A view of the massive Bates Mill No. 5 on Main Street in Lewiston.

LEWISTON — The third time is the charm for city officials, who will finally receive a sizable environmental cleanup grant for Bates Mill No. 5 after missing out on funding the previous two years.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the selection of $6 million in Brownfields grants for contaminated properties in Maine, including $500,000 to remove asbestos and other materials at the former textile mill building in Lewiston.

Since the city took over the property in 1992, there has been decades of discussion on whether to demolish or redevelop the property. While developer Tom Platz has bought and slowly redeveloped the rest of the Bates Mill complex, restoring economic activity to the site that once employed some 5,000 people, Mill No. 5, the largest of the properties, has proven difficult.

“We consider this great news as it will allow the city to get in there and start some of the environmental (rehabilitation), which is a necessary predecessor to any development in the building,” Platz said Wednesday.

The EPA’s Brownfields program provides grants and technical assistance to communities, states, tribes and others to assess, safely cleanup and sustainably reuse properties with hazardous materials.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development, said that while it was disappointing that the city was not awarded the grant the past two years, the previous applications were for $200,000.

“If we weren’t going to get the money, I’m delighted we got more than twice as much this go-around,” he said.

As part of the application, the city agreed to provide a match of $100,000, or 20 percent, and will also use Community Development Block Grant revolving loan dollars toward the total funds.

Jeffers said that even if the site is not redeveloped by Platz or even demolished, the environmental work will need to be done, particularly for the asbestos. He estimated there is roughly $1 million in remediation needed in order to redevelop the 350,000-square-foot building.

The city and Platz have utilized Brownfields funds to do similar work at other Bates Mill buildings that have since been redeveloped.

The city does not yet have a timeline for when the work will be complete, but Jeffers said it could begin this year.

The site was first developed as a planing mill and lumber yard in 1856, and housed a weave shed from 1914 to 2000, when it closed. According to an EPA description, the site is contaminated with “inorganic contaminants, metals, and PCBs,” which were used widely in electrical equipment like capacitors and transformers.

A small area of the mill has a hydro-generating station, which Jeffers said features the PCB contamination.

In February 2018, the City Council extended an agreement by three years to give Platz exclusive rights to buy the 350,000-square-foot building for $1, but also leaves the door open for another developer to take over the project in the third year.

Platz has remained optimistic about the redevelopment effort. When the new three-year agreement was reached, he told the Sun Journal that he would like to concentrate on developing the mill one half at a time. He said that within the three-year time frame, he would hope to “have our tenants ready.”

The agreement expires Feb. 28, 2021.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King released a joint statement on the grants Wednesday, saying, “The Brownfields Program has proven to be a major benefit to the overall health and vitality of Maine communities. In addition to cleaning up hazardous substances and improving our environment, this investment will help communities create new economic development opportunities to attract businesses that create good jobs for Mainers, particularly in rural areas.”

In a news release Wednesday, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said 40 percent of the recipients of the grants this year “are receiving Brownfields grants for the first time, which means we are reaching areas that may have previously been neglected.”

He added that 108 of the selected communities have identified sites or targeted areas for redevelopment that fall within Opportunity Zones, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program created under the Trump administration.

Lewiston’s designated Opportunity Zones are census tracts outside the downtown mill redevelopment area and riverfront, which city officials, including Jeffers, have advocated to change.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: