When Michelle Plourde Chasse sought feedback about her organization’s unsuccessful grant application, she didn’t expect to hear that Fort Kent was “WAAAAAAYY off the beaten path” and therefore logistically inconvenient for the staff and consultants in a project to prevent underage drinking.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was looking for two communities to pilot a program in which complementary prevention strategies would be paired up. Several things went through Chasse’s mind as she read the email from the contractor that handled the grant process.

She felt frustrated about the time spent on the proposal when its location in Aroostook County apparently put it out of the running — especially since rural populations sometimes are the ones that most need services.

“I thought that rural America is still America,” said Chasse, project manager for Community Voices, a countywide organization that fights substance abuse by youths.

Organizations based in Mason City, Iowa, and Louisville, Ky., were each awarded $175,000, Chasse said.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe expressed outrage over the “rural discrimination.” The Maine Republican met with NHTSA Administrator David Strickland on Wednesday.

“The people of our rural communities have just as much to lose to substance abuse as urban areas. Denying Fort Kent the grant award because of their proximity to a major metropolitan area is wrong, it is unfair, and I have asked Administrator Strickland to fix the situation immediately,” Snowe said in a prepared statement.

Community Voices’ proposal was among the top four, according to an email from the contractor, PerformTech of Alexandria, Va. The area would make a rich laboratory for certain research projects, but because it is unlike most other American communities of similar size, it could be difficult to replicate the procedures used in Aroostook County.

The email said the organization probably runs into issues because of its location.

“Fort Kent is WAAAAAAYY off the beaten path. The panel felt that the logistics of getting our staff and consultants there and back was just too time consuming and expensive, compared with other communities. This factor would have been less important had the final four proposals been more disparate, but, as the ratings were quite close, the panel ultimately leaned toward ‘convenience,’” the email said.

Strickland said his agency is reviewing the contract and the actions of the contractor.

“Our top priority is safety and ensuring that communities of all sizes have equal opportunity to access highway safety resources to address safety problems,” Strickland said in a written statement. “The agency categorically disavows the language used by the contractor in this case. It does not reflect this agency’s position regarding rural communities nor the process we have approved for selecting transportation safety projects.”

Chasse declined to name her contact at PerformTech, saying she appreciated the person’s candor and apologized to the individual for any unwanted attention the situation had caused. Snowe’s office released a copy of the email with the names blacked out.

A call to PerformTech was referred to a man who declined to comment.

The call for proposals was initially put out last year, but the program was reconfigured and no awards were granted, Chasse said. The grant process was reopened this year, she said.

Community Voices applied both times, making changes to its first proposal for the second round. Chasse estimates she spent more that 110 hours on the applications.

“If this was not going to be — or never to be realized by any given community in America — that’s fine if the project was only intended for certain parts,” she said. “But that’s not the way it was written. Had we known, why would someone write a proposal for something they’ll never have?”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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