Clock Ticking On $70-million NDRC Grant Projects
Sonora, CA — The Tuolumne County Supervisors are concerned about whether all of the National Disaster Resilience Competition Projects will be completed by late 2022.
Tuolumne County was picked in 2017 to receive $70-million to go towards Forest and Watershed Health ($28-million), Community Resilience Centers ($19.7-million) and a biomass facility ($22-million).
However, HUD, announced a hard deadline that all money must be spent by September of 2022.
Officials with the state department of Housing and Community Development, and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, who are leading the effort on the biomass facility, addressed some concerns at this week’s Tuolumne County Supervisors meeting. There is a substantial “action amendment” that needs to be done to allow more partnering companies to be eligible for biomass grant and loan funding, and there is also an ongoing legal challenge. The action amendment could take a couple of weeks to complete, but it then needs to go through a 90-day public review period. Getting everything finalized by late 2022, and contracts awarded, along with construction, will be a very steep challenge.
In the area of Forest and Watershed Health, Maria Benech of the Stanislaus National Forest reported that things are moving more smoothly. She says the Forest Service awarded $9.5 million in contracts last year, including a $3 million contract alone for biomass removal and piling of wood. She anticipates spending another $10-million this year and all projects completed by May of 2022. The work received praise from members of the board and covers a wide range of forest health improvements.
Regarding the planned Community Resilience centers in Groveland and Tuolumne, Deputy County Administrator Maureen Frank stated that the timeline is a concern and she is “pushing as fast as she can.” The current plan is to have design documents completed in the next few months, construction beginning in April, and occupancy by June of 2022.
The supervisors seemed to collectively agree that the biomass facility and the resilience centers are of most risk of failing to make the September of 2022 deadline.
Board Chair Sherri Brennan stated, “I truly do believe that everyone is attempting to make these work, but with both of these (biomass and resilience centers), we don’t have the luxury of time.” She stressed that the board needs to look at “trigger points” on the calendar to potentially end the efforts in the event that the projects are off schedule.
Supervisor Karl Rodefer also expressed concerns about getting the projects done on time and referenced recent delays on the new county jail (about five months behind schedule). He also stated that he believes many in the construction field left the area when the economy declined years ago, and they have failed to return back. He said, “I think it’s a systemic problem for the industry in this county.”
As board chair, Brennan said she will work with staff to see how these two efforts can proceed, and the topic will return to the board in two weeks. County staff and the supervisors are also planning to reach out to legislative leaders, and other state’s facing challenges with NDRC timelines, to press for an extension past September of 2022.
Supervisor John Gray noted that “a tremendous amount of work” has been done to this point, and a one-year extension would ensure completion of the projects. He added, “I don’t want to see any of this money go away for any reason, and I want to see all of the $70-milion spent here.”