Federal grants may be available for more permanent solutions

 


The river has swelled again, metaphorically speaking. About 40 people, including elected officials, members of the public and representatives from a number of government agencies crowded into Saratoga Town Hall the morning of Nov. 9 for a meeting on the state of the river flowing through town.

According to Guy Cameron, Director of the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security (WYDHS), Saratoga has been bailed-out repeatedly for flooding issues in the last half decade. In 2011, the state spent about $97,000 on flood relief for the town. That figure was $350,000 in 2014, and $314,000 this year, he said.

At the meeting, agencies supporting the town on those occasions gently suggested local leaders start looking for a longer-term solution to the repeated inundations.

“For every dollar you spend on mitigation, there are four dollars saved on response and recovery,” said Melinda Gibson, State Hazard Mitigation Officer for WYDHS. The first 90 minutes of the presentation belonged to Gibson, who used a power point presentation to lay out some of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant-funding opportunities available for a future river project.


Gibson described three sources of federal funding at the meeting, but said the Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) Grant was the one most likely to apply to a Platte River project. Another type of grant, the Hazard Mitigation Grant (HMG) could also apply at some future time, Gibson said, but was not currently available. The HMG Program requires a Presidential Disaster Declaration to be active, and that funding was last accessible to Wyoming communities following severe storms in 2015.

Communities who successfully pursue a PDMG can access up to $3 million in federal funding for a project whose goal is to “interrupt that disaster, recovery response cycle,” according to Gibson. However, she warned those assembled, “This is not a magic bullet that happens in two weeks, it’s a long-term grind.”

According to Jeff Streeter, a river restoration study conducted a few years ago estimated that a long-term restoration project would cost between $3.8 million and $12 million dollars. Gibson said that even if the town acquired funding for the first part of a multi-stage project, more grant money could become available in future years, especially if the town demonstrates it can effectively use resources provided.

PDM Grants entail a 25 percent local cost-share, meaning the sponsoring organization must pay for a quarter of the total costs, but Gibson said there was some flexibility in the forms that cost-share could take. Donation of town property could go towards the cost share, as could labor performed by town employees and other “in-kind” contributions, she said. A sponsoring agency could even use grant money from a different grant to cover the 25 percent cost-share, as long as the secondary grant was not federally-funded.

In addition to the 25 percent match, Gibson said there were additional criteria to which grant applicants would have to abide. Because Carbon County already adopted a “mitigation plan” in January of 2016, Gibson said “you already have a box checked off.” Other requirements of a PDM Grant include demonstrated cost-effectiveness of the project, a detailed scope of work and an environmental consultation.

These processes take time and concerted effort from area leaders, Gibson said, but she also described the potential rewards as substantial. Nationwide, FEMA directed $90 million to 200 projects through PDM Grants in 2015, with over $650,000 going to three projects in Wyoming.

Two other projects applied for in Wyoming that year were denied funding however, she said. Administrators in the Denver FEMA office and Washington D.C. “do read (applications). And they read them pretty closely,” she said.

If the town of Saratoga or Carbon County started a grant application and was awarded funding, Gibson estimated that money would be released to the town by 2018. Shovels could hit dirt by 2019, and the project would likely be completed in 2020, she said.

“Locally you’re going to have to decide where your hot spots (on the river) are,” Cameron said. Taking the reigns of such an undertaking “calls for local champions,” Gibson advised.

“You have the ability to get after a project now,” though, she promised. If town or county officials wanted advice or help from her department in pursuing such a path, Gibson said her door was open.

Asked by a local resident if he would consider reinstating a river restoration committee that had focused on pursuing such grant opportunities, Saratoga Mayor Ed Glode replied, “Well, I don’t know.”

 

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