HARDWICK — Ten northern Vermont towns and organizations will each get a share of more than $2.2 million in federal grants to encourage economic development.
But the commission responsible for disbursing the grants could be in jeopardy under the next federal budget.
Gov. Phil Scott and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., celebrated the awards outside a yellow barn in Hardwick, formerly the home of Greensboro Garage, on Thursday afternoon.
The area around the old barn along busy Route 15 is slated to be redeveloped into a facility that would provide space for local agricultural businesses. Large posters on site billed the redevelopment as the “gateway to the NEK.” That refers to the Northeast Kingdom, the region comprising Vermont’s three northeasternmost counties.
Hardwick won a grant of $250,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission to purchase the land the barn stands on for the project.
In total 10 entities, including the town of St. Johnsbury, the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers and the Vermont Brewers Association, received grants ranging from $46,000 to $425,000.
The grants will go to a wide variety of projects, from building an internet application to revamping part of St. Johnsbury’s downtown.
In total, more than $2.2 million was given to projects designed to spur economic development in the northern part of the state.
“Economic development in Vermont is a team sport,” Leahy told a small crowd at the event.
The commission was created by the 2008 farm bill, and comprises top officials from Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont as well as federal representatives. It is charged with disbursing grants to projects to stimulate development near the Canadian border, including by investment in infrastructure projects.
Scott said the program provides a valuable platform to work across state borders on common economic and social issues.
“This commission gives us the opportunity to look at those shared issues and identify ways to address them as a region,” Scott said.
Aides to Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also lauded the program in remarks.
According to Mark Scarano, the commission’s regional co-chair, the total amount the program can award has grown considerably, from about $1.5 million in its first year to about $9 million this year.
Now the financial future of the commission is unclear.
President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would cut funding for the commission, although the just-announced round of grants wouldn’t be affected.
In the House, Welch has been active in fighting the proposed cut. Earlier this summer, he sponsored a bill with other representatives from the border region to reauthorize the commission.
However, the appropriations bill the House passed late last month included a $5 million cut to the commission’s budget, according to Welch staff. The future of that bill is unclear.
Meanwhile, Leahy, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been a vocal advocate for the commission as well.
That committee passed an appropriations bill in July that would provide an additional $5 million to the commission.
Scarano declined comment on the potential changes to the commission’s budget.
Scott said he believes the value of the program may not be understood at the federal level.
“I believe that they may not understand the program and how essential it is for communities, (in) Vermont in particular,” Scott said.
Scott praised Leahy’s leadership in seeking funding for the commission in the Senate and said he’s hopeful the initiative will continue.
“It really does help in terms of the vibrancy of some of these communities,” he said.
(VTDigger founder Anne Galloway’s husband is an architect involved with the Hardwick project.)