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Doolittle’s $30,000 Colfax lobbying contract up but wastewater problems remain

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Far from flush with cash, the city of Colfax has just finished paying $30,000 for former U.S. Rep. John Doolittle to lobby for state and federal funding to help fund wastewater treatment plant improvements. Whether the $30,000 will turn out to be a good investment is still an open question. S far, no state or federal money on grants can be attributed to Doolittle’s efforts. Doolittle, who retired two years ago as District 4 congressman after 18 years in Washington, said he’s optimistic, particularly after a federal budget impasse was broken this past weekend. “”My feeling is it’s all very positive,” Doolittle said. “When this logjam breaks, I think Colfax will be poised to take a big step forward.” Current U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, is mounting a two-pronged effort related to Colfax wastewater woes – while keeping Doolittle at arm’s length on the issue. “I don’t want to comment on Doolittle’s relationship with Colfax,” McClintock said. McClintock has been an outspoken opponent of earmarks and the presence of lobbyists in the decision-making process. The congressman said that his office is working to help Colfax obtain a $1 million federal grant while preparing legislation that would provide relief for communities that are running up against regulatory and legal challenges related to wastewater. McClintock said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the $1 million grant and is in the final process of drafting legislation that will include limits on lawsuits, extend plant certification from five to 30 years and requires agencies to take into consideration a community’s ability to pay when issuing fines. With all requested funding in place, the city could have the estimated $6 million it needs to line a leaky sewage storage pond. The keys are a $1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant and $3 million in grant money from the state water board. The city is under the gun both from the state Water Quality Control Board and from nearby property owner Allen Edwards, who has brought a court action to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant and cut down on outflow violations. Colfax City Council voted unanimously in late summer to bring Doolittle on as its only lobbyist to help secure government funding. Doolittle, who was paid $5,000 a month for his work, is no longer lobbying for the city and there is no indication whether Colfax will retain his services again. Several attempts to reach City Manager Bruce Kranz since last Thursday have not been responded to. Phone and e-mail messages were also left with Mayor Ken Delfino and Councilman Josh Alpine. Doolittle said the work he did included meetings with new District 4 Rep. Tom McClintock’s staff, various meetings with Colfax City Council and staff members, and with the state revolving fund staff members. The city of Colfax also reached out to Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer’s offices, he said. Doolittle said that the city is also applying for a $1.4 million low-interest loan from the state. “All indications for all those items are very positive,” he said. With another $600,000 the city has left from an Environmental Protection Agency grant, it should be able to pay for the work required, he said. Randy Keenan, a Colfax-area resident, said that he doesn’t mind Doolittle being paid to lobby for the city. “Giving him a little, part-time job is not bad if he can pull it off and get some funding,” Keenan said. But another Colfax-area resident said the money shouldn’t have been spent, particularly with the possibility of the city going bankrupt because of high costs and not enough revenue. “A half-bankrupt city doesn’t have any business hiring him,” said Paul Piercy. “I don’t think John Doolittle has the magic bullet and if I had my say, I wouldn’t have spent that money on him.”