Whitesburg KY
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Can local govt’s get fair share of infrastructure?


Money appropriated by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by Congress and signed by the president three weeks ago could take months to begin filtering down to projects, and that may be a good thing for local governments.

While a big percentage of the $1.2 trillion is reserved for rural areas, about $120 billion is reserved for competitive grants to be doled out by the federal government. And when it comes to federal grants, not all communities are created equal. Grants are often based on population, require knowhow to write the grant applications, and often cash matching money. While officials here feel like they can handle the applications, the matching money might be a different story.

“When you’re strapped and don’t have much money, it’s hard to come up and do any kind of match,” Jenkins Mayor Todd Depriest said.

To be clear, the guidelines for getting and using the money haven’t been completed yet. Much of it will be handled through existing federal agencies with more than 50 percent of the total passing through the Department of Transportation. Other agencies that will handle the disbursal include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and other smaller agencies.

The grants money is expected to go to states which will then send the money to localities. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what state government does.

Michelle Allen, executive director of the Kentucky River Area Development District, said she doesn’t think that will be a problem in Kentucky. There are 15 AD Districts in the state, each charged with providing technical assistance to cities and counties.

“That aspect of it, I don’t think Kentucky is not going to have to worry about,” Allen said. “Matching money might be a problem for some of the local governments.”

Letcher County Judge/Executive Terry Adams said staffing in general is a problem for local governments because of the cost, and cost sharing could be a problem. But, he said, he thinks Letcher County should be in a relatively good position to benefit from the Infrastructure Act.

“Like other eastern Kentucky counties, we fall into the category that we would be eligible for a lot of that funding,” he said.

He said the county has several waterline projects that are ready to be built as money becomes available, and the county government and regional working groups have prioritized construction of a new section of U.S. 119 north between Fishpond Lake and U.S. 23.

Depriest said there have been meetings with state Transportation Secretary Jim Gray about that project, and he thinks it has a good chance of being funded, depending on how the money comes down from the federal government.

“Exactly how it translates, we don’t know,” he said.

The City of Whitesburg has so far received $238,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act, passed earlier this year, and expects to get the other half of its allocation in the spring. Whitesburg Mayor Tiffany Craft said she hasn’t gotten any word about how the money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be distributed, but said she’s not worried.

“I’m really not,” she said. “We have done so well and they have been so good about remembering eastern Kentucky, I’m really not worried about it.”

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