City seeking millions in grant funds

Doolittle lobbying for state, federal money
By: Gloria Beverage, Colfax Record Editor
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The city of Colfax is fighting to obtain nearly $6 million in federal and state grant funds or loans to fund the lining of a leaky sewage storage pond at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. According to City Manager Bruce Kranz, the city has applied for a $1 million grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program and will soon be submitting a grant request for nearly $3 million to the State Water Board. Currently, the city has approximately $600,000 available from a previously approved grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. Since the cost of the pond project is estimated at close to $6 million, Kranz said the remainder of the funds would have to be obtained through a loan from the state water board. “A loan from the state water board could be amortized over 30 years at interest rates as low as zero percent,” he said. The key to the city successfully obtaining the state and federal funds, he continued, was hiring former state senator and congressman John Doolittle to lobby the agencies offering the grant funds. “The problem is you’re working with bureaucrats. You don’t get anywhere until you get a legislator involved,” Kranz said. For the past three months Doolittle has been meeting with California Assemblyman Dan Logue and U.S. Congressman Tom McClintock to obtain their support for the city’s requests. “Progress is being made on both federal and state grants from the Department of Agriculture and the State Water Board,” Kranz said. “Legislative actions are required to authorize these funds. So far, all the signs are good, thanks in part, to the efforts of John Doolittle using his many state and federal contacts and experience in moving these grants along in administrative and legislative arenas.” In 2009, former city manager Joan Phillipe was successful in obtaining a $3.6 million commitment from the state water resources control board to fund repairs to aging sewer lines, Kranz pointed out. The award was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The scope of the project included replacing, lining and rehabilitating sewer lines and manholes in the city’s sewer collection system as well as upgrading four existing lift stations and eliminating two existing lift stations, which had no automatic warning lights to indicate a sewer overflow. The city also obtained a $7.5 million state loan for upgrades at the plant. Unfortunately, there was not enough funding available to line pond 3, the last in a series of storage ponds at the wastewater treatment plant, Kranz added. While the Regional Water Quality Board had mandated the improvement in 2001, a recent court order forced the city to push harder for funds. The leaking pond became the focus of a 2008 settlement agreement with Allen and Nancy Edwards, who sued over the release of polluted sewage into the creek that flows through their property. In a court order issued earlier this year, the city was ordered to have the pond lined by November 2012. Kranz indicated that before Phillipe left in 2009, she had completed preliminary work on the Department of Agriculture grant request recently submitted. “We’ve continued to work on it,” Kranz said. “We’ve got a good chance of getting these grants. We meet all the criteria. Residents are paying more than what normal cities should be paying. Financially, the city is depressed.” Meetings have also been held with state water board officials to outline the city’s need for funds. “It’s important for them to know that our sewer bills can’t be added to,” he said. “The 218 process (sewer user vote) failed once and barely got passed the second time. Rate users are already at the max.” Thus, Kranz said, the council’s decision in September to pay Doolittle $5,000 per month (up to $30,000). “We didn’t have a choice,” Kranz said. “We won’t get those grants if we don’t try.” Allen Edwards would also like to see the project completed. “I hope the city is successful in its efforts to get state or federal funds to line pond 3,” Edwards said.