With almost $4.5 million in grants awarded in the last two years, John Day City Manager Nick Green told the city council Feb. 12 he plans to apply for more than $10 million in grant funding this year.

The funding would support several large capital improvement projects related to critical infrastructure and the city’s long-range plan for economic development.

“We’re undertaking some complex and ambitious projects,” Green told the Eagle. “We recognize that. We also feel it’s necessary to help our community recover financially from its extended economic decline.”

The grants and projects are all about community reinvestment, he said.

“Over the past 12 months we’ve issued (requests for proposals) for a greenhouse, for two fiber optic builds and for street improvements,” Green said. “We’re putting local contractors to work on projects that will benefit our community for years to come. This is exactly what a local government should be doing.”

City vision

Mayor Ron Lundbom encourages residents to show up at city meetings or to talk to a city councilor to learn more about how grant funding for city projects will help the city achieve its long-term goals.

“I’m glad that we have someone on board who has the ability to find and apply for these grants,” he told the Eagle. “If not for these grants that we have received and hopefully will receive, we would not have had any resources to do anything.”

Some important city projects seem too big to fund, Lundbom said, but funding agencies and organizations appreciate what the city is doing and its vision for the future, including improving the wastewater treatment plant, housing stock and possibly the river.

“I think you will see a trail system connecting four park areas together, a river design that will not only be pleasing to look at but will be helpful with flood mitigation and provide some recreation opportunities, and an extension of Seventh Street that will open up the north side of the river for all kinds of possibilities,” he said.

Development of city property on both sides of the river could include commercial and retail spaces, new housing and a new public swimming pool site, as well as relieving traffic on Bridge Street, Lundbom said.

“One of our greatest assets is the John Day River,” Green told the Eagle. “We need to enhance it. We need to make it a central part of the fabric of our community. It’s going to take patience and a lot of creative financing. It will also be something this generation can look back on as a significant accomplishment that will improve our quality of life for generations to come.”

City projects

The largest and most critical city project is a new sewer treatment plant. The council chose to go with a design that will produce reclaimed water. Green said in December that he hopes to fund the $12.5 million plant with 60 percent grants and 40 percent loans.

The city was awarded a $196,500 federal Community Development Block Grant on Feb. 28 that will pay for engineering for the new sewer treatment plant. The application deadline for an additional $2.3 million in CDBG funding for construction of the sewage treatment plant is Sept. 30.

An Oregon Water Resources Department water project grant could be used to help pay for the treatment facility and distribution of the reclaimed water. Up to $8.5 million in grant funding is available, Green said.

The city will apply in March for a Ford Family Community Building Spaces grant to convert the planer shed at the former Oregon Pine mill site to a community pavilion for the planned Innovation Gateway.

The city expects to receive about $1 million from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department for the sale of city park land around the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, but the lowest estimated price for a new swimming pool is about $4.5 million. Although the city does not intend to operate a new pool, the city plans to apply for an OPRD grant worth up to $750,000 for possible pool or integrated park system improvements.

The city received a $1.8 million legislative appropriation in 2017 to improve internet access. With the establishment of the Grant County Digital Network Coalition, that agency plans to leverage the funding toward other grant opportunities.

The coalition’s application for a $3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Connect grant last year was unsuccessful. The coalition will now reapply for that $3 million, while also applying for a USDA ReConnect grant worth up to another $3 million to support broadband.

When Lundbom asked Green at the Feb. 12 meeting how he would handle so many grant applications in so short a time, Green said he would rely on city staff and information gathered for earlier grant applications.

Past funding

Green said he’s grateful for the financial support the city has so far received.

“We have investors from six different state agencies and the federal government, and we’re starting to attract private sector capital to our area,” he told the Eagle. “That’s important to continue the climb. We have to keep a long-term perspective, but I also think over the next two to three years we’re going to see some fairly significant improvements — particularly with the new treatment plant.”

In 2017, the city received a $60,000 Department of Environmental Quality brownfield grant to assess the Oregon Pine mill site before purchasing the site using a Business Oregon loan and sewer funds.

The city also received a $420,000 special appropriation from the legislature to help pay for 911 emergency communication services for the 2018-2019 biennium.

This past year, the city and the John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District were approved for $434,300 in grants for riverfront trails and a new city park, including a $191,300 OPRD Recreational Trails Program grant that got top ranking among that year’s applications.

The city also received a $174,150 state Transportation Growth Management grant that will be used to plan for the Innovation Gateway and riverfront development projects.

A $37,800 technical assistance grant from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development was used to establish a Housing Development District, and about $120,000 in overlapping state and federal grants will be used to pay for economic development studies.

With assistance from the Oregon Department of Transportation, the city was approved for a $1.1 million Safe Routes to School grant that will make possible construction of a sidewalk along South Canyon Boulevard linking the Grant Union Junior-Senior High School to existing sidewalks and downtown John Day.

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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