By Ben Marshall
MEXICO—U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., with Missouri’s fourth congressional district, provided information Monday Aug. 18 about programs that are available from government agencies that may be able to help with some financing, because of certain waste water treatment regulations being imposed on rural Missourians by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Hartzler said that commissioners, Steve Hobbs and Allen Winders, brought to her attention some of the concerns, especially with waste water cost prohibitive issues that several smaller communities are dealing with because of regulation changes.
Hartzler said, “This is very concerning to me when I heard about this, and it wasn’t just from Audrain County, although this is where we had a lot of good information and feedback to help start this.”
She added that she has four field reps that cover several counties and this issue keeps coming up all over her district.
“We have the issue of aging infrastructure in almost every small town,” she said. “Whether it’s the water lines that were put in during the ’50s and ’60s, and they’re old and rusty and need to be replaced, or whether it’s the sewage system that needs to be replaced, or whether it’s the waste water treatment plant. These are issues that everybody is dealing with, and today my goal is bring together a lot of the stake holders to learn more about this issue, especially as it relates to changing regulations.”
Hartzler added that she wants to know what those issues are with regulations, while also letting the public know about the various programs available to them; programs that Congress has already allocated money for to assist local communities.
“I thought it would be good if everybody would just get in the same room so you know what’s available to take advantage of as government programs change all the time,” she said. “There may be something out there just fantastic that you didn’t even know the community could apply for.
“We have people here from the various departments that can help shed some light on that.”
Before yielding the floor to the various departments, she wanted to make introductions of just a few people on her own team that are working for the people in her district.
Present were Austin Kramer, district director with the U.S. House of Representatives; Chrissi Lee, legislative director, and defense policy adviser for the team; Carley Esser, agricultural specialist; Adam Timmerman, field representative to oversee Cass County; and Steve Walsh, field representative from this area. She also introduced State Sen. Jeanie Riddle and State Rep. Kent Haden.
The next speaker was Travis Zimmerman, area director with USDA Rural Development out of Sedalia. Their mission is to assist rural communities in creating prosperity so they are self sustaining and economically complete, thriving through investments that create opportunities and build regional resistance; to support growth and emerging markets. He discussed some of the 40 loan and grant programs available for rural development. It is the only federal agency that can build a rural community from the ground up, he said.
Hartzler commented that these programs come under the Farm Bill that she helped to amend allowing communities of 20,000 to 50,000 to access the grants, and to apply for low interest loans with grants generally ranging from $5,000 to $80,000.
Zimmerman asked Winders if Vandalia had received funds from these programs in the past to help with a patrol car. Winders said that he believed some Fire equipment was gained through these programs.
Riddle added later that one of the things that came up in a community meeting was that the rules keep changing quicker than they could get the loan OK’d.
Hartzler added that she was able to contact the EPA shortly before the meeting to confirm that it is the clean water act in the statutes that states the water permits required to discharge water have to be renewed every five years. A law change would be needed to get that updated to match with the loan length.
More information on USDA Rural Development programs can be found at www.rd.usda.gov/mo.
Greg Powell with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ financial assistance center, said that they offer different types of funding programs for water and waste water infrastructure.
He said that the primary program is the State Revolving Fund Loan Program. They also have The Small Community Engineering Assistance program, and The Drinking Water Engineering Report Services Grant.
These programs help to fund facility plants or engineering reports, which he states is basically the first step in the planning process.
These are subsidized programs that provide reduced-interest loans.
Variables to compete include population size, household incomes, and water rates. These are similar as to how the USDA calculates their rates.
If a community would be considered disadvantaged and qualify for a grant, it is possible that up to 75 percent of a project would be paid for with grant, and the remaining 25 percent would be funded with a low-interest loan.
Funds are allocated to disadvantaged communities first, and if there is any money left over, then funds can be used to help communities that don’t meet the three criteria, based on who has the most number of points.
He noted that it is pretty rare that there would be funds left over, however, it is possible.
If one does not qualify for grant funding one can always apply for loan funding.
Grant money comes from the EPA, and loan money is from a revolving fund.
In a revolving fund money is provided in a given year, and as that money gets repaid, it gets placed into a fund that provides new loans.
Grant funds are competitive and therefore it is possible that a community would meet all criteria and still not receive a grant because there were simply too many applicants that year.
Grants can not pay for work already done, but rather one must apply for the grant before one hires an engineer and before getting started on the creation of the report itself.
More information on the DNR and their programs, grants, and loans can be found at https://dnr.mo.gov/.
Before Powell finished, he said he wanted to bring up Denise Derks with the Missouri Community Development Block Grant Program, which primarily provides gap financing and that the DNR often partners with on a lot of projects.
Derks said the CDBG is a federally funded program that receives its funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Funding through CDBG is administered by the state, and it works with cities of a population of 50,000 or less, and counties with population of 200,000 or less. Only cities and counties can apply for this funding, but it can apply on behalf of a not-for-profit, a district, or a water district, a fire district, or things along this line.
CDBG gets its data from the U.S. Census, where it derives a percentage that is applied to HUD resources. If a community does not meet the 51 percent or higher threshold for low to moderate income persons by HUD standards, they can do an income survey.
Derks said she knows the surveys are often long and painful, and that they are trying hard to make them a little bid easier. They have extended the life of those surveys to four years from the date of completion. They also allow for those surveys to be conducted via telephone, so that questioners don’t have to always go door-to-door. A community must get an 80 percent return rate on the surveys to qualify.
CDBG does general infrastructure, community facilities, demolition, and they do economic development programs, which includes waste water.
She said that they have partnered with rural development and DNR as well as MoDOT on certain projects. She also said that they have also partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers in past years to help fix levies.
Derk added that she had been doing this for 18 years and every survey back had meet the LMI requirement.
They have about 68 activities that are eligible for CDBG funding, but that does not mean that funding is available.
The final speaker was Madeline Berwagner, a loan officer with the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority. Her group works primarily with agriculture, and has loan guarantee programs, beginning farmer and down payment programs, grant programs, tax credit programs, as well as loan programs. For more information, go to firstname.lastname@example.org.Agriculture.Mo.Gov/abd/financial.
Hartzler closed out the meeting, asking if this forum was helpful or not. From audience response, it was determined that it was helpful; however it was just a beginning.
Hartzler learned that the current issue is primarily about ammonia disinfection, and that a more detailed and technical report was being prepared to further explain the issues that the EPA is placing on rural Missouri.
Winders explained that actually the new rules are not new rules, rather they are old rules and that as permits come due, these issues show up as new rules.
He added that he found, there actually is another round of new rules for ammonia disinfection. If someone were to file for a permit today, and able to somehow get into compliance, spending $880,000, by the following year new rules coming out might put one out of compliance.
Hartzler asked, “Is this new ammonia disinfection rule change from DNA or EPA?” She asked because she said the EPA rep told her that they haven’t changed any rules.
Powell said it could be that these are older rules that just happen to now be going into effect. He also said that it could be that state rules on ammonia have changed. He noted that he does not work for the enforcement side of the issue, and that there are considerations on things, such as the multi-discharge variance.
Hartzler said that the EPA representative she spoke with mentioned that the EPA does give states the ability to determine their own multi-discharge variances.
Powell said that he did not believe this variance has been totally solidified yet. He also said he would be more than happy to provide a contact in enforcement, because they are more knowledgable on that subject.
He added that there are also different upgrades that can be considered that are specific to a situation. He is currently working with a community in southwest Missouri that is doing a drinking water project, and they have another project going with wastewater and are considering moving to a land-based operation so that they will not be discharging at all into a stream, which means they won’t have to worry at all about the ammonia limits.
Powell said he realizes this is a technical solution and that it still costs money, and still requires financing, and it’s not available to everyone for a whole host of reasons, but there are options.
Winders said it is his understanding that there is no variance to the rule with the exception of time.
Powell reiterated at he was not the expert on that issue.
Hartzler, later in the discussion, stated that she would like to get in contact with the enforcement division of the DNR for additional information on this particular ammonia rule.
She said more information will be needed before any decisions can be made regarding the issues.