06/24/13 — Legislation could threaten city grants

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Legislation could threaten city grants

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on June 24, 2013 1:46 PM

Two bills moving through the state House of Representatives and Senate could freeze future greenway projects in Wayne County, but current awarded federal grants are safe from new legislation.

Both bills, Senate Bill 402 and House Bill 817, have crossed chambers to be read and amended before eventually being sent up to the governor's desk.

Last Thursday, HB817 passed a second reading in the Senate with the language, "The (Department of Transportation) shall not provide financial support for independent bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects, except for federal funds administered by the (Department of Transportation) for that purpose."

The legislation makes allowances for the state to ferry federal dollars to communities or counties, but under this legislation the state would not provide matching funds for the federal grants as they did in the past.

The Senate passed a third reading of HB817 Monday and sent it back to the House for action Tuesday.

The House ratified the bill Wednesday, and it has been presented to the governor for signing.

A similar section in Senate Bill 402 was removed when more than 100 pages of the text were trimmed by the House, which received the bill on May 23 after it passed the Senate.

The Senate failed to concur the bill in a House committee substitute Monday.

A new provision in the Senate bill added by the House would provide $12 million a year statewide for rural or small urban highway improvements in municipalities, which would include pedestrian and bicycle pathways, as well as other urban improvements.

It is unclear whether that would extend to greenways or not.

That bill passed a third reading in the House on Thursday and was sent back to the Senate for approval of the changes.

A vote in the Senate is set for today.

The bill was not concurred in a Senate subcommittee and has been referred to a Senate committee.

Concerns were raised that grants funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation to Wayne County and the city of Goldsboro for the construction of greenways in Goldsboro would be lost if the bills were ratified.

However, Smith Rainer, regional trails specialist with the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources said that the current grants from the USDOT are safe as the proposed legislation still allows for the dissemination of federal dollars through the state.

The N.C. Trails Committee within DENR recommended the city and county receive the grants, which are being funded federally.

Goldsboro Parks and Recreation Director Scott Barnard was concerned that the legislation could block both $200,000 grants because no formal contracts had been signed yet as only award letters have been sent out to date. Contracts are expected to be signed for work on the greenway in October.

But, Barnard said, the decision is likely to impact future efforts.

"It's a bummer for next year, but we're good to go," he said.