Hollis group chasing grant to buy orchard

HOLLIS – Supporters of the town’s effort to buy Woodmont Orchard West say they have begun to pursue federal grant money to reduce the financial impact of the potential purchase.

Members of the Land Protection Study Committee, which was formed three years ago with the acquisition of Woodmont Orchard in mind, said this week that they are preparing a grant proposal to seek funding from the federal Forest Legacy Program. The program was created in 1990 to help states preserve privately owned forest threatened by development.

Christine Furman, a member of the land committee and former state representative, said she contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Charles Bass to find out if federal money could be a part of saving Woodmont from future development.

“I think (grant money) would go a long way towards helping continue our efforts to protect the rural and agricultural character of the town,” Furman said.

However, land committee members and Bass’ staffers said the grant application process is in its earliest stages and is not a sure bet, by any means.

“The group has submitted a proposal to Congressman Bass to help try and offset funding,” said Bass’ press secretary, Margo Shideler. “Congressman Bass always looks forward to helping people with these kinds of things, if possible.”

Shideler said proposals were just beginning to filter into Bass’ office, and wouldn’t be looked at until sometime next spring. She said it was difficult to predict how many state projects would be considered, or how much grant money would be awarded.

“Each state submits a list of projects, then it leaves our hands and goes over to the federal agencies,” she said.

Regardless of this newfound prospect of grant money, voters will have to decide at next week’s Special Town Meeting whether they want to pay for Woodmont.

Last Monday night, selectman voted to recommend spending over $4 million to preserve the 180-acre Woodmont parcel as well as the 80-acre Siergiewicz Forest Land. The money would come out of the $5 million appropriated by voters for land purchases at town meeting last March.

Peter Baker, who is a member of both the Hollis Conservation Commission and the LPSC, said the grant funds would be a welcome boon.

“What (the grant) really means is relief for the taxpayers,” Baker said. “We always apply for grants on these things if there’s a prayer of us getting funding.”

According to the federal program’s website, New Hampshire has received $19.2 million since the program began awarding funds in 1992.

Out of the 26 states that have received program money to date, New Hampshire has been awarded the most. The state has applied those funds to help preserve 194,059 acres worth an estimated $29.1 million.

Hollis voters will consider the two purchases on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Hollis/Brookline High School Auditorium.