m-bruncouncil Council to prod feds on Maine Street Station funds Meeting space issue may shift to Industry Road
BRUNSWICK — Facing a potential $1.27 million overrun for its share of Maine Street Station, the Town Council on Monday indicated it is prepared to seek help from the state's congressional delegation to press for release of overdue federal funds for the project.
Also, some councilors were prepared to abandon a proposed space-sharing plan with Topsham amid concerns Brunswick would be overcharged by its neighbor.
The space issue is becoming more urgent because demolition of the existing McKeen Street facility is set for March.
However, on Monday, the majority of council concern was about Maine Street Station, the $23.5 million joint development that faces rising infrastructure costs and the developer's financing deadline.
Last week, town officials said those issues, plus unanticipated delays in the release of an $850,000 grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, could increase the town's share of funding by $400,000. That increase, which town officials cautioned is a "worst-case" scenario, is in addition to the $865,000 spending the council authorized last September to account for what was described as unforeseen storm-water requirements, increased paving costs and changes to the plan.
All told, the worst-case figures would put the town's share of the project at nearly $3.5 million, $1.27 million over the $2.2 million estimated for infrastructure costs.
The town has successfully won $1.4 million in grants to offset some of its costs.
However, during a recent Maine Street Station Oversight Committee meeting, town officials said the EDA grant is now necessary to meet overruns produced by winter construction and additional, unanticipated remediation of coal ash. Without the grant, town officials warned, construction currently underway could halt, thus driving up costs even further.
The council has already authorized a $2 billion bond ordinance for the project, but an amendment would require a public hearing and a council vote – a lengthy process that could have both political and monetary costs.
If it materializes, the overrun would likely trigger some backlash, particularly from those who've argued the town carelessly negotiated a joint development agreement with JHR Development.
Also, if the bond allocation runs out, crews currently doing infrastructure work could be pulled from the project. Even if the council authorizes additional funding, town officials have said re-mobilizing work crews would be costly.
Furthermore, JHR project manager Mike Lyne has said the first phase of the project needs to be up and running by summer to meet the terms of JHR's financing.
The situation has prompted the oversight committee to urge the council to send a letter to the congressional delegation seeking its help in obtaining the EDA grant. The funds were applied for more than two years ago and described as forthcoming by former Economic Development Director Mat Eddy.
Last week the town's Economic and Community Development department said it had been asked to reapply for the grant, despite assurance from a local EDA representative that the move is a formality.
Still, some councilors were skeptical. While the council voted to wait several days before contacting the delegation, at-large Councilor Joanne King said a letter should be sent with "alacrity."
"This isn't the time to pussy-foot around," King said.
Interim Town Manager Gary Brown said he hoped to speak with an EDA representative by Wednesday. The council voted 9-0 to send the letter if Brown's efforts were unsuccessful.
In other business, the council still planned to attend a joint meeting with the Topsham Board of Selectmen Wednesday to discuss cost-sharing opportunities. However, a proposal to begin holding Town Council meetings in Topsham may be dead on arrival.
The recently announced proposal would have allowed Brunswick to hold meetings in Topsham after the demolition of Brunswick's current meeting facility at the old high school on McKeen Street. However, several councilors said Topsham's asking price – $1,000 per week – is too steep.
"It didn't sit well with many of my constituents," King said.
The council had hoped sharing space with Topsham would be a solution to one of Brunswick's many facilities problems. Other options, such as converting Hawthorne Elementary School or an addition to existing town offices, were deemed too costly.
Unless Wednesday's joint meeting produces a lower rental rate, Brunswick will re-evaluate converting space in the former Times Record building on Industry Road. Brown hoped the town could ready the space and wire it for use by Cable Television 3 for $5,000.
The council also approved its top 10 goals for the year. They include selecting a new town manager, presenting a facilities plan, establishing an economic and community development program and creating efficiencies on town committees.
The council took no action on Councilor Margo Knight's proposed council rule change prohibiting the use of cell phones and personal digital assistants during its meetings. Instead, the council agreed to give the chair discretion as to when the use of cell phones and other devices is acceptable.