Grand Valley gets in line for stimulus help
With Congress poised to approve an $850 billion package aimed at boosting the national economy and President-elect Barack Obama eager to sign it, Mesa County has a list of projects ready for the stimulus shovel.
The projects stretch from Fruita to Palisade with a major project in between, a $98 million public-safety initiative for Grand Junction.
Municipal and county officials outlined the projects in letters to federal and state officials, describing them as “regionally identified, ready-to-go public improvements.”
In the lexicon of the federal government, that means they are “shovel-ready.”
In all, the list of projects drafted by the Grand Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization and signed by the county and municipal officials outlines developments that would collectively amount to nearly $200 million in federal spending.
That means the county is asking for about 0.023 percent of the total stimulus package now
being contemplated by Congress.
By comparison, Mesa County’s estimated population of 150,000 means the county is home to about 0.05 percent of the nation’s 306 million people.
Put another way, if Congress approves the stimulus package, each American would be responsible for about $2,800 of that amount. Mesa County residents collectively would contribute about $416 million to the package, more than double the amount being sought by the local governments.
The list of projects sought by the metropolitan planning organization isn’t the only one.
Grand Junction Regional Airport stands to receive some money under the stimulus package.
Other highway projects within the county are included in plans drafted by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The federal stimulus package draft also includes spending on programs such as expansion of broadband access to rural areas of the nation and social
services such as expansion of the food-stamp program. Health care, education and a wide variety of other programs also are included.
Unlike its New Deal predecessors, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains provisions for competitive bidding for the projects it will fund.
Putting together the Mesa County list isn’t a money grab, Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland said.
The stimulus package would “allow us to complete projects that are already prioritized,” she said.
Pumping federal money into completing the 29 Road project with a viaduct over the Union Pacific Railroad yard would fulfill a promise made to voters when they agreed to fund the Riverside Parkway, which comes to an end at its eastern terminus at 29 Road, Grand Junction Mayor Gregg Palmer said.
Extending 29 Road to Interstate 70 will alter traffic patterns throughout the Grand Valley and create new retail and other opportunities, Palmer said, adding, “It’ll be huge.”
Voters last November turned down the city’s request for $98 million for a new police station, replacement fire station, three new fire stations, a municipal court and a parking structure.
The needs, however, “haven’t gone away,” Palmer said.
With Washington, D.C., actively looking for ways to spend billions of dollars, “It would be remiss of us not to ask” for some of them, he said.
The top priorities drafted by the local governments include the Grand Junction public-
safety project, the 29 Road corridor improvements, replacement of the No Thoroughfare Canyon Bridge for $1.2 million, putting the Grand Valley Transit fleet of buses on a diet of compressed natural gas or turning them into hybrids, and a wastewater treatment plant in Fruita for $30 million.
In full, the proposal calls for spending $38 million on wastewater treatment because it also lists sewer facilities for Palisade costing an estimated $8 million.
The Palisade project, however, has a secondary priority.
Fruita Mayor Ken Henry and Palisade Town Administrator Tim Sarmo said there is a certain justice in seeking federal money for their sewer projects. The small municipalities have to meet new state and federal standards limiting the amount of ammonia in effluent.
“It’s just a ridiculous, unfunded state and federal mandate,” Sarmo said.
The cities’ sewer-treatment lagoons are otherwise in good condition, Sarmo said, and the new treatment requirements are “not going to make a gnat’s eyelash’s worth of difference” in water quality.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “theorizes that the ammonia level could damage tadpoles and, as a consequence, it’s impossible for Fruita and other cities to meet effluent standards” without new treatment plants, Henry said.
Officials have been criticized for seeking stimulus money, but they are trying to meet unfunded federal requirements, he said.
In any case, “That money is going to be spent someplace,” he said. “If we don’t fight for our fair share, someone else is going to get our share.”
Fruita has acquired land along Interstate 70 and 15 Road for its new $30 million plant, which it needs to have on line by 2012.
Palisade is looking at building a sewage treatment plant on the west end of Riverbend Park or pumping sewage to the Clifton Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment plant.
Ultimately, the proposal says, “Any or all of the listed projects will provide long-term benefits” to the county and “meet the challenge of infusing capital into our local, state and national economies by stimulating aggressive job growth through new construction that positively impacts the largest segment of citizens on the Western Slope.”
U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who now sits on the House Appropriations Committee, before the election last year urged Grand Junction Regional Airport officials to prepare applications for projects to be funded under a stimulus package.
The airport has not put together any new projects, and Manager Rex Tippetts said its plans for a second runway parallel to the existing main runway won’t be ready in time for the stimulus package.
Federal Aviation Administration officials have looked at the airport’s development plan, however, and airport officials hope stimulus money could be used to bring some project in ahead of schedule, Tippetts said.