Mono, Mammoth weigh grants versus local match dollars
In separate agenda items, both the Mono County Board of Supervisors and the Town of Mammoth Lakes set their “FLAPs” for take off, opting to pursue Federal Land Access Program grant applications to rehab two key roads.
On Tuesday, Garrett Higerd, County Public Works Senior Engineer, petitioned for the Board to approve going for a FLAP grant application to the Federal Highway Administration for a potential road rehabilitation project on Convict Lake Road. The project would rehabilitate up to 2.7 miles of Convict Lake Road, and add an uphill bicycle lane.
The project’s total cost is expected to be approximately $2.5 million and would be paid for with FLAP funds, with an 11.47% match. In order to be considered, County must be prepared to address the match requirement, which would amount to approximately $300,000 over five years. In addition, the County would provide in-kind staff time and other necessary resources for CEQA compliance, which Higerd suggested could include hiring outside consultants, project coordination and engineering review, partially chargeable to Local Transportation Commission (LTC) funds.
With an almost 9:1 benefit ratio to the County, Supervisor Tim Fesko said he has no problem rationalizing the Board’s committing $300,000, but said he is concerned about being locked into the grant. Fesko said it would be great if all match funding could come from LTC dollars, but acknowledged there isn’t enough for the full match.
“Can we back out of it at any point?” Fesko asked. “We have diesel, solid waste … a host of great financial challenges ahead of us.” Higerd replied he didn’t think backing out would be possible at the financial level involved. “If we are selected we can look at the language, see if it ties our hands, and look into other options and alternatives,” he added. Other counties are also in financial hardship, he said, and likely won’t submit an application because they can’t afford the match at all.
Supervisor Larry Johnston weighed the return on a $300,000, five-year investment, and concluded, “The flipside is the road will continue to deteriorate and we’re going to have to do this anyway.” Higerd also pointed out that the County hasn’t had to commit much in the way of match funding lately. “We’ve been lucky in that,” he assessed.
Higerd said that the project would take about 4-5 years to complete, though an exact timeline hasn’t yet been specified.
Sawmill Cutoff Road project
And the following evening, an almost identical agenda item discussion took place in Suite Z. Town Associate Civil Engineer Peter Bernasconi queried Mammoth’s Council regarding pursuit of a similar grant for reconstruction of Sawmill Cutoff Road and the establishment of a parking lot/staging area. The current road was constructed more than 20 years ago, and Bernasconi’s report stated it would need rehabbing in the next three to five years. The project’s goals are to widen the road from its current 22 feet to at least 24 feet, which he added is the standard width, especially for allowing snowplow equipment and other trucks to ORMAT’s planned geothermal well field. The expanded width would also provide for proper shoulders for bicycle traffic.
The Sawmill project’s cost estimate is roughly $2.2 million, and the Town’s match would be about $250,000 over five years. Bernasconi advised that, particularly in the case of the parking area, which has been a goal of the U.S. Forest Service, financial assistance from federal partners (i.e. the USFS) isn’t an option. The grant does not allow using federal dollars to match federal grant dollars.
Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez said she and Public Works Director Ray Jarvis had discussed the issue, and agreed that they do not support using Road Department funds or any General Fund dollars to pay for the match. That led to a discussion of possibly entering into talks with ORMAT, which owns and operates the geothermal power plant just south of Mammoth, to take its temperature regarding sharing the cost of the match. ORMAT, some on Council noted, would be a major beneficiary of a rehabbed Sawmill road.
“Until we know ORMAT’s potential contribution, and whether we can establish some kind of trailhead access out there, right now we don’t have the [match] money,” Mayor Matthew Lehman said, echoing similar concerns from Councilmember Michael Raimondo. Nonetheless, Councilmember Jo Bacon suggested it was “worthwhile” to at least put in the application. “There’s no reason not to throw our hat in the ring,” she commented. Councilmember Rick Wood agreed. “This is a pre-application,” he said. “[Sawmill] road’s deteriorating and narrow, and thousands of cars use it.”
Both the County and Town FLAP applications are due by the end of April, and selectees could know if they’re approved as early as August.
Former District 2 Supervisor Hap Hazard went before the Board requesting a letter of support for state Assembly Bill 151 (AB 151). The new bill, reintroduced and renumbered from last year’s AB 1592, would authorize cities and counties to waive certain building and inspection fees for ADA-type modifications to homes owned by armed services members with a service-related medical disability. “Currently the law doesn’t provide for that,” Hazard told the Board, adding it would take a fix in Sacramento to accomplish changing the law. First brought up about four legislative sessions ago, and was introduced by a Chalfant woman who is a disabled vet and needed to make changes to her home to accommodate her disability.
Supervisor Tim Fesko said that, while the waived fees might only be a minimal amount, he wanted it made clear that the County would replace the fees either from the General Fund or from another suitable funding source. “We’re incurring the cost, we’re just not receiving the revenue we’d normally receive,” County Counsel Marshall Rudolph noted.
“I totally support this,” Supervisor Larry Johnston added. “It’s a great gesture and it only defers a minimal amount of revenue to the County.”
The Board approved a request from the County’s Economic Development Department and the Mono County Fisheries Commission to increase the fish-enhancement line item within the Economic Development budget by $19,150 for additional trout stocking by Inland Aquaculture Group (IAG), under its existing contract for trout-stocking services, prior to the opening of fishing season. Said expenditure could be paid from available fish enhancement funds that were not previously budgeted this year for trout stocking. According to Rudolph, with a cap of $120,000 per year, only $100,850 has been allocated for stocking thus far.
Fisheries Commission Chair Steve Marti said the robust spring weather so far has opened up many opportunities in area waters, and the extra fish stocking makes sense. He added the money would allow about 25 extra fish per body of water. The Board voted 4-0, with Supervisor Tim Alpers abstaining. Previously Alpers was a fisheries owner and IAG principal.
Acting Finance Director Roberta Reed reported that Mono County been randomly selected for an IRS audit. These happen from time to time, and Reed said all materials are being gathered, but didn’t seem to think there is any cause for concern. “It’ll be a great welcome present for Leslie [Chapman],” she quipped. Later in the meeting, the Board approved Chapman’s contract as the County’s new Finance Director. She will assume the post on May 1.