Brunswick base redevelopers accept energy study funds, await decision on property transfers
BATH — The group implementing the reuse plan for Brunswick Naval Air Station on Tuesday accepted a $200,000 grant that will help determine if the redeveloped base will house a renewable-energy park.
The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority unanimously authorized acceptance of the funds awarded by the federal Economic Development Administration during the group's monthly board of directors meeting, held at Bath City Hall.
The EDA money will match a separate $200,000 grant from the Maine Technology Institute. Combined, the two grants will be used to determine the feasibility of an energy park, a concept included in the civilian reuse plan and endorsed by MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque.
Levesque has previously said that the energy center wouldn't just create renewable energy at the base, but provide research and development for technologies such as wind and solar power.
Levesque also said that MRRA hopes to hold an air show in 2011, the same year the Navy officially vacates the base. The Navy has hosted the Great State of Maine Air Show at BNAS intermittently since 1962, drawing about 200,000 spectators each year for attractions like the Blue Angels. Last year's show was billed as the base's last.
Levesque said Tuesday that MRRA hopes to bring the Blue Angels back in 2011. Holding the air show, he said, would help the authority showcase the assets at the base, and generate revenue.
Cash flow will be important to MRRA, particularly if Congress can't deliver legislation that would encourage the Navy and other military services to award no-cost property conveyances. Such transfers, called economic development conveyances, are currently allowed, but the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure statue that included decommissioning of BNAS also requires the military to seek fair market value for property.
In June, Levesque said that requirement could force MRRA to come up with $20 million to $30 million to purchase property at BNAS.
Levesque's estimates followed the passage of a bill by the U.S. House of Representatives that would encourage the military to use no-cost transfers to redevelopment agencies. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, is now being reconciled in a conference committee with a Senate-approved bill co-sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
Levesque said on Tuesday that the Senate bill isn't as strong as the House version.
MRRA's board also accepted a BNAS Housing Disposition and Redevelopment Plan, a 100-page study recommending strategies for handling the 702 military housing units that will soon be vacant. A summary of the report can be viewed at mrra.us.
The units are owned by Northeast Housing LLC, a partnership between the Navy and United Kingdom-based developer Balfour Beatty.
Earlier this year, MRRA made a bid to buy the homes so that it could implement a disposition strategy like that recommended in the independent study. However, Northeast Housing rejected the authority's bid and began negotiating with Auburn developer George Schott.
Schott this summer confirmed he was in negotiations, but Northeast Housing has yet to announce a deal.
In another MRRA development, Levesque acknowledged the recent resignation of board member Heather Collins, the former director of the Southern Midcoast Chamber of Commerce. Collins' departure leaves the 11-member board with two vacancies.
Members are appointed by Gov. John Baldacci, vetted by the Legislature's Business Research and Economic Development Committee and confirmed by the Maine Senate.
Levesque said Tuesday that the BRED committee will likely hold confirmation hearings on appointees in January, as well as on the reconfirmation of current member Gary Brown, Brunswick's town manager.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org