Greetings from your friends at Our Katahdin. We hope you are keeping healthy and safe during these truly extraordinary times. We are inspired to see our community banding together and supporting each other as we find new ways of living and staying productive.
Like you, we are so grateful to our dedicated local healthcare professionals, first responders, retail employees, educators, volunteers and other essential frontline workers who remain the courageous engines of our community and country, now more than ever. COVID-19 is affecting all of us, either through direct health effects or indirectly through unprecedented closures. These effects are felt most strongly by our most vulnerable populations.
To do our part, we are focusing 100% of our community development efforts in support of Mobilize Katahdin, a grassroots coalition of partners across the Katahdin region who are organizing aid efforts and connecting people to accurate information and local resources. At the time of this writing, 29 people have stepped forward to donate nearly $2,000 in support of this effort. Funds are supporting direct food and fuel assistance, utility bill payments for local food banks, local purchase and distribution of basic white goods and sanitary products, among other essential direct services. Learn more, request assistance, and/or get involved by filling out the forms online or by calling 207-370-1581.
If you’re able, please donate to Mobilize Katahdin today. You can potentially take advantage of the new $300 tax deduction for donations to nonprofit organizations included in the CARES Act.
Our Katahdin’s physical office will be unoccupied for the foreseeable future in an effort to practice safe “physical distancing” while maintaining strong social ties as we remain active working from our homes. Please reach out via email to any of our staff or board members, or Contact Us through the website. Other ongoing work is our contractors have opted to implement safety measures that allow them to safely continue construction work in our downtown building at 230 Penobscot Avenue. We are also finalizing work on a $837,000 loan that has been approved pending our ability to meet several conditions (that are achievable), which is the final tranche of funding required to launch our initial $8m infrastructure reinvestment project on the mill site in Millinocket.
Amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19, we see real glimmers of hope and potential. The journey takes time, usually more than we want, but we continue to believe in the mantra that “success is a series of small wins”. When a small win is achieved, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. Over time, they add up. And we start to see that bigger wins are possible. New opportunities emerge. Why is this important now? Each of us needs to seek and celebrate our own small wins as we make necessary adjustments in our lives and ways of connecting, and we need to continue to come together to find and celebrate our collective small wins as a community.
230 Penobscot Update - Renovation Begins
Turning an abandoned department store into a safe, accessible, beautiful space to work, shop and gather in (once we’re allowed to do that again) is a lengthy and complicated project. The changes on the outside of 230 Penobscot, or as you may know it - Miller’s, Epstein’s, or even J.J. Newberry’s - appear slowly, but since the kick-off of the first phase of renovation, Bill Bevan of Bevan’s Contracting Services and his crew have been hard at work inside.
Here’s a quick snapshot of challenges we’ve worked through with 230 Penobscot -
230 Penobscot Revitalization Process
Purchased former Miller's building, a tax acquired property in downtown Millinocket for $2,000
Invested $105,000 for new roof to preserve asset
Asbestos and Mold - Inactivity and water infiltration had created a bad mold problem throughout the building. Asbestos was throughout in the form of floor tiles and exterior siding
Awarded a $200.000 EPA Brownfield Cleanup Grant to mitigate mold and asbestos. Cleanup completed May 2019. Cleanup funds were also utilized to purchase 2nd floor windows. Our Katahdin contributed $40,000 in matching funds - in kind staff time
Spring 2018 - Spring 2019
Designing conversion of prior department store to retail space and vibrant coworking space - Needed to convert wide open floor plan to two retail spaces and function coworking space
Hired architect Patric Santere of ArcadiaDesign Works to design and create construction drawings for first floor and second floor renovations. This included structural engineering drawings. Hired Liz Trice, owner/operator of Peloton Labs in Portland and Lisa Liberatore of Covort in Bangor to advise on design and operation of the space
Phase 1 Renovation - ADA incompliance, sloped floor in first 25’ of building, shabby appearance from years of neglect, lacking life safety measures and a functional bathroom
Provide an occupiable space on a portion of the first floor. Minimum requirements - ADA and Life Safety Compliance, new electrical wiring, new egresses, new bathroom, new facade
Removed the sloped floor portion and installed new framing and flooring. New storefront with new access and ADA compliant ramp. New ADA bathroom and kitchenette.
New storefront glass, fire alarm system with exit lighting, rear egress
New facade including stonework, metal siding and trim, glass storefront, new 2nd floor windows, awnings, signage
Our goals for a vibrant hub that supports entrepreneurship at 230 Penobscot and the economic corridor in downtown Millinocket remain the same. The first phase of renovation includes creating two retail spaces, a pilot coworking space, a kitchenette, and a functional bathroom. As with all of our projects, it takes a village to pull this off and many have leaned in to support the project. We need to continue to raise funds to complete renovation phases 2 and 3. The timeline for opening retail stores is now unknown due to the coronavirus.
Join in the fun of seeing the major changes happening inside 230 by following Our Katahdin on Facebook.
Temporary exterior wall to keep heat in as the interior work begins.
Sloped floor and old storefront removal.
Sloped floor and joists fully removed on the north side.
Mill Site Update - Challenges and Opportunities
As a non-profit organization, Our Katahdin is an atypical industrial mill site owner. Our non-profit status allows us many unique opportunities, such as being eligible to apply for Federal grants to assist with clean-up and early infrastructure development on the site. However, a challenge that accompanies the investment of grant money is securing match money. Almost every funding opportunity that comes from the Federal or State government requires a portion of the total project budget be provided by the project developer. In our case, the $5.3M infrastructure grant from the Economic Development Administration requires a $1.37M match to begin work. We have secured $500,000 from the Maine Rural Development Authority, and are currently working diligently with the Maine Technology Institute to finalize our request for $837,000 in loan funding. MTI has conditionally awarded Our Katahdin this loan, and we are working with many partners to satisfy the conditions. A challenge is finalizing this loan in time to kick-off engineering studies that can only occur when the ground is not covered in snow. As we all know, that window is very small - especially with the 10+” of snow falling right now.
Katahdin Summit 2020 - Opportunities
As a partner, Our Katahdin helped host The Katahdin Summit 2020 in late January. It was a two-day action-oriented gathering of 60 high-profile people who took time in mid-winter from busy work and personal lives to travel to the Katahdin Region. Attendees from business, philanthropy, education, state departments and investment sectors traveled from all over Maine, and as far away as western Canada and western United States. Conversations focused on potential in the Katahdin Region for Outdoor Recreation and Place-Based Development; Entrepreneurship and Connectivity; Education, Research and Incubation; and Forest-products Bioeconomy Manufacturing.
A key outcome from a gathering of such a dynamic group of people, some with a deep focus on investment in the Katahdin Region, was face-to-face meetings with key people from Brookfield Renewable Energy and potential tenants on the Millinocket Mill Site. With the new legislation passed last summer (LD 1173) that allows for the direct sale of electricity from producers to tenants on adjacent property, Brookfield was able to provide indicative pricing for electricity for a specific potential tenant with precise electricity consumption requirements. This is a great step forward for Our Katahdin. Being able to distribute electricity on the mill site is a key component of our future revenue stream. Demonstrating the feasibility of this revenue stream is a condition on our loan approval to finalize the match funds to kick off the greenfield development project.
We also received resounding support for development of forest products recognizing our proximity to the North Woods, major population centers in Boston, New York and even DC, and having existing, though in need of repair, rail and road infrastructure to access these markets.
A take-away from the Katahdin Summit directly pertains to our vision for future development on the mill site:
Industrial Redevelopment: Develop bio-based industries. Nurture the establishment of traditional trades, crafts, and industries as a means to breathe new life into the forest lands and as feedstock for emerging biotechnologies including advanced cellulosic materials; emerging wood-based building materials/technologies; biofuels and bioplastics.
Proposed next steps and studies include -
Attracting a sawmill as the anchor forest products industrial tenant for the Millinocket mill site, paving the way for downstream innovations that use biomass and/or sawn timber as inputs;
Comprehensive industrial/commercial transportation study to catalog the challenges in effectively enabling the flow of physical goods from the natural resource base in the Katahdin region to the addressable market between Boston and Washington, DC;
Biofuels/bioplastics policy and technology study to identify the barriers to realizing innovations in biofuel/bioplastic production, including renewable classification for Maine forests, as well as highlighting issues and opportunities related to chain of custody tracking using modern technologies.
Community Projects Update - Rapid Community Response to COVID-19
As the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 emerged in Maine in the middle of March, several community leaders immediately began thinking about how to best serve people in our communities in the Katahdin Region. Knowing that the impacts were going to happen quickly and build over time, Matt Delaney, Director of the Millinocket Memorial Library, and Jane Danforth, Director of Thrive Penobscot, began mobilizing people and resources to launch Mobilize Katahdin.
Mobilize Katahdin is a coalition of partners in the Katahdin Region dedicated to organizing mutual aid efforts and connecting people to accurate information and local resources. Modeled after other quick community responses within Maine, Mobilize Katahdin is a coordinated way for people to share an immediate need, volunteer to help community members, access information, and donate funds. Our Katahdin is part of the coalition and has shifted our community fundraising platform to raise funds for this community effort. If you are in a position to donate, please do so.
Mobilize Katahdin contributions will be used to support our Katahdin region community members impacted by COVID-19 from Millinocket to Mt. Chase. This community support fund will be used to help neighbors whose households are facing economic crisis due to employers closing or needing to stay home from work to care for children while schools are closed. Already, neighbors have asked for assistance with groceries, cleaning supplies, and heating fuel.
Learn more, get assistance, or get involved by filling out the online forms, emailing the team at info [at] mobilizekatahdin [dot] org or calling the warm-line at 207-370-1581. If you think you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, call the Millinocket Regional Hospital COVID-19 hotline (207) 447-4190. If you would like to speak directly with Shelly Blaisdell, the new Resource Navigator to share a need or volunteer, call 207-370-1581 or email her at shelly [at] millinocketmemoriallibrary [dot] org.
The coalition is made up of many organizations throughout the Katahdin Region committed to compiling resources and responding to emerging needs in our community and is growing, please contact Shelly Blaisdell if you would like to join.
Broadband Update - Bringing Better Broadband to the Region
Supported by the Katahdin Region Broadband Utility
Over the past three months, an initiative has been underway to gauge local interest for fiber broadband with the goal of signing up 30% of households and businesses in the southern towns of the Katahdin region. Demonstrating interest from enough homes and businesses makes a better business case for internet service providers and capital providers to build out a fiber network.
Our Katahdin supports these sign-up efforts. If you live in Millinocket, East Millinocket or Medway, or have a camp up this way, please visit www.KatahdinBroadband.com and express your interest by signing up. Saying that you are interested in better, faster, more reliable internet is not a binding commitment. So far, 456 households and businesses in Millinocket have indicated interest with 189 more needed to reach the 30% goal; 97 households are interested in East Millinocket with 149 more needed; 62 households are interested in Medway with 99 more needed; and 15 interested households in the surrounding lakes community with 45 more needed to achieve the 30% goal.
With the current “Stay at Home” order, school closures and non-essential business closures to keep people safe and healthy in the current coronavirus pandemic, the need for better broadband is apparent. A better connection, reliable speeds and increased bandwidth with a fiber network allows us to “Stay at Home” and work remotely, take classes remotely, connect with family and friends, check-in with neighbors, and even order groceries and other essentials. A fiber broadband network increases community safety by supporting connections to medical professionals without traveling to the hospital, and by allowing people to work, school and maintain social connections from home. Curious to learn more about how broadband is essential? The Portland Press Herald just issued an article entitled “Our View: Broadband is a lifesaver in COVID crisis.”
Wifi Hotspots Available!
The COVID crisis also highlights how many of our neighbors, small businesses and school students do not have adequate or any access to broadband internet. With typical gathering places closed, access to the internet is even more limited.
There is free wifi in downtown Millinocket and East Millinocket. Free wifi hotspots are accessible 24/7. The signal is best outside of buildings and can be accessed from your car. Wifi hotspots are located near the Town Office, Designlab and Scootic In on Penobscot Avenue in Millinocket, and at the Town Office in East Millinocket.
The Millinocket Memorial Library also has reconfigured their wifi equipment to make the signal available from the parking lot at the temporary location at Pelletier’s Restaurant on Penobscot Avenue. The network name is: Millinocket Memorial Library. The password is: mmlwifi2019. For more information about the Library and on-going work, please visit www.millinocketmemoriallibrary.org.