CONCORD — All four members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and U.S. Reps. Ann Kuster and Chris Pappas — signed a letter to Northern Border Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Harold Parker on Sept. 10.
After reviewing the federal reauthorization legislation counties that included enlarging the “Northern Border” land base, the delegation explained that it was “deeply concerned” that Coos and Carroll counties were largely left out of this year’s State Economic and Infrastructure Development Grant awards.
They collectively said they are “concerned that this latest found of funding did not include a single 2020 grant awardee from Coos or Carroll County, despite numerous applications.”
They also noted that Congress appropriated $7 million in fiscal years 2018 and '19 to establish a new NBRC grant program: the Regional Forest Economy Partnership, designed “to provide additional opportunities for economic diversity and innovation to forest-based communities that are experiencing a displacement of a skilled workforce and significant negative demographic changes due to a decline of the forest products industry."
Although the Granite State is the second-most forested state in the nation, the 2019 Partnership awards did not include a single grant Granite State awardee, delegation members pointed out.
“Continued federal investment in Coos and Carroll County is critical to encouraging economic development and job growth in those communities,” their letter states.
“This includes providing economic development tools and resources made possible through NBRC’s State Economic and Infrastructure Development Grants and Regional Forest Economy Partnership awards.
“By neglecting these two counties, NBRC is endangering the region’s capacity for improving high-impact community projects that support business retention and expansion, access to high-speed broadband, critical infrastructure development and job creation,” they said. “This trend must be immediately reversed.”
To that end, they “respectfully” posed four questions:
-- How is the NBRC working with its partners to ensure that strong projects are developed for consideration?
-- What actions will NBRC make moving forward to ensure that the available funding will be fairly distributed across eligible counties?
-- What additional assistance is NBRC providing to unsuccessful applicants to strengthen their projects going forward?
-- How is the NBRC working with state partners to ensure that the goals of the State Capacity Building program are being “effectively executed?”
Copies of the letter were also sent to Gov. Chris Sununu and NBRC State Co-Chair Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs.
Taylor is a native of Littleton, and Parker lives in Wolfeboro, located in Carroll County. Caswell assigns most NBRC partnership duties to Mollie Kaylor, NBRC program manager at the Department of Business and Economic Affairs.
Originally only four of New Hampshire's 10 counties were designated for commission inclusion: Coos, Carroll, Grafton and Sullivan.
The Reauthorization Bill of 2018 added Belknap and Cheshire counties, however, and also increased its funding.
Several Coos constituents and reporters asked District Rep. Kuster of the 2nd Congressional District questions about the lack of funded projects when she spent three days touring the North Country recently. She said she would look into it.
Authorized by Congress in 2008 and with funds first appropriated by Congress in 2010, NBRC is modeled after the Appalachian Regional Commission federal-state partnership.
The NBRC was created to provide infrastructure and economic development assistance to projects in counties that have varying degrees of economic and demographic distress.
Authority and oversight functions of the NBRC are shared by five members: the federal government represented by the federal co-chair and the states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, represented by their governors.
NBRC investments and policies are approved by the vote of the federal co-chair and the collective vote of the majority of state governors.