Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District General Manager Jay Gallagher watches as water flows into the plant  Thursday from Fish Creek at a rate of about 3.7 million gallons a day. Steamboat federal stimulus money requests include $20 million for water and wastewater system improvements and upgrades.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District General Manager Jay Gallagher watches as water flows into the plant Thursday from Fish Creek at a rate of about 3.7 million gallons a day. Steamboat federal stimulus money requests include $20 million for water and wastewater system improvements and upgrades.

Local officials eye stimulus funds

Municipalities propose projects that could enhance infrastructure

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Predicting where federal stimulus money will go is tough because the measure doesn't name specific projects, lawmakers' representatives said.

Getting rid of those earmarks means agencies seeking money must apply for it. President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on Tuesday in Denver. The $787 billion package of tax cuts, grants and loans is intended to infuse cash into the U.S. economy, which is in recession.

Local government officials hope some of those buckets of money make it to the Yampa Valley in the form of projects that improve infrastructure and create jobs.

Exploring ideas

Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts said he had hoped for more money for Colorado.

"I think I'm a little disappointed," he said. "I think Colorado should have received a larger portion of the stimulus package. I think a lot of the money is to deal with existing problems in metropolitan areas. I always like to invest in the future, and I think Colorado is a wonderful opportunity to invest in the future."

Roberts referred to research and development in the renewable energy field, for example.

Steamboat officials sent a list of proposed projects to then-Sen. Ken Salazar in December, Roberts said. Salazar is now secretary of the Interior Department. The city then followed up with the state agencies that will administer funds, Roberts said.

Steamboat requested a total of $60 million for eight or nine projects, he said. Those include $22 million in improvements to U.S. Highway 40 in downtown and west Steamboat, $20 million for water and wastewater system improvements and upgrades, $7 million for Steamboat Springs Airport infrastructure and $4 million to replace coaches in the transportation system.

On Roberts' first day on the job last week, he suggested the city aggressively apply for renewable energy projects. The city could seek money to upgrade buildings and make them more environmentally friendly, as well, he said.

The stimulus package also might help innovation, Roberts said.

"I think Steamboat's a wonderful place for high-tech businesses, and to the extent that the stimulus package can help attract those businesses, I'd like to pursue it," he said.

Hayden looking up

The town of Hayden also is jumping at the funding opportunity. Town Manager Russ Martin said this month that the town would request money for a second water tower.

Routt County's best chance at getting funding is through aviation, County Manager Tom Sullivan said. Yampa Valley Regional Airport could apply for capital improvement money, he said.

"We do have some projects that are in the mix to be able to take advantage of some of the stimulus package dollars," Sullivan said. "We have a project that is scheduled to go this year, the pre-funded taxiway project at YVRA. That's going to happen in May."

The county also could seek money for the third phase of YVRA's expansion and improvement, he said. That project isn't ready for construction, however, and the county hasn't hired an architect. Routt might be able to get funding for planning now and for construction in 2010, Sullivan said.

County leaders plan "to try to get some projects going and put some people to work," Sullivan said. "Whatever there is, we'll look at and try to take advantage of. The airport is our biggest opportunity."

Road plans

The Colorado Department of Transportation has prioritized stimulus projects, regional spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said. In Northwest Colorado, which is part of Region 3, CDOT has an A list of projects that would use $46 million in stimulus dollars.

None of those are in the Steamboat area, but the region's No. 1 project involves Colorado Highway 13 in Rio Blanco County. The proposal, budgeted for about $13 million, would include the reconstruction and widening of the shoulder for five miles from Rifle to Meeker.

CDOT also put together B and C lists, Shanks said. Some Steamboat projects appear on those, which are lower priority.

U.S. 40 repaving in Steamboat is on the B list, but Shanks said that designation is misleading. CDOT already has that project in its budget. It's on the B list because it could get stimulus money if, for example, other states' projects aren't ready in time and Colorado gets extra money.

Lawmakers' take

Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, Democrats from Colorado, voted for the bill. So did Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who represents the 3rd Congressional District, which runs from Northwest to Southwest Colorado and wraps east around Denver and past Pueblo.

Salazar spokesman Eric Wortman said in a news release that the measure would "help create or protect" about 8,000 jobs in Salazar's district and 70,000 statewide. He said he didn't know which industries would generate jobs and projects.

"It'll be whoever is successful in getting their grants and loans and stuff approved," Wortman said. "But I think it's been widely mentioned that two industries that will probably do very well are, No. 1, the construction industry. : The other that makes out really well : is the energy industry, especially renewable energy: solar, wind, geothermal."

Salazar is on the Appropriations Committee, so he attended about 20 hours of hearings on the measure, Wortman said.

He wasn't sure how the stimulus package could help Steamboat's key industries, such as tourism. Possible improvements to U.S. Highway 40 could help visitors on the road, Wortman said.

"Obviously, that has a role in tourism, getting folks from point A to point B," he said.

The act also provides more than $300 million for agriculture research, which Wortman said could lead to advances that would help Routt County's farmers and ranchers.

Udall spokeswoman Tara Trujillo said the senator was part of the "Gang of 20," a bipartisan group that negotiated compromises to push the measure through the Senate. A news release from his office stated the measure would create or save 59,000 jobs in Colorado during the next two years.

The measure also provides $730 million for the Small Business Administration. That includes money for the agency's loan programs for small businesses, according to a news release.

It will take time to see whether and how the Recovery Act works. One of Salazar's goals was to push the measure through so it would make an impact quickly, Wortman said.

"He's seeing people lose their jobs; he's worried about folks that are hurting," Wortman said. "The bill that we voted on is a compromise. It's not the House bill; it's not the Senate bill, but that's the way things are supposed to work. Not everybody gets everything they want."

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