SKOWHEGAN — The makeover of the municipal parking lot downtown is a spoke in the wheel of future growth.

The hub of the wheel — the axle — is the $1.5 million Run of River Project, a planned whitewater canoe and kayak park in the Kennebec River Gorge downtown, according to Skowhegan Town Manager John Doucette Jr.

The spokes include a new downtown parking lot with walkways, new lighting, trees, benches, granite curbs, islands and directional signs, but the project was delayed until recently.

That work will now resume in the spring, according to Doucette.

The project is funded by a $400,00 Community for Maine’s Future grant that was awarded to the town for the project by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development in 2010. Skowhegan was one of 11 municipalities statewide to get a part of the total $3.5 million in bond money.

Gov. Paul LePage last summer put a freeze on releasing the millions in bond money, saying the state already was paying $100 million a year to finance debt payments from earlier bonds. Approving new borrowing would be “fiscally irresponsible,” he said.

The delay interrupted the downtown project, but did not scuttle it, Doucette said.

“Putting a hold on it affected the project — it isn’t done,” Doucette said. “Secondly, holding it off, prices could go up for lighting, paving.”

LePage agreed to release the bond money this summer, but only after the Legislature enacted a bill to pay off $183 million, with some matching federal funds, that remained owed to Maine’s hospitals, the governor’s press secretary Adrienne Bennett said.

“It does have a direct correlation with the hospital debt,” Bennett said. “Now that that has been paid off, the governor has always said he would release those bonds.”

The $400,000 in grant money is to be matched with local money.

Jeffrey Hewett, Skowhegan’s economic and community development director, said the $400,000 already invested at the Somerset Grist Mill will count as the town’s matching money. Dirigo Engineering of Fairfield has been hired to complete the downtown plan.

Doucette said the town will put the job out of bid in January or February because most contractors are booked for the remainder of this year.

Doucette said the plans could be modified because of costs that may have changed since it originally was approved.

He said the finished municipal parking lot is important so visitors and shoppers can park and walk to downtown stores and restaurants. They can participate in and watch white water activities on the river once the whole project is completed, he said.

The new Somerset Explorer bus service already is in place for service to Madison, Anson, Norridgewock and to stores in Skowhegan from the Chamber of Commerce office in the parking lot, and the new walking and biking trail on the south side of the river is finished, he said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]