The Star-Herald

Investing in the future of Aroostook County

Growing up in Aroostook County, I learned that when we work together and lend a helping hand, we can make our community a better place. 

As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I worked to support municipalities, colleges, and non-profit organizations across The County by securing $50.7 million for 21 projects in Aroostook as part of the fiscal year 2023 government funding law. These investments will promote job creation and economic development, support our first responders, improve infrastructure, expand access to health care, and protect our environment.

Throughout the Appropriations process, community leaders told me about their work to enhance the well-being of people in The County and improve the delivery of services. This funding for their projects will make a real difference.

Health care is essential for rural communities. This is especially true in Maine, which has the oldest average age in the nation. An $862,000 grant to support the Aroostook Agency on Aging will allow the organization to build on its impressive variety of programming to bolster the health of seniors. During a recent visit, I saw firsthand how the Agency will be able to deliver more services to seniors in the most rural parts of The County.

In other healthcare advancements, $2.2 million was included for an important modernization project at Houlton Regional Hospital and $450,000 for the Aroostook County Mobile Dental Unit to improve access to dental services for children.

Our dedicated first responders must have adequate facilities and equipment to carry out their crucial duties. The government funding law provides more than $5.7 million for police, fire, and EMS services throughout Aroostook, including new fire stations in Eagle Lake and Van Buren, improvements to the Fort Kent Police Station, and the acquisition of a new ambulance to serve Central Aroostook.  

Additionally, the funding will support a new police station in Caribou.  I recently spoke with Police Chief Michael Gahagan about how a state-of-the-art building with a centralized jail holding facility will help police officers protect the community and preserve evidence.

Aroostook County’s environment and natural resources are special. The government funding law includes funding for the Caribou Pond and Park reclamation project that includes a new dam with a fish passage to restore water levels and increase brook trout and waterfowl populations. It also provides more than $4 million for wastewater treatment improvements in Limestone, Mapleton, Grand Isle, and Eagle Lake.

In order to keep The County on the move, the Maine Department of Transportation will receive $24.8 million to rehabilitate Route 11 from Ashland to Eagle Lake and to reconstruct Route 1 in Van Buren. To improve pedestrian safety, Mapleton will receive $150,000 for sidewalk repairs and upgrades.

Education and workforce development are key to The County’s future. The law provides $4 million to renovate an outdated facility at the University of Maine at Fort Kent for essential education and cultural and community programming. More than $850,000 will support the Early Childhood Education degree program at Northern Maine Community College and help establish a new training lab for dental assistants at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. The Northern Maine Development Commission will receive $90,000 to expand its business counseling and training services for entrepreneurs.

Maine has one of the highest percentages of veterans in the nation, and Maine Veterans’ Homes provides compassionate, quality long-term care to the brave men and women who served our country. An additional $3 million in the government funding law for renovations and upgrades for MVH will help veterans in rural Maine remain close to their loved ones as they receive the care they earned through their service.

The $50.7 million for Aroostook County was part of the $308 million I secured in the most recent government funding law for 180 projects statewide. In the year ahead, I will have the honor of serving as the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. This new leadership role will enable me to continue to champion investments that strengthen Maine’s communities and families.

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