Budget Committee Approves Brownfields Bond for International Woolen Co. Property

The boiler house of the International Woolen Company.

At its meeting on March 24, 2022, the Budget Committee approved a request from the City’s Planning Department for a $1 million bond to provide matching funds needed to get a $5 million brownfields grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Interest on the bond would be budgeted under debt service over a ten year period. If the bond is also approved by the City Council, it will go before voters for the final say in November.

At the previous Budget Committee meeting, City Manager Steve Buck provided a short history of the City’s brownfields strategy over the past several years. The term brownfields refers to former industrial or commercial sites contaminated by toxic waste that must be cleaned up before they can be redeveloped.

In 2019, Sanford received one of the first brownfields multi-purpose grants in the nation, and has used some of those funds for remediation of the Stenton Trust property at the corner of High and River Sts. Mr. Buck said it is in final preparations to be turned over to Winn Development, which expects to begin redeveloping that property in the spring of 2023.

Brownfields grants were also used in the redevelopment of the Sanford Mill building on Washington St., as well as the creation of Gateway Park. The former CGA site on New Dam Rd., which has been cleaned up and will be turned into a solar farm this year, is the City’s latest brownfields success story.

The new brownfields proposal by the Planning Department would address the abandoned International Woolen Co. site in the mill yard between Pioneer Ave. and Heritage Crossing/Weaver Dr. To date, the City has invested over $330,000 of the multi-purpose grant funds to assess and approximate the cost of cleaning up the four International Woolen properties.

Two of the properties comprise the boiler house, which was recently declared by the City Council to be a dangerous building. Planning Director Beth Della Valle provided some details on the redevelopment plan, which includes demolishing the boiler house and paving the area to provide 127 parking spaces, although the City’s preference would be to build a two-story garage which would double that number of spaces. The lack of parking in the mill yard, and easy access to it, have been documented as being deterrents to the private investment needed for redevelopment there.

Increasing the available parking in the mill yard would also free up parking spaces at the lower Midtown Mall, most of which are currently dedicated to tenants at the Sanford Mill. Ms. Della Valle said making those spaces available would support additional revitalization efforts in the downtown.

The City will apply for a grant to do the demolition and cleanup next year, and the bond will provide the necessary matching funds. It is a complex project because one wall of the boiler house holds up the retaining wall that holds up Pioneer Ave. Ms. Della Valle said the Planning and Public Works Departments will work together to ensure the retaining wall is not destabilized.

She said she would have much preferred to keep the stack (chimney) for its historic value as the last one left in the mill yard, but it has deteriorated to such a point that it may collapse as the other one did several years ago, which “by just sheer luck” didn’t fall on the Sanford Mill or any other structures.

She summed up her comments by saying that budgeting matching funds has proven to be a good investment in the past, as the City has received $1.3 million in grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and Maine Department of Environmental Protection just in the past four years, in addition to the private investments in the projects.

Mr. Buck added that the impact for the bond to this fiscal year would be $9,370, and in the ten subsequent years would add approximately $108,000 to the City’s debt service.

The Budget Committee also approved a $250,000 five-year bond to provide cash flow for the next phase of construction of the Presidential Lane extension at the Sanford-Seacoast Regional Airport. The City Council has the authority to bond this amount without voter approval.