By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — A major hurdle impeding progress on the Heritage Park project has been cleared as Gov. Deval Patrick announced yesterday that he has committed an additional $200,000 in state funds to clean up the privately owned portion of the Lower Millyard.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer said the state agreed to expand the scope of the existing Elm Street MassWorks Grant, which was awarded to the city in 2011, to address the cleanup of 25 Water St. and untangle a web of legal issues that will allow the project to move forward as planned.
“This is incredibly good news,” Kezer said.
The state committed the funds to Amesbury after Kezer reached out to Greg Bialecki, the state’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development, and explained the tight timeframe the city was facing with the project and the need to move forward immediately.
“The clock was running out on this, because there are certain expenses that needed to happen under this fiscal year,” Kezer said. “So we needed to move forward to keep this on track.”
Kezer said that by securing the funding, the city will now be able to complete the transaction to accept the property at 25 Water St., which will allow it to access the $725,000 bond authorization approved for the project by the City Council in April and get things moving.
Dan Healey, who owns the Carriage Mills office building on Water Street, is donating the parcel of land at 25 Water St. to the city, and in April the City Council voted to accept the land with the condition that no city funds be used to clean up the land. The trouble is that Healey also made the city cleaning up the land a condition of his donation, so the transaction couldn’t be completed until outside funds could be found.
With the land issue settled, Kezer said Healey’s and the city’s attorneys will be working out the final details and the transaction should be finalized shortly.
“It might bounce into next week because of the holiday, but I’m hopeful in the next week or so we’ll nail that transaction down,” Kezer said.
While the resolution of the 25 Water St. parcel will allow the Heritage Park process to move forward on schedule, there is still one other issue that must be resolved before the project is in the clear.
The portion of Heritage Park that the city already owns was supposed to be cleaned up using $400,000 from an Environmental Protection Agency grant that the city hoped to secure in the spring. The city was not awarded the grant, which forced officials to look at other funding sources to fill the gap instead.
“We have a five- to six-month window to solve before it has an impact on the construction cycle for next spring,” Kezer said. “So what we’ve done there is we’ve applied for a grant from Mass Development and we have a grant application in for the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission.”
Kezer said that if Amesbury were to be awarded both grants, they would help cover a significant portion of the gap, but they wouldn’t close it completely. He added that the MVPC program is a grant up to $100,000, but anything over that becomes a loan.
“We’re also applying for the MassWorks grant for the realignment of Water Street, which cuts through the property, so there may be some funding there,” Kezer said. “We’re working with the EPA, even though we didn’t get that larger grant, we’re looking to see if we can get something else in its place, so we’re looking into a number of issues to try and close the gap, and again, we have several months in order to work those out.”
Kezer said he is optimistic that the remaining clean-up funds will be secured in a timely manner, and he expects the city’s relationship with the Patrick administration and other state officials through the Brownfield Support Team will help in the city’s search for outside funding.
He also expressed gratitude to state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, and District 2 City Councilor Christian Scorzoni, who he said were both instrumental in helping Amesbury secure the state funding to move the Heritage Park project forward.