TIF,Trails,Tourism and Conservation In the High Peaks Region.

Morning Sentinel Article

BY BETTY JESPERSEN
Staff Writer

08/09/2009

from the Morning Sentinel

FARMINGTON — Trail development, mapping, tourism and marketing in the unorganized townships in northern Franklin County are some of the ways county commissioners plan to spend some of the $200,000 that will come in each year for 20 years, a boon from a tax break deal with a wind farm developer.
Creating or improving existing trails was an option the Legislature added this year to the list of permitted uses for tax-increment financing revenues. The “TIF” is a program of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

County commissioners have started receiving inquiries from recreation and conservation organizations interested in the application process and timeline for the money to start to flow, said Commissioner Fred Hardy.

TransCanada, one of the largest power-generating companies in North America, is building a $220 million, 44-turbine wind farm near the Canadian border in Kibby and Skinner townships. It will be the largest wind power development in New England, providing enough clean, renewable electricity for the equivalent of 50,000 average Maine homes, according to the company.

Under the tax-break program, Franklin County can keep a percentage of the wind farm’s annual $1.1 million property tax revenue over the next 20 years.

The TIF allows the county to “shelter” the property tax revenue from state valuation and use it for commercial or economic development activities within Franklin County’s unorganized townships and plantations.

TransCanada will use its portion on the project.

Commissioners have agreed to establish a committee to review the applications that are expected to flood in from organizations seeking a piece of the revenue pie.

The committee would operate under the guidance of Greater Franklin Development Corporation and will set up guidelines for proposals, evaluate applications and finally make recommendations to the board on which to fund.

Lloyd Griscom of Phillips is a volunteer with the High Peaks Alliance, a group of local people working to preserve and enhance recreational access to forest lands in northern Franklin County. He said the group has already been working to develop the kind of recreational opportunities the county commissioners are targeting.

Participants in the Alliance include individuals and representatives of organized trail groups that maintain the area’s backcountry trails for snowmobiling, all-terrain vehicle trail riding, hiking, cross-country skiing and mountain biking. Others involved are those interested in preserving traditional recreational access for hunting, fishing and nature study.

They are currently planning the Fly Rod Crosby Footpath to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Cornelia T. Crosby, known to sports enthusiasts as Fly Rod Crosby, Griscom said. The 19th-century sportswoman was the state’s first Maine Guide and was known locally and nationally for her hunting and fishing abilities.

The southern end of the trail would start in Strong where she was buried, continue north to Phillips where she was born in 1854, on to Rangeley and would end in Oquossoc where she learned her outdoor skills, he said.

The Alliance is also collaborating with Maine Huts & Trails and the Sandy River Land Trust, among others.

“We would hope to a candidate for the county’s funding,” Griscom said Friday.

Eaton Peabody Consulting Group in Augusta was hired by the county to negotiate the tax-increment financing deal with TransCanada and the company continues to oversee the program.

“This is an incredibly important investment in your unorganized territory that you could not have done before,” consultant Mathew Eddy told commissioners this week.

He said he envisions a portion of the annual revenue being used to expand and focus tourism and marketing to the unorganized townships. The region boasts lakes, mountains, a section of the Appalachian Trail, recreation trails, portions of the Bigelow Preserve, and opportunities in the most developed townships of Madrid, Salem, and the areas around Rangeley and Carrabassett Valley.

The $200,000 annual windfall will also be used to upgrade emergency telecommunications and services, increase public safety resources and it will pay half the county’s $60,000 annual fee to Greater Franklin Development Corporation. The $30,000 would be earmarked for marketing the unorganized area for tourism and economic development.

There will also be money to create a revolving loan fund for businesses, improve scenic highways and provide local matches for economic development grants.

The deal allows the county to retain a portion of the project’s property tax revenue to create a $4 million fund that would be used to support economic development and infrastructure improvements over the next 10 years.

In return, about $8.9 million would be given back to the developer over 20 years to put toward the project, while the Maine Unorganized Territory would receive $9.3 million.

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