On paper, the northern Maine counties of Aroostook and Washington have everything it takes to set the stage for economic success and long-term growth: abundant resources, marvelous scenery, natural assets, a population with strong work ethics and a series of small towns with quaint downtowns. Even the frigid winter weather with its abundant snowfall is an advantage, an obvious draw for outdoor sportsmen.
What they haven’t had, though, is the chance to outline a more comprehensive and integrated regional plan, and to envision how working together could leverage their assets and provide the basis for a brighter and more sustainable future.
Now, through a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the two counties are embarking on a joint effort to build capacity, identify potential areas for economic development and manage growth.
They call their project the Washington Aroostook Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (WARPSD).
During a technical assistance workshop run by Smart Growth America on February 28 and 29, representatives from the Northern Maine Development Commission, the Washington County Council of Governments and the Sunrise County Economic Council met to discuss how to best achieve the ambitious goals of their regional consortium.
Though working toward a comprehensive regional plan has obvious benefits to communities, it also poses any number of hurdles and initial difficulties, starting with the counties’ sheer size and diverse traits.
“You have to understand that we’re talking about a huge land area, the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, and that we’re not close,” says NMDC Senior Planner Jay Kamm, noting that representatives of the two counties need to identify ways to broadly benefit residents living in small towns and rural areas far apart geographically and to better communicate with them about the issues that will shape their futures.
Participants of the workshop, hosted in the towns of Caribou and Weston, sought to initiate this identification process, listing everything from the need for better rural transit to alternative energy options like biomass heating systems as some of the area’s most concrete and immediate opportunities.
“I think they’ve made a lot of progress,” says Roger Millar, who headed the workshop and serves as Director of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute. “Having that discussion and getting everything on the table is the first step.”
Smart Growth America’s annual free technical assistance program, made possible through a five-year Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, seeks to develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses, while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place. Three other nonprofit organizations — Forterra, Global Green USA and Project for Public Spaces — also received competitively awarded grants this year to help communities get the kinds of development they want.
To learn about the next opportunity for free technical assistance, join Smart Growth America’s mailing list.
- Regional Planning for Small Communities Tool Description (PDF)
- Communication and Effective Citizen Engagement Presentation (PDF)
- Regional Planning for Small Communities Presentation (PDF)
- Northern Maine Development Commission: Next Steps Memo (PDF)
- Northern Maine Development Commission: Progress Report – 1 month (PDF)
- Northern Maine Development Commission: Progress Report – 6 months (PDF)
- Northern Maine Development Commission: Progress Report – 12 months (PDF)