03/15/09 — Stimulus could help fund water projects

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Stimulus could help fund water projects

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 15, 2009 2:00 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Town officials are trying to balance the news last week that the town has lost more than $700,000 destined for much-needed sewer improvements, with the possibility that the need might still be met by federal stimulus funds.

And the possibility is there.

North Carolina is chasing a $70.7 million capitalization grant through the stimulus package for its Clean Water Revolving Loan and Grant Program, and Mount Olive's $1.6 million project is among those that could be funded through a 50/50 mix of loans and grants.

Mount Olive had been counting on the $717,000 Clean Water grant to help repair all of the town's manholes, sewer lines and lift stations to address the issue of inflow and infiltration of stormwater and groundwater into the sewer system.

And while the town already has spent $81,000 on the project for designs, surveys and engineering work, Brown said there is a chance the town might be able to recoup some of that cost if they're not able to continue with the project.

But, he said, "we have not put away the plans" yet.

"They (state) are trying to find some way to fund the projects. The state is working hard to get these projects refunded and the money reallocated," he said.

However, there is no guarantee that the state or the town will receive any funding, said Kim Colson, assistant section chief of the Construction Grant and Loan Section, a non-regulatory section in the state Division of Water Quality that is overseeing the state's application.

And even if the state is funded, Mount Olive would still have to apply for its portion.

Funding, Colson explained, will be based on the category of the project, the ranking of the project after receipt of application and the amount of stimulus funds allocated to the state.

The hope, though, Colson said, is for the state to know something by the end of the month. Then, he said, the goal is to get the money into economy promptly in order "to meet the spirit of the legislation" -- possibly by February 2010.

In Wayne County, Fremont also is hoping that those federal funds will be made available to help with its $116,000 sewer improvement project -- replacing eight manholes, repairing a section of sewer line on Dickinson Street and putting liners in two lift stations.

However, it must first be placed on the list of projects approved for federal funding -- something that Town Manager Kerry McDuffie said Clean Water officials assured him would happen after it was left off earlier.

The concern about the funding for the towns' project began last week when Clean Water Management Trust Fund officials decided not to encumber any grant monies after Gov. Beverly Perdue announced her intentions to divert $100 million from the Trust Fund to help plug the state's $2 billion budget shortfall.

Then, on Wednesday, the Clean Water Board of Trustees, chaired by Phil Baddour Jr. of Goldsboro, met in special session in Raleigh to discuss that and other issues.

"I think the best way to say it is that everything is on hold," Baddour said. "But I am very hopeful that Mount Olive could eventually be funded."

There are a number of possibilities, he said.

"One is that some of the stimulus money coming down from Washington (D.C.) could be used for this type of project," Baddour said. "I do know that part of the stimulus funding is to fund water and sewer projects, but I do not know how the state will handle it.

"It includes shovel-ready wastewater projects and Mount Olive is on the list (we) submitted (for stimulus funding)."

Baddour said he does not even know if any federal stimulus funding would be channeled through the Trust Fund or what projects will even be on a final list.

Currently the Trust Fund has approximately $94 million grants for which funds have not yet been encumbered, and another $250 million in 2009 grant applications that are still awaiting review.

"The board understands the need to wait until the end of the fiscal year to see how much if any the governor could return and to see what level of funding will be provided by the General Assembly," he said. "Both are important before we know what can do.

"The governor had a very tough decision to make. She has a constitutional responsibility to balance the budget. We feel like our program is very important serving real needs of towns like Mount Olive and Fremont. We hope this is just a bump in the road and we will come out back on top."

The board did vote, though to not to allow towns, including Eureka, to use any leftover grant funds. Eureka has sought reallocation of $31,325 remaining from a $923,000 grant.

"Sometimes money is left over and a town wants to utilize it on projects that fall outside the scope of the original project, we denied those," Baddour said. "The feeling is that we need the money to come back here so it can be used for projects that we have awarded.

"In the environment we have now we could not allow a grantee to spend outside the scope so the funds can come back for what has been awarded."

In the meantime, towns like Fremont and Mount Olive just have to wait.

Mount Olive also is awaiting word on $1.5 million in a mixture of state and federal loans and grant to install a new force main along N.C. 55 and refurbish three lift stations. Brown said the town should know about those funds within the next few weeks.