Fate of state grant still uncertain

OAKTOWN — Town officials got a step closer this week to moving forward with a nearly $1 million storm water drainage project.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it had awarded to Oaktown a loan for $475,000, money the town needs as the match dollars for a potential $600,000 state grant that would help to pay for six separate storm water improvement projects.

The money, according to a press release issued by the USDA, was given out in the form of loans to help rural Indiana communities improve water quality and wastewater management.

Town officials, according to Rhonda Rumble, a program specialist with the Southern Indiana Development Commission in Loogootee, the grant administrator, had hoped to apply for the state grant from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs this fall; had the town not received he USDA loan, they wouldn't have moved forward with the project at all.

But Rumble explained Tuesday that securing the necessary easements was taking longer than expected, so they will wait and apply for the grant in the spring.

They would then hope to know by summer whether they were successful; if so, work could begin either in late 2020 or early 2021.

The grant is the reason members of the town council last spring approved legislation that established a new $6 per month stormwater fee for all property owners; the city needs the revenue stream in place to be eligible.

Town employees this fall did a survey of randomly-selected households. They went door-to-door collecting basic income information from a number of homeowners.

The good news, Rumble said, is that the information gathered during the survey, which wrapped up on Oct. 16, proved Oaktown, collectively speaking, met the income guidelines necessary to apply for the OCRA grant.

The near $1 million collected as part of the grant and USDA loan would go specifically to make infrastructure repairs in six areas that are prone to flash flooding during heavy rains.

Randy Rinsch, a town council member, has described those six projects as "building blocks" as more will be needed to fully address all the town's storm water drainage issues.

Those six, however, will get them started and offer a firm foundation on which to build in coming years.

The projects are currently being designed by Hannum Waggle and Cline, now HWC Engineering, in Terre Haute.

Should the city receive the grant and move forward, the USDA loan would then be paid back with money generated by the new storm water fee, which residents began seeing on their water bills this summer.

They aren't, however, paying any more overall as town elected officials, as part of the measure, took $6 off the current sanitary sewage fee.

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