Letter: More details offered on grant rejection

Posted
To the Editor:



I am writing to address the Banner editorial from Saturday about the VTrans Mitigation Grant. Although town staff previously provided the Banner with information about that grant and our reasons for declining it, the Banner obviously had more questions, but didn't ask. I will try to lay out the process that led to the grant application, the award, and the town's ultimate decision to decline it.



The conceptual process for a new salt/sand shed actually began a number of years ago when we first began to design a new public works facility. In 2016, we began in earnest to design a facility, including the salt/sand shed. We also considered existing structures for the facility with an eye to constructing the salt/sand shed on the selected site. In May 2017, following a successful bond vote, we acquired the former Plasan building on Bowen Road and proposed to locate the salt/sand shed in a parking lot on site. By then the design for the shed was fully underway. We settled on the design, the site, and sought permits. On Aug. 24, 2017 after construction documents were finished and estimated costs set, bids documents were sent out for construction of the shed. Contracts were awarded on Sept. 13, 2017.



Concurrently, staff became aware of the Mitigation Grant program when a BCRC employee indicated that few applications had been submitted in the current round and funding might be available. Working with BCRC on the Battle Day holiday, an application was pulled together and sent in to VTrans. The deadline for submittals was Aug. 15, 2017. The application clearly showed the shed's location and design. The town received notification of the award via email on Sept. 25, 2017. The award letter was attached in the email and dated September 14, 2017. A story appeared in the Banner around that time when VTrans announced the awards. I asked staff to study the eligibility requirements attached to the award documents to insure we were eligible since we were fairly along in the process.



There are 20 steps to follow in the eligibility process for these federal grants beginning with Project Selection and Authorization to Proceed. At this step, a Cooperative Agreement must be developed and signed. The next four steps are Consultant Selection, Local Concerns Meeting, Purpose and Needs Statement, Purpose and Needs Acceptance. I won't continue to list the remaining steps. Suffice it to say that the work completed had not followed the first 18 steps in the federal process when the award was announced. Based on that, the application should have been denied by VTrans.



Could the town have scrapped its entire effort and restarted the process? Perhaps, but grant funds can't be used to reimburse the town for any design and permitting work done prior to the grant. All design work must follow costly federal regulations including procurement of engineers, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), federal wage requirements, contractor qualification requirements, permitting requirements, etc. I understand compliance with NEPA alone is at least a 6-month process. We didn't use the federal process; therefore, we were not eligible. Given time constraints and cost considerations, we declined the grant.



We have won many grants utilizing this very lengthy and costly federal process. One example is the Pleasant Street Enhancement Grant first awarded in 2008. The process has taken so long that the town went ahead with a large portion of the project between North and Park streets on its own. We're hoping to conclude the federal/VTrans process this spring to finish the work on School and Pleasant Street. Ten years in the making. Can you imagine waiting even half that time before building the salt/sand shed?



Given the likely time frame to move through the federal process, the cost of the shed would have increased, perhaps substantially. Remember, the town received very competitive bids for the shed. It should be noted that bond funds, once appropriated, prohibit prepayment or repayment except as the bond schedule provides. The cost of the bond would not change.



Stuart A. Hurd                    

Town Manager

Bennington

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