LEE -- An estimated $5.5 million in state funding toward a major municipal water system upgrade could be key to mill reuse and other economic development in town.
Local government officials are seeking a highly competitive grant from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program to pay for the replacement of Lee's main water line from it's water treatment plant off Reservoir Road to the south end of Main Street. Town Administrator Robert Nason said the MassWorks grant application is due Sept. 1.
The MassWorks, a collaboration of several state agencies, provides a one-stop shop for municipalities and other eligible public entities seeking state money for water, sewer, road, sidewalk and other public works improvements to support economic development and job creation.
The three miles of larger pipeline proposed in Lee would increase water flow to the vacant Greylock, Columbia and Eagle mills, according to Lee DPW Superintendent Christopher Pompi.
Eagle Mill is the furthest along in redevelopment as Mill Renaissance LLC, led by Jeffrey N. Cohen of Great Barrington, is studying the feasibility of work force housing, a restaurant, retail space, community center and possibly a hotel on the 6.4 acre parcel on the north end of Main Street.
"What they have proposed, we can't give them the 4,500 gallons of water per minute they need," said Pompi. "This is also good for the ratepayers as more water users spreads around the operational costs."
Given Lee has successfully used MassWorks funding toward its downtown revitalization and the Eagle Mill project is nearing the design phase toward construction, the town has a good chance to receive the grant, according to Richard Vinette, consultant for Mill Renaissance.
"The important thing with MassWorks is readiness," he said, "and we're going to show we have a project with legs."
Vinette noted the developer put up $20,000 to pay for preliminary design and engineer plans for the water main replacement, documents necessary for the grant application.
Town officials and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli (D-Lenox) believe the proposed Eagle Mill reuse and Columbia, Greylock and nearby Niagara Mill in Lenox Dale under new owners ready to invest in the empty factories bode well for the town receiving MassWorks funding. President Eric Spirtas of Niagara Worldwide, the Midwestern firm that recently bought the three mills from Schweitzer-Mauduit International for $1.5 million, told The Eagle last week he has two businesses already eyeing space at the Greylock Mill.
"All this activity can only help Lee which has become a hotbed of economic development," said Pignatelli, "I'm extremely optimistic about the grant."
Lee Board of Selectmen Chairman David Consolati believes the empty paper mills have become a magnet for potential developers.
"The Eagle Mill project is on track and viable," he said. "If you look around the county, there's not a lot of space available like our mills.
The early stages of mill reuse in Lee has and will continue soliciting input from residents, business leaders and civic organizations for ideas on redeveloping the four properties.
Next week, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission will host a visioning session at the Greenock Country Club to gauge public opinion on how best to revitalize the former paper-making factories. Last summer, Lee received a $175,000 federal planning grant toward creating a community-based strategy for mill reuse. BRPC senior planner Melissa Provencher is overseeing the two-year study that could have an immediate impact on proposed mill redevelopment.
"Our planning is beneficial to the owners/developers since it provides an opportunity for them to vet their plans with the community or be provided plans directly from the community," Provencher said. "We will be gathering information on existing conditions and conducting a market survey, which will be made available to the owners/developers."
If you go ...
What: Lee mills visioning event
When: Aug. 21, 5:30 - 9 p.m.
Where: Fiddleheads Grille, Greenock Country Club, 220 West Park St., Lee
For more information: berkshireplanning.org/events/lee-northern-mills-visioning-event/
To reach Dick Lindsay: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6233.