Federal program will help borough develop plan for mill property

Wrangell is one of 64 communities nationwide selected for the first year of a new federal program called Thriving Communities, intended to help towns get a better shot at federal funds. In Wrangell’s case, the two-year effort will focus on developing a plan for the former 6-Mile mill property.

The borough purchased the property last year for $2.5 million in hopes of enticing private investment and spurring economic development for the community.

The federal program will not provide any cash to the borough but will pay the bills for a team of consultants the community can work with to develop a comprehensive strategy for the more than 30 acres.

“Priorities for developing a strategy include the following top three areas: grants and funding, partnerships and community engagement, and infrastructure needs,” Kate Thomas, the borough’s Economic Development Department director, reported last week.

The intent of the new program, created by Congress and the White House under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, is to provide disadvantaged communities “the capacity to compete for federal aid and deliver quality infrastructure projects that enable their communities and neighborhoods to thrive,” Thomas explained to the borough’s economic development board at its meeting Thursday, Sept. 7.

More than 60 communities in 42 states were selected for this year’s opening round of the program—including two from Alaska. In addition to Wrangell, the Bering Sea community of Saint Paul, suffering an economic crisis caused by a severe decline in the region’s crab stocks, was selected.

“The program provides two years of no-cost, intensive technical assistance to under-resourced and disadvantaged communities to help identify, develop and deliver transportation projects that strengthen communities,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which manages the program.

The agency will pay four consulting firms $21 million to work with the 64 communities to develop work plans for winning federal grants for their local development projects.

“A large proportion of the communities selected had submitted previous applications for federal funding that were unsuccessful in large part because they did not have the resources to complete their applications,” the federal agency’s website explains. “The Thriving Communities program will grow the pipeline of communities that can successfully compete for federal funding.”

Wrangell will get individualized help from the consulting team assembled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Thomas explained.

In a summary prepared for the borough, the team of consultants noted that the community lacks the money to pay for development of the deepwater marine industrial site at 6 Mile and also “faces challenges with finding potential partnerships or developers to expand the commercial use or add industrial developments to the site.”

The team will conduct “in-depth research to identify available grants, funding opportunities and financial resources,” and will help the community prepare and submit “compelling grant proposals.”

The program will run through June 2025.

The planning effort will build on results of a community survey conducted May through July that attracted 116 responses to the question of the best use for the former mill property. The common answers were freight and shipping services, mechanical and technical service businesses, marine services and vocational training facilities.

Tourism and retail businesses were at the bottom of the list.

Many people who completed the survey want to see the borough relocate the barge ramp and freight handling facilities away from the downtown waterfront to the 6-Mile site, Thomas said at last week’s meeting. Such a move could open up more of downtown to tourism or retail development.

The barge ramp “is vulnerable and due for replacement … and is going to cost a lot of money,” she said. “Preliminary discussions have been held” with Alaska Marine Lines and other users of the freight facility.

Borough officials have cited the barge ramp, along with improvements to the wastewater treatment plant and repairs to the rot-damaged Public Safety Building as expensive projects that would require federal or state funding.


Reader Comments(0)