Paris won’t get grant for Paris Utility District property this year

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PARIS — Plans to apply for a grant to create a public boat launch at the vacant Paris Utility District property have stalled. That’s because the town and the PUD need to wait for a state response on the proposed conservation easement for the project.

Kayakers and canoers alike enjoy the Little Androscoggin River behind the vacant Paris Utility District property on Paris Hill Road, with the application for public boat launch grant put on hold until next season.
Sandy Swett photo Kayakers and canoers alike enjoy the Little Androscoggin River behind the vacant Paris Utility District property on Paris Hill Road, with the application for public boat launch grant put on hold until next season.

Originally, the town wanted the PUD to gift back the property at 1 Paris Hill Road, as Paris originally owned it in the 1960s. This was nixed since the PUD needs to have access to the wells on site and paperwork for the conservation easement — which would allow the town to utilize the property, but maintain PUD ownership — was sent out in March, PUD Manager Steve Arnold said Tuesday.

Town Manager Amy Bernard told selectmen at their Monday night meeting that Paris will have to wait to apply for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Bureau of Parks and Public Lands Maine Outdoor Heritage fund grant for the Paris Hill Road property until next year. She said the PUD is unable to draft a letter of support because of the tight deadline. Requests for a preapplication inspection for the grant are due May 13. The grant maxes out at $150,000 and requires a cash or in-kind match equal to 50 percent of the approved project.

“Without that the letter, the state won’t honor or look at giving a grant to the town because it needs to have perpetual public access,” she said, noting the correspondence needs to say the process is moving forward and the town’s trying to gain rights to the property.

“The PUD can’t supply the letter, why?” Selectman Janet Jamison asked.

“Well, they’re not saying they can’t supply the letter but what they are saying that deadline is in such a tight time frame for the preapplication review of the site,” Bernard answered, adding the town would need more documentation and quotes for the project to submit for the review.

Arnold said the PUD and town are waiting to hear back from the state-run Public Utilities Commission about the request for a conservation easement for the seven-acre property, which has a vacant building, access to the Little Androscoggin River and PUD wells. Bernard previously said the process with the PUC could take between three and six months.

“It’s not a five-minute process. … It is inevitably up to the PUC to make the decision. Until they say yes or no, everything is at a standstill,” Arnold said. “I can’t push that along one way or the other. … We’re basically waiting for the bureaucracy to happen.”

The plan for the site — which has been in the works for months now — is to transform it into a recreation center and public park facility as recommended by the town’s recently adopted Strategic Plan. The building would be used to rent out canoes and kayaks, host the town’s Parks and Recreation office and double as an ice skating shack for skating on the river during the winter. Other activities include utilizing walking paths, fishing and creating picnic areas with barbecue pits and tables. Jamison proposed developing a dog park there, but that was removed from the project after concerns were raised about dog feces invading wells.

Arnold said the project has at least been assigned a case number and while they’re waiting to for the PUC’s response, he’s working with the town behind the scenes. He’s requested the town’s attorney write up the conservation easement language to pass along to him so he can have it ready for the PUC.

“We’ve told them if they need any further information to let us know,” he said about the PUC.

Liz Knox photo  The view from this kayak show's the gorgeous fall foliage on the Little Androscoggin River, where canoes and kayaks launch from behind the vacant Paris Utility District property on Paris Hill Road.
Liz Knox photo
The view from this kayak show’s the gorgeous fall foliage on the Little Androscoggin River, where canoes and kayaks launch from behind the vacant Paris Utility District property on Paris Hill Road.

At least one resident wasn’t sad to hear the town would have to wait to apply for the grant for the public boat launch. Calvin Woodworth addressed selectmen during the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting, who said he’s canoed everywhere in the area for years.

“The boat launch at the water company right now is the best one within 50 miles of here. I hope you don’t do anything to foul it up,” he said, noting currently people can drive on to the site, drag their canoe or kayak across the lawn and easily put it in the water.

If a cement ramp was installed, people would have to pick up their canoes or kayaks, or refinish the bottom of their vessels, he said, adding it’s fine just the way it is.

“Not getting that grant that would have kind of been a waste anyways,” Woodworth said.

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