelopment. Credit: Shawn P. Sullivan | Seacoast Online

SANFORD, Maine — For the second time in a year, the Environmental Protection Agency has awarded Sanford hundreds of thousands of dollars to go toward improving areas of the community for safety and economic development.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced last month that Sanford will receive a grant worth $800,000 from the EPA. The city will use most of the funds for the downtown mill yard — specifically the International Woolen and Stenton Trust sites — and for the former CGA Inc. property at 229 New Dam Road.

Sanford Planning Director Beth Della Valle said she was “absolutely thrilled” when she got the news. She and city officials have been focusing on the mill yard and CGA site for years and filed the application for the EPA funds earlier this year.

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“We are very, very excited,” she said.

The funds awarded to Sanford are part of the overall $6 million in Brownfields grants that Collins and Kings announced would be distributed among 14 communities throughout Maine.

A brownfield site is a property that contains a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant that can hinder the potential reuse or redevelopment of the site. The EPA’s Brownfields Program helps states and communities as they assess, clean up, and reuse sites for projects related to economic development.

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The grant for Sanford is a multipurpose one, able to be used for planning, environmental assessment, and cleanup. It’s the first of its kind, according to Della Valle, as usually Brownfields grants are individualized for only one of those purposes. For example, the grant that Sanford received from the EPA last June — in the amount of $300,000 — is for assessment purposes only.

The funds will help establish what the city is calling the Sanford Energy Redevelopment Corridor, which will extend virtually from the CGA site to the mill yard.

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The CGA site is a 17-acre property on which a circuit board recycling business once operated. The business closed in the early ’90s, and in the years that followed the property remained filled with debris and contamination. The city acquired the property in 2010, by involuntary acquisition due to failure to pay property taxes, and has since been working to clean it. In 2018, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection removed the materials there — over 3,000 tons of circuit board waste that was coated in copper and heavy metals. The DEP has invested some of its own funds to conduct other needed work on the site, as well.

“They’ve been a great partner,” Della Vale said of the DEP.

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The multipurpose grant will help the city address what the application called the “heavy metal-laden soils” that remain at the CGA site. Once the site is fully cleaned, the city hopes to lease the land for a solar energy project.

The city is working with a solar developer, according to Della Valle. A conceptual solar array for the site already has been designed, and once the CGA site is capped, the city will work with the developer to construct a solar farm — complete with battery storage, switches, and a substation — that will create a virtual grid for Sanford.

The city plans to use this renewable energy option to entice developers to redevelop the Mill District, according to Della Valle.

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The EPA is currently conducting a forensic demolition of the Stenton Trust site on River Street. The EPA is removing asbestos in the front mill and will take down the back mill that was completely destroyed by fire three years ago this month. Once the EPA is finished, the city will use the grant it received last year to assess the property and will use some of the 2019 multipurpose money to clean up any remaining contamination at the site.

The city also will use some of the newly received funds to assess the International Woolen Mill for its potential redevelopment. Della Valle said the city wants to hire a structural engineer and architect to see how the site might be used.

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“A hotel?” Della Valle said. “Parking garage? Apartments? What might work that’s there?”

Della Valle emphasized hopes that the mill could be reinvented for mixed-use purposes and employment opportunities.

“We’ve got a lot of square footage there,” she said.

Della Valle said that community outreach — to downtown business owners and East Side residents alike — is a component of the city’s strategy for revitalizing the area.

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Della Valle said that revitalizing the mill yard is key to the city’s overall efforts in the heart of the community, given that it is bracketed by the downtown on one side and the East Side, which includes the soon-to-close Lafayette School on Brook Street and its surroundings, on the other.

“The fate of these three neighborhoods are closely intertwined,” she said. “We know the dilapidated appearance of the mills affects downtown economic development.”

This new grant means that Sanford has received $1.1 million from the EPA in the past year, Della Valle noted.

“This is an affirmation that we’ve got a great reputation with the EPA,” she said.