Pretty pictures promoting city projects played a possible role in John Day’s decision to apply for a large Federal Highway Administration grant.

Mayor Ron Lundbom said an official at the June 10-11 Regional Economic Diversification Summit hosted by the city of John Day encouraged the city to apply for a BUILD grant with a deadline of July 15.

City Manager Nick Green said he hadn’t planned to apply for the grant, which ranges up to $25 million, until next year. When Lundbom told the official they weren’t ready to apply, the official encouraged them to go ahead, noting that they had “pretty pictures” that could influence the award decision.

Green told the city council June 25 that about $900 million in BUILD grant funding was available this year, with about half going to rural areas. The U.S. Department of Transportation could waive the 20% match typically required for the grants, he said.

With council consensus to proceed, Green said he would bring back a scoping recommendation on July 9. A primary goal is to find funding to pay for the Seventh Street extension from Bridge Street to Patterson Bridge Road, but funding from a large BUILD grant also could pay for linking Government Road to Valley View Drive and upgrading the bridges on Bridge Street and Patterson Bridge Road.

“These are highly competitive grants that use a rigorous merit-based process to select projects with exceptional benefits,” Green told the council.

“If we do not win, the DOT will typically provide recommendations on how to make our application more competitive in future rounds,” he added.

In other city council news:

• An unexpected request during a public hearing delayed the city’s sale of 0.18 acres near the former Oregon Pine mill site to JD Rents owners Robert and Bonnie Watt for $7,745.

The Watts didn’t realize they should have made their request for additional land behind JD Rents during the negotiating phase and not the public hearing. They said they needed more space to allow vehicles with trailers to turn into the shed building currently on the site.

Some councilors expressed concern that the Watts’ request for more land to the north would block any opportunity for Eastern Oregon Building Maintenance to expand west if they wanted to acquire some of the former mill site.

The matter will be brought back after councilors have a chance to visit the site and learn more about the Watts’ request.

• The city sent a damage estimate from April flooding to the state Office of Emergency Management on June 4 that totals $473,377. That includes $396,904 for repairing Fourth Avenue, a main route to the airport, where Canyon Creek has eroded a steep embankment.

• The council approved six resolutions for the fiscal year 2020 budget, which tops $10.3 million. The general fund appropriation is $1.3 million based on the $2.9915 per $1,000 property tax mill rate which has been in place for a long time.

• Two trail construction contracts were approved. Funding will come from the $191,300 Recreational Trails Program grant the city received from the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department.

Traverse LLC of Prairie City will construct the Davis Creek trail section for $61,985 and the North Trail section for $54,885. Brad Armstrong of John Day will construct the River Trail section for $51,500.

• The council agreed to name a new road from Highway 26 to the city’s commercial greenhouses Johnson Drive in honor of D.R. Johnson, who last owned the Oregon Pine mill site.

• Councilor Brandon Smith is moving out of state. His last day on the council will be July 23, Green said, but Smith noted he’ll likely miss that meeting. Green said advertising to fill the vacancy will begin right away and an appointment could be made at the July 23 meeting.

• Lettuce, tomatoes and other garden produce are now growing in the city’s commercial greenhouses. Ag project leader Matt Manitsas said the first harvest could take place in mid-August.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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