Monday, April 23, 2007

Mill Closing Contingency Plans

Since its creation, the Paper Mill has formed the economic backbone of this community. But the future of heavy industry in Maine is by no means certain. Plans should be created and consensus built regarding how preservation will be affected if the Mill closes so that timely action can positively shape the transition. Failure to act quickly and intelligently may result in huge lost opportunities.

Attracting alternative clean industries would be a positive way to preserve and stabilize the economic base and allow long time residents to keep their families in Rumford Falls. More thought and communication with those already concerned with this problem would have to occur in order to determine what industries would benefit from the existing labor pool and site/electricity available and contribute to attracting these industries.

Open Space. If the mill closed and no clean industry could be attracted, we would be faced with living in the shadow of a useless eyesore. Flat open space is at a premium in this area of densely wooded mountainous terrain. We should obtain or have in place funding to dismantle the mill structures and clean-up residual environmental issues, thereby creating a large, useable, park-like space. Efforts should be made through community and government pressure to prevent new construction on the site. Other inexpensive sites for businesses/industry are abundant in the area, so defending this large site as an open space would not likely prevent valuable businesses from coming to the area. It would be imperative, if possible, for the community to secure the site. This spacious location, situated at a scenic bend of the Androscoggin river, near the beautiful falls and immediately adjacent to our vision of a preserved historic Rumford Falls would provide an extremely healthy resource for community life and vehicle for promotion of the area.

If preserved as part of the program to create and defend open space the site could serve many purposes which would strengthen the community, aside from the obvious beautification of the area.

Different seasons could suggest different community uses and contribute to building Rumford?s reputation as a desirable destination:

Festival site: The site would be ideal for fairs and festivals of all types. Agricultural fairs such as Common Ground. Antique fairs such as Brimfield. It would work well for events that would involve some overnight camping (scout camporees, Motorcycle and antique car rallies, rainbow gatherings). Music Festivals for all music types (Jazz, Country, Cajun, etc. i.e. Rockland Music Festival or the National Folk Festival). Creative brainstorming chould come up with dozens of ideas for events that could be facilitated to attract people and inject money and life into the local economy and community. While the Maine coast may have it?s charm, imagine a wonderful music festival with thousands of visitors in the middle of a beautiful valley exploding with fall color.

Recreational focus: The site and Rumford Falls, by extension, would be a convenient and scenic location for starting out or ending canoe trips or for stopping on a longer trip along the increasingly rehabilitated Androscoggin River.

Contributing to Rumford?s growing reputation as a winter sports destination, the site could be promoted as a hub for Snowmobile traffic. A spur could easily be built to the nearby Maine Interconnected Trail System which is already widely enjoyed and increasing in popularity every year. The site would be a good location for camping or finding a hotel before continuing on the trail or as a gathering point for the many large spontaneous snowmobile enthusiast convergences that occur each year. The proximity to area businesses would be good for both the snowmobilers and the businesses.

At this point this may seem too remote a possibility or filled with too many potential problems. Converting the closed mill site to open space would almost undoubtedly have to involve state or federal grants or some combination of same with funding from Mead. A conversion may be hard for some people to handle since there will likely remain hope that the mill might reopen or that another major industry may yet be persuaded to occupy the space. Mead may not want to sell the property. There may also be contamination issues that would have to be understood and overcome. Despite these potential problems, it would be a worthy goal of the Society to keep abreast of developments and serve as a forum for ideas on dealing with the problems and opportunities that may arise if the mill closes.

Preservation issues related to any mill closing
In addition to attempting to influence the development of the mill site, the closing of the mill would be a critical time for nearby real estate. The displacement created will put many properties on the market in a short time, creating a temporary buyer?s market. Preservation-minded individuals in the Rumford Falls area should go into high gear to ensure that as many properties as possible end up in the hands of people dedicated to Rumford Falls historic preservation and, at the same time, make sure that those forced to go elsewhere for opportunities are able to get competitive prices for their homes. Media promotion, especially through historic preservation organizations should be stepped up with a positive emphasis on the mill closing as a limited-time major opportunity to get in on the ground floor/renaissance of a beautiful historic community (away from the congestion and ugliness of city life) in the beautiful Western Maine Mountains. The mill closing would undoubtedly be a tragedy for many families and create daunting challenges to the community but in some ways, some aspects of historic preservation might be accelerated. Many who would otherwise jump at the chance to preserve and live or work in a historic community may have reservations due to negative perceptions of the odor, appearance and potential health problems associated with the mill. These will likely see the closing as a positive opportunity and, while this feeling will not be shared by many of the current residents, it would be better to have buyers ready and willing to purchase homes at reasonable prices than to be faced with the mill closing and a depressed real estate market. Preservation promotion should serve as one of the means to soften the blow and provide a positive vision for the future if Rumford ever faces this situation.

Rumford Falls will have appeal for retirees and young people with families who want to pick up an inexpensive home and put their money into renovating it to fit their ideal historic vision. Stained glass hobbyists or fine woodworkers will find many properties that are effectively excellent stages on which to properly display and inspire their art. Many of these people, who might be more affluent or whose incomes may not be location dependent (i.e. they can afford a second home, their jobs allow them to work from home, they may be able to fill an economic niche here, etc.) may have seen historic homes in beautiful New England communities and wished they could have purchased a home there before prices went through the roof and other transitional opportunities had receded. The more promotion that is conducted, the more of these and other interested persons we will be able to reach during the critical window immediately following any mill closure.

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