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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 2, 2009
Flood of requests for NY stimulus funds $100B to yield $4B for projects
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
Local municipalities are among those that have so far submitted $100 billion in requests for New York’s infrastructure stimulus funds but the state has just $4 billion to spend on these projects, according to the governor’s office.
New York is slated to receive $24.6 billion altogether for updating infrastructure, training the unemployed, and improving schools from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama in February.
“It does show there’s a need,” said Erin Duggan in the governor’s press office of the billions of dollars in requests for infrastructure for projects like roads and sewers and also energy projects. “When the federal government sees how efficiently we spend it, it will be a guideline,” she said, making New York more likely to receive funds from the money being rejected by other states.
Municipalities are still applying and, on Tuesday, Duggan said that only 40 infrastructure projects, costing about $100 million total, had been certified.
“Most of the project funding flows the way all federal transportation funding flows,” she said. “People bring projects to the MPOs,” she said of Municipal Planning Organizations, “where they are reviewed and voted on and then added to the TEP,” she said of the Transportation Enhancement Program. “Then it goes to the state DOT,” she said, referring to the Department of Transportation.
“The only difference with the stimulus funding is it has to create jobs and be shovel ready,” she said.
Projects from the DOT, like other state agencies reviewing requests, are reviewed by an Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet, appointed by the governor.
The cabinet’s website www.recovery.ny.gov links to a statewide listing of projects reviewed by cabinet staff and forwarded to “the appropriate New York agency…for a determination of appropriate funding eligibility.” The list is currently 878 pages, with about 20 projects per page.
The cabinet, said Duggan, “knows the legislation inside and out.” She said of the submitted projects, “They’re sent to the cabinet to see that it complies…If it complies, it’s sent to the governor to be certified.”
About half of the funding has to be awarded within 120 days of when the legislation took effect, said Duggan. Obama signed the act on Feb. 17. The rest of it has to be awarded within a year, she said. “That’s because of the shovel-ready requirement,” meant to put people to work right away.
Asked about the possibility of money being distributed according to political influence, Duggan said, “One of the goals is to make sure funds are spread throughout the state. The governor is well aware some areas are hit harder than others.”
Guilderland, a suburban town with a population of about 35,000 has applied for funding for three projects, according to Supervisor Kenneth Runion $5.75 million for a new storm-water system for McKownville, $2.2 million to improve the sewer system along Curry Road Extension, and $805,000 to tear down and rebuild the bathhouse and repair the pool apron at Tawasentha Park.
The McKownville storm-water system was built decades ago with clay pipes that have deteriorated over the years, said Runion.
The pipes are grouted together and can’t be fixed easily, he said, and water doesn’t run smoothly through the spots where the pipes have been filled in. The whole system needs to be redesigned and rebuilt with plastic pipes, he said.
“It’s basically an old, abandoned sewer system,” Runion said.
Runion attended the McKownville Improvement Association’s meeting on March 16, and informed the residents of his request for the $5.75 million in stimulus funds. He said he thought there would be a better chance of getting the request approved if people sent letters to him specifying the problem and asking for help; Runion said he would send the letters on to the local assemblyman, John McEneny, and the governor’s office.
After the meeting, president of the improvement association, Don Reeb, sent e-mails to the residents of McKownville, encouraging them to write to the supervisor. In the e-mails, Reeb also provided information from a United States Geological Survey that showed the ground-water level has risen four feet in the past five years, which could contribute to some of the basement flooding McKownville residents have experienced.
“It’s really rather a terrible thing, the number of people that have had to put up with storm-water damage,” Reeb told The Enterprise this week. “We happen to be in a recession; money is scarce, and the problem is getting worse a number of things have prevented a timely solution.”
Not only would the new storm-water system reduce the amount of basement flooding in the neighborhood, said Runion, it would also relieve some of the flooding that occurs on Route 20.
Runion told The Enterprise that the reason he asked for letters and e-mails of support was “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” If the governor is shown the seriousness of the problem, it is more likely the money will be granted, he said.
Runion said that over the past two weeks he has received “a slew of letters and e-mails, probably a couple dozen,” which he will send to the assemblyman and governor at the end of this week. Runion will also send the information from the United States Geological Survey, as well as other data he has compiled detailing the issue.
The McKownville storm-water system project would fit the criteria, he said. “We’ve been working on it for several years,” said Runion of the McKownville project, “but there hasn’t been a large enough pool of money.”
Guilderland Public Library
This March, the Guilderland Public Library had the highest use on record. “People have been taking advantage and that’s a good thing,” said Director Barbara Nichols Randall.
In addition to more recreational use for books, movies, and various programs job seekers have been using library computers to fill out forms as requested by unemployment offices, said Nichols Randall. The Guilderland library answered yes to a survey from the state’s labor department, saying it would be willing to have a temporary labor department employee work at the library, assisting the unemployed. “Some stimulus money will help with that,” said Nichols Randall.
Library use increases during a recession. But the tough times have made the Guilderland library board postpone plans for a major expansion.
Nichols Randall said the library will be applying for stimulus funds for five different projects.
A $75,000 project would convert a portion of the adult area into a community room that could be used for evening events and eventually be accessed from outside the library.
An $187,000 project would expand the children’s area, raising the roof to let in more light through clerestory windows, and making a door to use an outside lawn that is currently not accessible.
A $440,000 project would create a community room large enough to hold 300 people so the library wouldn’t have to close for popular events like the Notable Author series. The room could be divided into smaller meeting spaces as well.
A $38,000 project would update the library’s sign on Route 20 so that it is automated and could announce upcoming events.
And, finally, a $185,000 project would relocate the sewer that currently runs from Winding Brook in front of the library building. The sewer now falls in the path of the planned library expansion.
“You can’t have a sewer under any building,” said Nichols Randall.
The village of Altamont, with a population of about 1,700 in the town of Guilderland, is “in the mix” for $750,000 towards restoring the village’s train station to be used as a library; $800,000 to rehabilitate its sewer system; $5 million for sewer, water, sidewalk, and road rehabilitation for the Altamont-Voorheesville Road; and $150,000 for sidewalk extension projects, according to the mayor.
“I have been lobbying extensively and vigorously for these projects,” Mayor James Gaughan wrote in an e-mail. The library and sewer project, he wrote, “are shovel ready, will result in new jobs, and provide an economic stimulus to our village.”
He went on, “However, even though we have the same debilitating sewer and road structures as Troy, Schenectady, or Albany, we struggle for appropriate attention in a very competitive environment, having less political influence than neighboring towns and cities. I continually seek to enlighten our local, state, and federal officials that, unless our municipality and others like us are provided with stimulus support, the outcomes will not be diversified, leaving our villages and rural areas like ours a contradiction to the rhetoric around the entire initiative, creating a disequalizing effect.”
New Scotland’s supervisor, Thomas Dolin, said that the town, with a population of about 9,000, hadn’t been able to find a way of directly getting federal stimulus funds, but it may indirectly benefit through two avenues.
The state’s Department of Transportation had been planning on resurfacing Route 32, but postponed the project due to a lack of funds, Dolin said. If the department gets stimulus money, the road might be resurfaced, he said.
The other project that might benefit from the state’s take of federal funds is the New Salem water district, which hasn’t yet been formed, but would update infrastructure and serve more residents, Dolin said. The roughly $5 million project could get a boost from stimulus money that may go into the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation, according to Dolin.
Rensselaerville, a rural Helderberg Hilltown with a population of about 2,000, is hoping to get stimulus funds for a wide variety of projects, according to supervisor Jost Nickelsberg: $3 million for roadwork with the idea of “making four or five 10-year roads,” $340,000 for a “huge culvert” on Pearson Road; $500,000 for photo-voltaic solar- cell arrays to be placed in unfarmed fields to supply homes with electricity; $3 million to $5 million for a town recreation center with a swimming pool; and $2 million to $4 million for hiking and biking trails connecting Partridge Run and Camp Cass, both owned by the state, with the Huyck Preserve.
Asked about priorities, Nickelsberg said the first priority would be the roads. Problems with the current roads present “a clear and present danger,” he said, stating emergency vehicles are delayed.
“I feel we’re definitely entitled,” said Nickelsberg. “We’re the forgotten corner of Albany County.”
Asked how likely it was the town would get funding for the solar cells or the hiking trails, Nickelsberg said, “because of the green nature of the current regime in Washington, we think it’s highly likely.” He concluded, “This is a real chance to make a difference in our own backyard.”
The Hilltown of Berne, with a population of 3,000, has applied for $600,000 towards a sewer project for the hamlet of Berne that it has been working on for years, said Supervisor Kevin Crosier, noting it is Berne’s only shovel-ready project.
The town has taken the first step, said town Clerk Patricia Favreau on Tuesday, by e-mailing the New York State Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet. “They have received our proposal and we will look for direction on what our next step is,” said Favreau.
Crosier said that, on Tuesday, an application had been sent to the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation.
To date, the project has received $1.75 million in grant money, he said.
Westerlo, a Helderberg Hilltown with a population of about 3,500, has applied for funds for roads and for upgrading its town hall, according to Aline Galgay, the town’s attorney.
“We were issued a letter from [Congressman] Paul Tonko, advising us of stimulus money,” said Galgay. Supervisor Richard Rapp then called Tonko’s office to learn how to proceed, she said.
Kim Slingerland, an administrative assistant, said she had filled out forms and sent letters to the DOT and the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation for the road projects, requesting $175,000 for Lobdell Mill Road, $100,000 for Sunset Road, $100,000 for Creamery Road, and $125,000 for Boomhower Road.
Additionally, she wrote to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for upgrades to the town clerk’s office and the courtroom, and repair to the roof at the town hall.
Slingerland said she was advised by Tonko’s office “to get the paperwork done right away” and she filed on March 16.
“We’re very proactive in attempting to utilize the funds for the benefit of the constituents,” said Galgay. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
Michael Hammond, the supervisor of Knox, a Hilltown with a population of about 2,800, said he had applied for $850,000 to renovate and expand the town hall, a project that Knox has considered for years and plans to proceed with this year.
“I applied through Paul Tonko, Governor Paterson, and Senator Schumer, and we’ll also be writing Jack McEneny,” he said of the state assemblyman.
“We met with Paul Tonko in February,” said Hammond. “He summoned all the leaders to his Albany office…He indicated we should get our shovel-ready projects together.”
Hammond said he had visited the website that lists the projects applying for funds and was amazed at the volume of requests. “I’m not sure how this will work,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to go through the governor’s office.”
Albany County, with a population of about 300,000, has applied for a number of projects as well, including a road project, three sewer projects, two trail projects, and a sports-arena project, according to Mary Duryea, communications director.
“We were told to go through the already established federal funding program,” Duryea said for the road project. Hence, the county has applied to the Transportation Enhancement Program for $16 million to rebuild the intersection of Fuller Road and Washington Avenue Extension near the University at Albany.
The county applied to the New York State Clean Water State Revolving Fund for the three sewer district projects $9.4 million for disinfection; $3 million for a heat-to-energy project with incineration; and $3 million for fine-screen replacement. The screens remove large debris during the treatment process, said Duryea.
The county has applied through the New York State Transportation Improvement Program for a $6 million project that would convert the old CP Rail line, from the Port of Albany to Voorheesville, into a hiking and biking trail.
The county has also applied through the Transportation Enhancement Program for $4 million for the Patroon Creek Trail, a project that would link the Pine Bush area to the Corning Preserve in Albany, said Duryea.
Finally, Albany County has applied through NYSERDA for an energy conservation project at the Times Union Center, Duryea said.
“We haven’t heard anything,” Duryea said on Tuesday of the progress the county’s applications have made. “It’s just a waiting game.”
Anne Hayden wrote the section on the town of Guilderland, Saranac Hale Spencer wrote the section on New Scotland, and Philippa Stasiuk contributed information on Altamont.