U.S.-Canadian border grants announced with program’s future in doubt

  • Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D) talks to people at the American Legion Post 5 in Brattleboro, Vt., during a pancake breakfast on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. Kristopher Radder / Brattleboro Reformer file

Associated Press
Thursday, August 10, 2017

The $2.25 million in federal grants for a series of development projects for the economically challenged area along the U.S.-Canadian border could be the last unless Congress funds next year’s program over the objection of the Trump administration.

The Vermont grants announced Thursday by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republican Gov. Phil Scott will help fund 10 programs, ranging from $46,000 so the Vermont Brewers Association can bring out-of-state tourists to the state’s breweries, to $425,000 to help build sidewalks and support recreation trails in St. Johnsbury.

“These grants aim to help our forest-based economies, our emerging agricultural entrepreneurs, and the communities they depend upon to make investments in themselves,” Scott said Thursday.

Officials in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and upstate New York say the Northern Border program has helped create and save hundreds of jobs since it was created almost a decade ago by using relatively small amount of money to generate other investments while encouraging developments in traditionally underserved areas.

The Trump administration proposed eliminating funding for the commission, but the organization’s supporters have sprung to its defense.

The U.S. House has passed a bill that would cut 2018 funding for the Northern Border Commission in half – from $10 million in 2017 to $5 million. A separate proposal in the Senate, which has not yet been acted upon, would increase funding for the commission to $15 million.

Leahy said he and his colleagues in the Senate are pushing back against what he calls the White House’s “anti-rural agenda” that ignores the needs and conditions in rural communities.

“For now, the Senate is largely ignoring his calls for these slashing cuts to these rural economic development initiatives,” Leahy said.

New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, who announced last week $2.2 million in funding for 13 projects in the state, said the commission supports critical infrastructure and economic development projects. The New Hampshire projects range from a septic wastewater treatment station in Whitefield to parking in Lancaster.

“Efforts to cut funding for this program are severely misguided and hurt communities that can least afford it,” Kuster said.

The commission includes 36 counties in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. It was created by Congress in 2008 based on the model of the Appalachian Regional Commission. It was first funded in 2010.

Statistics show that between 2010 and 2016, the Commission has contributed $21.1 million for 119 projects across the four states, creating 137 new jobs and retaining 307.

The Concord-based Northern Forest Center is getting $162,500 from the grants that were announced Thursday in Vermont. The Center supports forest products businesses across the region.