AMESBURY – The Lower Millyard redevelopment project got a big boost this week after the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission announced it has awarded Amesbury a $100,000 grant to help fund the industrial cleanup of the area.
In addition, the city will also be eligible to receive a loan from the MVPC to cover any outstanding costs remaining afterwards, which could potentially clear the way for the project to move forward on schedule should city officials choose to go that route.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer announced the grant yesterday, saying he is excited that Amesbury was able to secure the funds and his hope is that both the grant and loan issues will be picked up by the City Council as soon as possible.
“There is a timing issue with the loan program where we can access it, so I’ll be in conversations with the council president to see how we can go forward with the acceptance of the grant expediently,” Kezer said.
Securing funds for the Lower Millyard brownfield cleanup has been a top priority for city officials since the original plan to use a $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant for the project fell through. That gap in funding represents the last remaining hurdle between the city and the construction of Heritage Park, and for the project to move ahead on schedule, it must be closed by the end of the year.
Due to the timing constraints, a special meeting of the City Council is expected to be scheduled in the near future to take care of the bill’s first reading, allowing the issue to come before the council for a vote at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 10.
While accepting the $100,000 grant seems to be an obvious move, it’s unclear whether the City Council will ultimately vote to authorize the loan. Complicating matters is the fact that the city still doesn’t have a precise estimate of how much the brownfield cleanup of the Lower Millyard will actually cost, and, thus, how big a loan would be necessary.
Up to this point, the city has estimated the maximum cost of the cleanup to be $400,000, although Kezer said his expectation is that the final amount will be much lower than that. Over the past few months the city has tested the site to determine how thorough a cleanup will be required, and once those tests are completed, a more precise estimate will become available.
“That $400,000 assumes that we have to do a full-depth cleanup of the entire park, which we know is not the case,” Kezer said. “So what’s happening is that $400,000 price tag is going down as we refine the requirements of the project.”
For the purposes of the legislation, Kezer said whatever loan authorization he requests would be enough to cover the whole project, and the city would only spend what it needs even if the authorization allows for more.
“If we use the $400,000 figure as a loan authorization, the way it works is we’ll have the authority to borrow up to $400,000,” Kezer said. “So let’s say the project comes to $350,000 and nothing else changes, we’ll have $100,000 as a grant and $250,000 as a loan, and then the rest of the authorization disappears because we don’t need it.”
As far as underwriting the loan, Kezer said the city could either use the proceeds from the sale of the planned development parcel in the Lower Millyard to pay off the loan, or it could pay it off over a long period of time. He added that neither option would have a measurable impact on the tax rate, particularly as older debts have begun to mature at a faster rate.