Industry growth spurs city infrastructure efforts

Developments and growth in business and industry, like the considerable construction at Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard to billet the new production lines required for its new Constellation class frigate contract with the U.S. Navy, necessitates the need for the City of Marinette to fortify its own infrastructure. Two recent grant endeavors promise to provide a multitude of funding for various city projects.

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—That smooth meander down State Street, rolling effortlessly over a railroad crossing that once sent jarring aftershocks through the car’s chassis and up the spine … That’s infrastructure.

The illuminated cones of lights that guide your way across the City of Marinette when day turns to night … That’s infrastructure.

Digital signals pulsing down a copper wire or riding a 5G carrier wave that allow people to endlessly scroll Facebook posts that harangue some pothole down the street … That’s infrastructure.

From where your water comes and to where your water goes …

All these examples and many more, when maintained, imbue a city like Marinette with the necessary groundwork and long-term cost savings for successful economic development and potential prosperity.

Tuesday night, during a special meeting of the Marinette Common Council, alderpersons approved a resolution that brings the city one step closer to a promising windfall of CARE Act stimulus funds aimed at fortifying Marinette’s infrastructure. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted in March of 2020, provided the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA) with billions of dollars for economic development assistance programs dedicated to prevention, preparation and response to the coronavirus in communities like Marinette.

With Tuesday’s resolution, the city’s October application for an approximately $5 million Economic Development Administration (EDA) Public Works Infrastructure grant neared completion and the promise of approval (see EFFECTIVE ART OF GRANT APPLICATION). Add to that, the recent unofficial confirmation of an approximate $1 million Transportation Economic Assistance (TEA) Grant through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and one sees that the burdens on taxpayers and the city stemming from significant infrastructure costs begin to diminish.

“Here’s the bigger gravity,” Marinette Steve Genisot said, “(Annually), Marinette does about a million dollars worth of road and infrastructure projects. We have an additional close to $1 million (unofficial TEA Grant confirmation) … which is money we did not have to take from the taxpayers or our general fund. And if we are successful with the (EDA grant) … that is $5 million on top of our normal $1 million … so it will be a busy year.”

Administered through the Public Works Infrastructure Economic Assistance program, which falls under the EDA, the grant represents Federal funds made available under the CARES Act enacted under the Trump administration last year. The EDA assists communities to develop strategies that improve their capacity for economic expansion. To qualify for such EDA recovery assistance grants, a municipality must demonstrate ways in which the pandemic’s economic impacts wrought financial hardships on the community and how respective infrastructure projects can address those impacts.

According to the grant, the city must provide a 20% match to the EDA funds, which equates to about $973,000. Primarily, Tuesday’s resolution provided additional grant application information to EDA oversight officials. Specifically, the resolution confirms, to the EDA, that by applying for $5 million EDA CARES Act grant, the city commits itself to the matching 20% cost.

However, thanks to the $1 million TEA grant as well as some creative forethought and insightful financial calculus on the part of engineering consultant firm Ayers Associates, who is assisting the city through the grant application, taxpayer money will not be footing the bill to meet that 20% match.

Instead, after Gov. Tony Evers officially announces the $1 million TEA Grant award, the city plans to combine federal (EDA grant) and state (TEA grant) dollars to put that $1 million toward the 20% match on the EDA grant.

While still unofficial, Genisot informed the EagleHerald that the city has received confirmation of the TEA Grant award, which should be announced by Evers in the near future.

EFFECTIVE ART OF GRANT APPLICATION

Tuesday night’s resolution regarding EDA grant application marked the fruition of an almost yearlong effort to analyze, research, compile and complete a mountain of complicated documentation involved.

“It takes a while to get those grants,” said Common Council President Dorothy Kowalski. “The city has been working on the grant for six months.”

She commended the efforts it takes to compile the mounds of necessary data compilation, accounting and other pieces that must all be in place before approval can be considered.

“Everybody involved in putting grant applications together does a good job,” she said. “Those grants don’t just come to us. “(City Engineer) Brian Miller, the mayor and everyone involved figure out what the city needs and they are active in finding grants to meet those needs. It’s not just about waiting for things to come to us. We’ve been really successful in getting grants and that is good for the community.”

Additionally, the city relies on the assistance of Ayers Associates, contracted by the city to help the application, processing and submittal of necessary forms as well as advising on other financing details related to grants.

Ayers has been really great as far as guiding us through the whole process and helping us receive as much (potential) funding as we can,” said Jan Kust, assistant to the mayor.

She described an application process that included tremendous volumes of paperwork (a thickness she measured in inches) that required scrupulous attention to detail regarding items such as historical, archeological, environmental and other city documentation. That volume of paperwork enabled the city to show how delivery of the grant funding would meet the city’s proposed infrastructure projects and address the economic recovery as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ALLOCATION OF POTENTIAL FUNDING

If awarded the EDA grant, projects accommodated through those funds include both infrastructure and COVID-19-related undertakings. For example, the construction/addition to a portion of the city municipal garage on Ely Street will be used to house a COVID-19 community protection and screening facility for the large employers in that area.

Additionally, the grant requires applicants to apportion the funds for improvements related to expanding industry and new jobs that contribute the growth and needs of the community.

For example, Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine’s (FMM) new contract with the U.S. Navy to construct a fleet of advanced Constellation class frigates served as a primary impetus behind the city’s effort to secure the grant.

“We knew Marinette Marine was going to be growing, (along with) the (transportation) corridor that supports (FMM), Tyco (and other businesses),” Genisot said. “So we’ve been working for months to apply for these (EDA and TEA) grants.” (see EFFECTIVE ART OF GRANT APPLICATION).

The influx of new employees and expansive additions currently underway at the shipyard to accommodate that contract also warrants the necessary municipal infrastructure to support that growth. The city will earmark some of the funds for additional road and infrastructure projects on Ludington and Main Street.

“(FMM) is trying to grow and (the city) is trying to let them grow,” Kowalski said. “In terms of industry, there are lots of employers (in Marinette) and anything we can do to help, we are going to do.”

When probed for Marinette’s chances to receive the EDA grant, the mayor responded with optimistic reservation. He pointed out that while the EDA grant has yet to be awarded, the fact that the EDA oversight officials are requesting additional information from the city (Tuesday’s resolution) represents a very good indication that the gears are turning in Marinette’s favor.