Mineral lease district opens door for planning grants

John Stroud
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The Garfield Federal Mineral Lease District has amended its rules when it comes to grant requests for planning purposes, as opposed to shovel-ready capital improvement projects.

The special district that was set up by Garfield County officials two years ago to administer grant funding from federal lease dollars distributed for mineral extraction on federal lands in the county typically has not given grants for planning purposes.

But that will change with the fall grant cycle, at least in terms of the rules for considering such proposals, said FMLD board chairman Gregg Rippy.

“The board talked about it, and while we still want to see more dollars go out there for capital projects, it does make sense to consider planning grants,” Rippy said.

“It is a way to get some upfront money, or skin in the game if you will, to get these projects going,” he said. “The risk is you can go out and study something, and then nothing happens.”

The new criteria for planning grants will require a 50 percent upfront match from any municipality or entity that is selected to receive a grant, Rippy explained.

Planning projects must also be completed within a year, rather than the two years allowed for construction projects and mini-grant proposals, he said.

“This reflects a little bit of an evolution as we grow to meet the needs within the county,” Rippy said, adding that mineral lease districts in Utah have similar criteria for planning grants.

The new funding category could cause the city of Glenwood Springs to rethink its priority for grant requests next spring.

Recently, City Council opted to apply in the fall grant cycle for $125,000 to help the city build a new bridge over Three Mile Creek to provide better pedestrian access to the Glenwood Park neighborhood and Sopris Elementary School. The grant would cover about half the project cost.

In doing so, council decided against taking a gamble by asking for a grant to help with planning and engineering for the proposed Eighth Street connection project.

At the time, though, city officials were not aware of the FMLD’s new planning grant rules.

“It might be something we will want to look at again and discuss,” Councilman Ted Edmonds said. “We want to be aggressive in seeking grants for these types of projects. To us, Eighth Street is a big one right now.”

The city is putting money into designing and engineering the proposed Eighth Street connection west to the existing Eighth Street bridge and Midland Avenue. One hope is that it could be built in time to help ease traffic impacts during the Grand Avenue Bridge construction in two years.

Because the FMLD application for the Three Mile project is already under way and the deadline nearing, City Manager Jeff Hecksel said it’s probably too late to shift gears for the fall grant cycle. But the spring cycle is one the city could look to for planning grant purposes, he said.

Garfield County commissioners this week also directed the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to look to the FMLD to help fund work to update the local and regional travel patterns study.

RFTA’s director of planning, Dave Johnson, was before the commissioners Monday seeking $10,000 in matching funds to update the study, which was last revisited in 2004.

“This is a perfect example of a request that should probably go before the FMLD,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “That’s one of the major reasons that we as a board took those federal leasing funds and created the district, so that we wouldn’t get these requests continually.”

Half of the estimated $150,000 cost to update the study is being funded by the Colorado Department of Transportation, Johnson said. RFTA has kicked in $10,000, and is asking the area counties and municipalities included in the study area to contribute $10,000 each as well.

The deadline for municipalities and other governmental entities in Garfield County to apply for the fall FMLD grant cycle is Aug. 29. Approximately $1.6 million has been awarded in each of the previous three grant cycles since the district was formed in early 2012.

Decisions on grant awards are made later in the fall.

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