BELLOWS FALLS — The town of Rockingham’s ambitious $4.1 million project to renovate the historic Bellows Falls train station and give it new life has received its first major grant.
Rockingham Development Director Gary Fox said Monday that the town received notification last week it had received a $200,000 grant from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development for a downtown development and revitalization grant. He said he was particularly encouraged because the town received the full amount it had requested.
Fox said there are at least five different arms of government involved in reviewing the project, because it involves rail policy, historic preservation, as well as downtown redevelopment. He said a National Environmental Policy Act review would be conducted first before final grant documents are signed.
He said he has already applied for funding to hire a consultant to conduct the environmental review, and he said he hoped it could be done in a couple of months. He said the demolition and clean up of the Robertson Paper Mill, which was also located on The Island, also required a NEPA review, and he said it cost between $1,800 to $3,000.
He said the NEPA review would explore whether the project would have an impact on any endangered species, for instance, impacts on the Connecticut River, and whether the project could affect any endangered bats.
“Our project is unlikely to disturb anything, but we have to know what they are,” he said.
The $200,000 grant would be used with other grants, as well as the $75,000 approved by Rockingham voters at March Town Meeting, to buy the station and start doing some renovations.
The town wants to buy the train station from the Vermont Rail Systems, and lease the land under it from the state of Vermont. The plan does not include disturbing the soil under the station, which is believed to be contaminated.
He said the train station itself needs environmental remediation, and there is a lot of asbestos in the building as well. He said the town would also started renovating the historic windows in the buildings.
Because the project would be partially funded by both federal and state historic preservation tax credits, the state historic preservation office has suggested the town drop its original plan to replace the historic windows with new windows. Instead, the windows will be restored, he said.
While the town commissioned a preliminary feasibility study for locating a brew pub in a portion of the building, no definite decision has been made about that plan. The Amtrak operation will only use a relatively small portion of the train station.
In particular, Fox said, the 100-year-old station needs about $50,000 in repair to the exterior brick work, and to repair an outside bulkhead which has collapsed into the cellar.
Another key grant, $350,000, could come from the Northern Border Regional Commission, and another $50,000 from the USDA community facilities grant, he said. He expects to hear from Northern Border by the end of July on that grant application.
The town of Rockingham has already requested a $1.8 million federal grant request, a U.S. Department of Transportation transit infrastructure grant, which represents the bulk of the funding needed to renovate the train station.