Total replacement project now pegged at $10 million
By Terry Duffy
Editor in Chief
Lewiston Town Board members and interested residents received an education Monday on the harsh realities of cost, limited state funding assistance options and how to pursue the town's water line replacement work, in a lengthy conversation with Town Engineer Bob Lannon of GHD.
Lannon reported the true cost of the project has grown, from an estimated $4.3 million earlier to roughly $10 million, if all replacement projects were grouped together and funded at once.
"I have met with Mike Townsend (of the town Water Department) and he has come up with nine separate locations. We have taken those and have applied the cost estimates for them, if each one were done individually," Lannon said, informing the board of the $10 million total price tag.
Lannon then proceeded to walk Supervisor Steve Broderick and board members through the funding process and what the Town of Lewiston could expect in terms of any assistance from Empire State Financing.
In a nutshell, Town Board members and attendees learned it's not easy.
"The next step in the financing of the project (which would be applicable if the town finances it directly or goes through ESF) would be a bond resolution," Lannon said. "The first step would be developing a map plan or report. It is a document ... that will describe the project; it will address the environmental conditions; it will address how the project is financed - its methodology."
Lannon told the board and town Finance Director Martha Blazick that funding for the required mapping is covered in the town engineer's line item budget. His request for mapping went on to be approved that night.
Lannon and Broderick then went into some of the details on obtaining grant assistance from ESF.
Broderick said the June 15 ESF grant deadline for applying in 2016 "is impossible" at this point.
"They're offering it next year, so June 15, 2017, is what we would (target)," Broderick said.
He said the town could apply for 60 percent of $3 million of its projected cost.
"Would it allow for engineering work (on the project) up front?" Town Councilman Al Bax asked.
"Ideally, yes," Lannon said. "But that grant (for the project round 3) is based on the (June 15) application time frame the town cannot meet."
Lannon told the board the next round of application dates for 2017 would be this fall. He then discussed the qualifying criteria of communities that ESF considers.
"A minimum of 75 percent of those grant monies would be allocated to those with hardship funding, which means the municipalities' household income would be below that of the state's level, which Lewiston's is not," he said. "And you have to have a categorical score project submitted to the health department and the ESF, where they would rank your project. The worse your condition for the municipality (such as an emergency project), the higher your score is, up to a point where you would receive hardship funding as well."
"It's a highly competitive application process," Lannon said. "If you're going to commit to this project, you're going to have to commit on its own. Any grant (awarded) is just gravy."
"We've known about this (need for water line replacements) for some time. We've been pushing it off because of budgetary issues," Bax said.
Lannon said the grant process involves application of the project (either one major project or the nine separate projects) accompanied by an engineer's report, plan specifications, and a health department application - all submitted to the Niagara County Board of Health for approval.
Bax asked if it was possible for the town to advance the money for the project on its own and then apply for grant funding and have it financed by ESF.
Lannon said yes, that was possible. The town could pursue its own bond anticipation notes, either short-term or up to five years, which ESF would allow to be refinanced. He went on to discuss the various levels of financing ESF would be able to provide:
•Market rate financing - where the town would enter into a contact to finance the water line replacement project regardless of what its hardship rating score is.
"You could get market rate; AAA financing," Lannon said. "At that point, you have to determine whether you want to go to ESF with all the hoops (rating criteria) versus what the town could get on its own."
•Subsidized interest rate funding by ESF - whatever the interest rate is, Lewiston would be able to get half or three-quarters of it subsidized, based on its community score. Lannon said the scoring goes from 80, which would be similar to market rate funding, up to 140.
"A score of above 80 to 130 would be hardship funding that would provide 0 percent interest," he said.
Lannon said the required map plan report would include such data as the town's own financial rating (determined by bonding agencies).
Blazick suggested the town pursue Municipal Solutions, its current bonding agent, which also works with ESF. She added the town has already done work with the state agency, noting four older BANs held by the town that are approaching closure.
Both Lannon and Broderick advised it would be best for the town to get a move on addressing the long-standing water line replacements sooner than later. They said the project would not be getting any cheaper.
"The project cost would undoubtedly increase from year to year, the longer the town delays/puts off the work," Lannon said.
He added that, if the town was experiencing an emergency project versus a planned project, its actual cost would be "a factor of 10" ... "based on when you can do it (with available funding) versus when you have to do it (in an emergency)."
"It's never the right time to do a $10 million project," Lannon said.
In other news
•Highway Superintendent Dave Trane, who takes over the department on June 1, requested and was approved for $310,000 in funding to address paving projects in the town contained under the 284 labor agreement. Trane said he was contacting highway officials in the Town of Porter and Village of Youngstown on the availability of using paving equipment rather than waiting for loaned pavers from the county.
•Broderick announced there would be a remembrance ceremony for former Highway Superintendent Doug Janese, who passed away in January.
The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 1, at the highway garage on Swann Road. The date marks the six-year anniversary of when Janese first took over as highway superintendent.
Sue Janese and other members of the Janese family will be present, as will Town Board members and town staff. An oak tree will be planted in Janese's honor at the highway garage.
The public is invited to attend.
•The board heard a presentation from Sara Capen, Discover Niagara Shuttle project manager, who discussed the new, four-vehicle shuttle that opened for Niagara Falls tourists this week.
Discover Niagara, currently funded on a two-year, $500,000 pilot grant from the New York Power Authority, provides transportation to 14 popular attractions from Niagara Falls to Youngstown. The total cost for its first year of service is $850,000, which is fully funded.
Capon told the board the shuttle system was initially planned to provide service from Niagara Falls to the NYPA Power Vista in Lewiston, "But it would not have serviced the downriver communities."
"The success of the project is to provide a regional focus," she continued. Capen called it "a great opportunity for growth in future years."
Capen told the board Discover Niagara would seek $180,000 in funding from area municipalities to help it cover year two operations - and that it would also be looking at a charge of $5 per passenger.
Board members spoke in favor of the new Discover Niagara trolley, noting its utility for bringing visitors to the River Region for such attractions as Lewiston's festivals, Artpark, Old Fort Niagara, Stella Niagara and area businesses. They indicated future town assistance for the program could be pursued via Greenway funding.
•Bax announced the Lewiston Environmental Commission has recommended the EPA pursue a radioactive study of the Holy Trinity Cemetery property on Robert Street. Bax said concerns stem from remnants of radioactive slag dumped in the area in the 1950s.
He also reported the Environmental Commission has joined with the Lewiston Town Board on its earlier stated opposition to the "permitting, siting, or operation of commercial hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities in Niagara County."
The action is the latest town response to CWM Chemical Services, which has permit applications before the State Department of Environmental Conservation for a new Residuals Management Unit 2 hazardous waste landfill and continued hazardous waste operations at its Town of Porter facility.
•The town will hold a public hearing on the final plat for the Riverwalk subdivision, phase four, at 6 p.m. Monday, June 13, prior to the Town Board work session.