Commissioners approve letters of intent for two development grants

Abol Bridge LLC and Williamsburg
sugar house look to expand

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — The Piscataquis County Commissioners agreed to sign letters of intent that will allow a pair of local businesses to apply for Community Development Block Grants.
    If approved, Abol Bridge LLC of Chesuncook Village and Maine Highlands Sugarworks in Williamsburg Township will use the money to expand their operations.

    Ken Woodbury, community development director for the Piscataquis County Economic Development Commission, outlined the goals of each business at last week’s county commissioners’ meeting.
    David and Luisa Surprenant of Abol Bridge LLC operate the Chesuncook House, Abol Bridge Campgrounds and Rip Dam Sporting Camp, according to Woodbury, and they want to add more cabins at Rip Dam and campsites at Abol Bridge. “They also want to expand the restaurant at Abol to include a store, and to build a store at Rip Dam,” he explained. “There used to be one there (at Rip Dam) but it was torn down.”
    The Surprenants are applying for $120,000 in working capital for equipment and material which would have to be matched “with an equal amount of cash,” Woodbury said. “Plus, they would have to add the equivalent to four full-time employees.”
    But Commissioner Eric Ward said he was skeptical of the application. “I can just hear it now,” he said. “People will say they’ll just hire family members for seasonal jobs.”
    Woodbury said, however, that he would have to certify that the job creations were legitimate. “I’ve been through this before,” said Ward, who leaves office at the end of the year. “I’m telling you now; you’ll hear complaints.”
    Woodbury outlined the timeline for CBDG grants which are usually awarded in mid-summer. He said he preferred to have letters of intent by January “so I know what’s ahead for me.”
    Woodbury then outlined the application for a $50,000 microenterprise grant from Maine Highlands Sugarworks which doesn’t require the applicant to create any new jobs nor match the loan with their own funds. However, the application “must be low to moderate income,” he said. “If not, they must hire workers at that income level; and they can’t have more than five employees, including the owner.”
    Woodbury said that the owner, Michelle Weeks, is qualified for the program. “They’re in the process of building a new sugar shack, and the grant will be used to buy equipment to allow them to expand their production,” he said. He added that Weeks and her partner have already invested a considerable amount of their own money in the operation.
    Since Chesuncook and Williamsburg are both unorganized territories, the county has to apply for the grants which would then be distributed to the business owners. “The county is on the hook for the money, so you have to make sure the funds are spent properly,” Woodbury explained. “But I’m going to have the applicant sign an agreement that they’ll be responsible — not the county.” He added that the same procedure has been used for grants awarded to businesses in Brownville, Milo, Greenville and Dover-Foxcroft.
    After a few more questions, commissioners voted 2-1 to sign the letter of intent for Abol Bridge LLC — with Ward opposing the move — and 3-0 to approve the application from Maine Highlands Sugarworks.
    The next scheduled county commissioners’ meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 8:30 a.m.

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