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Businesses get $50K in bridge-related loans

ADDISON — The Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC) has loaned a combined total of $50,000 in state funds to two businesses hurt by last October’s closure of the Champlain Bridge, and officials hope many more qualifying enterprises step forward to claim some help.
Lawmakers this past session agreed to set aside $800,000 in federal stimulus money for no- and low-interest loans for businesses that lost revenues as a result of the Oct. 16, 2009, closure of the Champlain Bridge. The closure of that span dramatically curtailed traffic between New York state and Vermont, resulting in fewer commuter customers for Addison County businesses like the No Bridge Restaurant and West Addison General Store.
Commuters suddenly found themselves having to either land a spot on the Ticonderoga Ferry or travel a major detour around Lake Champlain. Several area businesses sought to reduce the hardship on their New York employees by paying travel reimbursement. Porter Medical Center received a separate legislative appropriation of $40,000 to defray its expenses in that regard.
Traffic was returned to near normal earlier this year with the start-up of two new ferries that will continue to operate near the site of the former bridge until the new span is opened during the fall of 2011.
In the meantime, the Legislature gave the ACEDC authority to administer up to $800,000 in loans — in increments of $1,000 to $25,000 — to businesses that can prove economic hardship during the few months after the Champlain Bridge closed.
Robin Scheu, executive director of the ACEDC, said her organization sent out more than a dozen application packets to businesses suspected to have been affected by the bridge closure.
As of last Monday, Scheu said the ACEDC had received three loan requests. Two of those were at the maximum level, which is $25,000 borrowed for up to 10 years. There is no principal or interest due for the first two years of the loan. Qualifying business owners have until Oct. 31 to apply for one of the loans.
Scheu said she was not at liberty to disclose the names of the receiving businesses. She contacted the two loan recipients to see if they would voluntarily speak with the media, but both declined at this time, according to Scheu.
Panton General Store owner Andy Magroz said he is applying for one of the loans. He said business at his store fell off dramatically when the bridge closed.
“Ours is the first business as you drive out of Vergennes going toward the bridge,” Magroz said. “There was no east-west traffic.”
Magroz added that traffic past the Panton General Store continues to be light because people have changed their driving habits in the aftermath of the bridge breakdown.
Magroz would use the grant money to take care of some back taxes and utility bills that have mounted since business fell off.
Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, said he hopes the grants will be awarded with few restrictions.
“This money is political,” he said, noting it was authorized by the act of a legislative body and not a lending institution. “It’s not banking money.”
For additional information or to request a loan application, businesses should contact ACEDC at 388-7953 or email [email protected] or [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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