[Editor's Note: As a result of this meeting starting at 9 a.m. and ending after 2 p.m., this is the third of a multi-part series of articles.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

Grant County commissioners met in special meeting on Sept. 7, 2021, to discuss how to prioritize the ICIP (Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan) and how to expend the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding the county has received and will receive. In this article, they will continue the discussion on the ICIP.

You can read the first two installments at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/67319-grant-county-commission-holds-special-meeting-to-address-icip-and-arpa-priorities-090721-part-1 and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/67408-grant-county-commission-holds-special-meeting-to-address-icip-and-arpa-priorities-090721-part-2 .

Planning and Community Development Director Priscilla Shoup noted she would move #4, the Grant County Administration Center Security and Covid-safe renovations out of the top 10.

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he would like it within the top 10.

Shoup said the requested amount for Item #5, the Cliff/Gila Fairgrounds water system project could be changed with an updated estimate.

No. 6, the Grant County Shooting Range has a request for next legislative session for $125,000 for planning and $650,000 the next year for design and construction. "It would add classrooms and could be paid for through Land and Water Conservation funding, capital outlay or Pittman-Robertson funding. It does not qualify for ARPA."

No. 7 addressed the Silver Acres Water/Sewer Extension. The estimate requested is the total amount of $750,000 of which $275,000 would create the preliminary engineering report (PER) and the rest would pay for design and construction. "It is eligible for capital outlay, Colonias (Infrastructure Fund), CDBG (Community Block Development Grant), Water Trust Board funding and may be eligible for the PER under ARPA."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked if the county could use ARPA funding for the PER, then it could qualify for other funding.

Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero said: "Yes, it would qualify. It is important to do the engineering report to know what is needed. The PER could determine whether it is simply a water and/or a wastewater project. If the residents don't want the wastewater sewer extension, the PER could count the septic tanks and determine which ones need repair. EPA (Environmental Policy Act) funding is not confirmed. We are not at that point, but it could pay 100 percent of construction. It can be moved down in the list, as long as it remains there."

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked if it could qualify for the AWSA (Arizona Water Settlement Act) funds in the New Mexico Unit Fund, which has been given by legislators to the Water Trust Board.

Lucero said to her it would be more appropriate for Colonias funding, but it could be funded by the Water Trust Board under direction of the Interstate Stream Commission.

Edwards said it would be the same as the next item No. 8, the Tyrone Wastewater Improvements, "but way different. Do we have a PER for Tyrone? Is it water system or wastewater improvements?"

Lucero confirmed that the Tyrone project has a PER. "That's why it's on the ICIP. But it could be covered by future funding. Silver City has agreed to apply for a CDBG grant for the project in the next cycle."

She confirmed that the Tyrone group also asked for ARPA funds to replace the leaking valves due to the stress from higher use of plumbing in the area due to stay-at-home orders from the pandemic.

Shoup said the project would be included on both the ICIP and the ARPA lists. "They requested also $333,000 for replacement of their reserves, which they had to spend down to make repairs during the Covid lockdowns."

Browne questioned the total $4.7 million for the water system.

Lucero said the pipes have asbestos and have to be replaced. "The estimate also includes a storage system."

To a question from Browne why it was on the county's ICIP if the town of Silver City provides the water and collects fees for it, Lucero said because Tyrone is in an unincorporated area of the county. It is not within city limits.

"I think we can move it down farther in the list, without capital outlay as potential funding," Lucero said. "The challenge is that Tyrone had sufficient reserves, but during Covid, they had the lift station go down, and because the Silver City wastewater treatment plant was overwhelmed by lots of additional wastewater dumping, Tyrone had to truck their waste to Deming. They got a part to fix the lift station, but it didn't work, so they had to continue to truck it and it depleted their reserves. Because of the low reserves, they don't have the debt capacity for more debt."

Edwards said she would like to know the dollar amounts of the depletion of the reserves and how much has been spent so far on the repairs and trucking the wastewater. "Do they want to be reimbursed for the lift station repairs?"

Chief Procurement Officer Randy Hernandez confirmed that the project would be eligible for ARPA and could be paid retroactively for expenses.

Browne asked for more communication with the Tyrone Property Owners Association.

County Manager Tim Zamora said he would ask for clarification from the TPAO on the ARPA request. "For the ICIP, we want funding for the design and construction strictly for the water system, including the pipe replacement."

No. 9, the Grant County Judicial Complex, has received funding for a study, which is ongoing. Requested for capital outlay next year is $365,000 to finish the study, then $3.7 million for demolition of the old jail, plan, design and construct a new facility. It qualifies for capital outlay and New Mexico Environmental Department funding because of the asbestos in the old jail but doesn't qualify for ARPA funding.

Shoup said NMED had given funding for the focusing group.

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said he recalled from his last meeting with the county manager that the old sheriff's building would be part of the complex.

Lucero confirmed that, but said this funding addressed the old jail. "The study group is continuing meetings. Once they give you a plan, you can determine the next steps. The environmental study determined that it was not feasible to redo the jail."

Browne suggested that New Mexico Courts be included as a possible funding source.

Shoup said No. 10 on the list is a new Grant County Airport runway to extend its capacity for larger aircraft and crosswind traffic. "It has been funded to date for improvements, such as the renovated terminal building, repairs to the fuel station and other runway improvements to the tune of more than $5 million. We are asking for $450,000 for a plan and design. It is not eligible for ARPA."

She asked the commissioners how they would like to rearrange the items in the ICIP. Ponce asked to include the veteran crisis intervention center and a vocational education center to the list.

Browne asked that the Ridge Road improvements be moved up into the top 10, because the study has been completed and it could be ready for a Colonias request. Lucero said if the county receives funding for design, when the design is completed, Colonias will likely fund it.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings said he supports a vocational education center and would like to see it higher in the list, as it is ranked at No. 18 right now.

Ponce noted that he has attended meetings on the issue and that some funding may come out of Western New Mexico University. "We are in great need of such a center."

Lucero asked if the funding was for a facility or for programming.

Ponce said he believed the request for $5 million was for a facility.

Lucero asked where it would be located.

Ponce said those involved in the meetings were looking at the location behind the Dollar General store next to Santa Clara. "There are five acres there."

Lucero recommended the request ultimately be taken to the Economic Development Administration. "Typically, they would fund something like this. I suggest there be further discussion and determination of what exactly the group wants and needs. From the EDA perspective it would be for construction. Let's put it in the top 5 for capital outlay for matching funds."

Ponce said he would like to see Western, commissioners and Freeport involved in the final decisions. "There was a Plan A. This is possibly Plan B. It has been going on for so long. It's to train people to get ready for a job. I will sit down with everybody. I would like to see it placed higher up, and I want to see it happen."

"We can put it in the top 10," Lucero said. "It ties into what the Grant County Workforce Alliance is working on."

Browne suggested dropping No. 7, the Silver Acres project from the top 10 and putting the vocational education center in that place.

Billings asked what the ADA Compliance for Grant County facilities is for. It asks for $150,000. Lucero said she assumes it is improvements to accessibility to the county's facilities. "Federal funding wants to make sure we are moving toward ADA compliance by modifying structures. We may be able to tap into federal funds for that one."

Edwards asked if one could presume that below the top 10 an item is not a priority.

Shoup said below No. 15 means it's not a priority.

Lucero noted that Nos. 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 could be eligible for Colonias funding. They include [from the old list] Silver Street Parking Lot improvements, Ridge Road improvements, North Hurley Phase II Road improvements, Arenas Valley Road improvements and San Lorenzo Road, Drainage improvements/Bike path.

Billings asked about the Spring Creek Road sewer extension, which is on the list for fiscal year 2024 funding, not fiscal year 2023 funding.

Shoup explained that it needed a PER to determine if it is cost effective to the residents. Lucero said she would meet with Rosedale Road residents. "I will likely recommend they can apply for funding for a feasibility study, as they don't have everyone on the sewer. This could tie into the Spring Creek project."

Billings also asked about the 2024 item No. 14 for a rural area helipad construction.

Zamora said when the county held the ICIP hearing in Cliff, "we heard a mention of the need for a dedicated helipad for the Cliff area. We could identify a property in Cliff or Mimbres or Hachita."

Billings said there is a lack of EMT services in the Cliff Area. "It's hard to get an ambulance out there."

Zamora said because of the distance to the hospital, it could benefit residents to have a dedicated helipad.

Lucero noted the NM Department of Transportation received an allocation of $121 million. "This region received $20 million. Look at the items that are a potential for DOT funding, whether it's a trail, a road you want to move up, because at the next round there may be $40 million available. Especially for the 2024 list."

She also said there is a potential federal earmark for safety corridors for the path extension from Santa Clara to Silver City. "There are a couple of options, including a potential for USDA funding, but we need a feasibility study."

The commissioners took a break and continued with the ARPA funding requests after the break.

[Editor’s Note: This author received the final version.]

The final order of the ICIP for fiscal year 2023 as submitted is:
1) Bataan Memorial Park improvements for $750,000
2) Little Walnut Bike Path/Road Improvements $2.45 million
3) Sheriff Department Fleet replacement $340,000
4) Grant County parks and rec comprehensive plan $200,000
5) Cliff/Gila Grant County Fairgrounds master plan $200,000
6) Grant County Shooting Range $120,000
7) Vocational School $5 million
8) Tyrone water system improvements $423,000
9) Grant County Judicial Complex $365,000
10) Airport runway construction $450,000
11) Silver Acres water/sewer extension $275,000
12) Silver Street parking lot improvements $232,147
13) Ridge Road improvements $1.87 million
14) North Hurley Phase III road improvements $1.2 million
15) Arenas Valley road improvements $2 million
16) San Lorenzo Road, drainage improvements/bike path $500,000
17) Safety corridor path extension to Silver City $2.8 million
18) Trail development $300,000