LIVERMORE FALLS — One lesson learned over the past eight years is that for change to have a lasting impact, it has to come from the community, Nancy Smith, executive director of GrowSmart Maine, said Wednesday.

“If there is no local buy-in, it’s not going to work,” she said.

GrowSmart has three staff members and is overseen by a 20-member board, including Chairman Kevin Bunker, who bought, renovated and restored the historic Lamb Block in Livermore Falls.

The statewide, nonprofit organization launched a pilot project with the towns of Canton, Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls and Wilton on Wednesday during a Movie Night at the Livermore Falls Town Office.

The organization chose to work with the towns and partner with organizations that are already active in them to help them chart the future of the communities by helping them connect with resources to move them forward.

GrowSmart plans to release Making Headway in Your Community, a searchable website that organization’s representatives say “will provide connections with local, regional, statewide and even national resources able to assist communities in identifying goals and completing on-the-ground projects.”

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Making Headway will be released at the GrowSmart Maine Summit on Oct. 21 at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Smith said.

According to the organization, the five towns are connected through geography, economy, community connections and natural landscapes. Four of the five towns also have the Androscoggin River running through them.

John Maloney of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments said this is an opportunity to continue work that AVCOG did with communities on their comprehensive plans.

“A lot of time and a lot of thought go into a comprehensive plan,” he said.

Once the plans are completed, they tend to be put on a shelf, he said, and the 50 to 100 recommendations in them are not implemented.

Making Headway in Your Community could be a way to help carry out the comprehensive plan, he said.

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GrowSmart will also partner with Greater Franklin Development Corp. and Androscoggin Land Trust for the pilot project.

Those gathered Wednesday watched a 30-minute film, “Reviving Freedom Mill,” at Freedom Falls in Freedom. It tells the story of Tony and Sally Grassi’s rehabilitation of an abandoned and dilapidated grist mill that was built in 1834 and putting it to modern use. The mill is on Sandy Stream. One of the goals was to produce hydropower.

The film showed the history and work that went into the rehabilitation that now houses a school for home-schooled children, a restaurant and office space.

Tony Grassi of Camden, a retired banker, expects to produce hydropower by next spring.

When asked by an audience member, Grassi said that the couple funded the project with historic tax credits.

“You can get 40 percent of your investment back in tax credits,” he said.

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A number of foundations also like this type of work of bringing back communities, he said. There was a lot of volunteer work, and the people who did the grist mill worked at a discount.

“Sally and I worked on this eight years from the day we walked by and the time we finished,” he said. The couple had happened upon the mill and became intrigued about possibilities.

He explained the lengthy process and gathering regulators together to eventually get approval for the project. Working with the regulators worked for him.

“We were not pushing the envelope to maximize power; we wanted to do it with the least environmental impact,” he said.

When he is finished, he expects to be out about 10 percent of the investment. After five years, he hopes to give the building away to a nonprofit organization.

Grassi’s story has the potential to reignite a spark in other communities to begin or strengthen the revitalization, Smith said.

The five towns were the first communities to get a glimpse of Making Headway, a guide to promote sustainable prosperity for the state’s communities.

It provides the foundation for discussions and decisions about the future of towns as well as a structure to manage and connect strategic actions at the local level, Smith said.

dperry@sunjournal.com


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