EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE — Thus far, since the closing the door on the tribulations of 2020, when it comes to productivity, opportunity and job growth in the City of Marinette, the word of the year that empowers progress in 2021 seems to be “infrastructure.”

Just last week, the city tied a bow around the long-awaited completion of the State Street corridor.

Then on Tuesday, notification of a significant monetary windfall arrived upon the Desk of Mayor Steve Genisot, paving the way for sprawling improvements to a significant and vital portion of the Main Street corridor of Marinette.

As often the case of good news, the notification began, “I am pleased to inform you …”

That same night at the regular Common Council Meeting, Genisot passed the good word on to the council, beginning his delivery in much the same way.

“I am very happy to announce that we officially got notification from the US Department of commerce on our Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant,” Genisot said. “That is a $3.895 million grant.”

Leading up to Tuesday’s notification of the award, the city spent more than a year immersed in various application processes, assisted by architectural & engineering services firm Ayres Associates, (see EagleHerald article, Big potential for city infrastructure infusion).

Administered through the Public Works Infrastructure Economic Assistance program, which falls under the EDA, the grant represents Federal funds made available under the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which the Trump administration enacted 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. As such, the city must utilize the funds to address downtown area roadway and utility improvements that facilitate industry and employment expansion in the area.

He added that when the city actually commenced its search for funding and grant opportunities, it worked with various Main Street-area industries like FMM, Tyco Fire Products LP and ChemDesign, attempting to gain a forecast of potential jobs and growth anticipated by those industries in the coming years.

For instance, in April of 2020, FMM received a $795 million contract to build the first of up to 10 new Constellation frigates for the U.S. Navy. The Navy awarded FMM the second contract in May. If the Navy commissions FMM to build all 10 frigates, the contract burgeons to a total of $5.6 billion. Moreover, that contract promises a considerable increase in the shipyard’s employee base by about 1,000 new workers. Over $200 million in capital expansion projects are currently in progress at the shipyard, implementing facility improvements, additions and upgrades to accommodate the construction of the new frigates.

“We looked at the infrastructure that is bringing those workers into the community and that was the focus that we narrowed in on,” Genisot told the EagleHerald.

Utilizing those projections of growth, the city focused its grant application efforts on the parameters of such projected growth and the subsequent need for the development of solid infrastructure provisions.

Through the EDA grant, the city aims to reconstruct a portion of the city municipal garage on Ely Street, adding additional parking and erecting a structure to house a COVID-19 community protection and screening facility for the large employers in that area. Additionally, accommodating growth at the shipyard merits the necessary municipal infrastructure improvements projects to accommodate such growth in the areas through the road and utility improvements in Ludington Street and Main Street.

City Finance Director Jackie Miller estimates that each year, between road construction and related water and wastewater utility projects, the city budgets approximately $2 million.

“These grants (TEA and EDA) are probably equivalent to five years worth of road projects,” Genisot said.

According to the grant, the city must provide a 20% match to the EDA funds. However, the city plans to allocate another sizable grant awarded May 6 to cover the entire cost of the match. Known as the Transportation Economic Assistance (TEA) Grant, it represents approximately $1 million of funding from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and will more than cover the 20% match on the EDA funds. Essentially, the EDA grant will require no investment on the part of Marinette.

According to Genisot, it is a rare case that a municipality utilizes state-awarded funds for matching federal grants. But the state fully backed the TEA Grant allocation to cover the EDA match, affording Marinette the ability to catalyze a significantly larger grant opportunity.

“The entire (EDA) grant will be funded by state and federal funds, which is really phenomenal when you consider that amount of money,” Genisot emphasized. “It will be quite a boon to the city.”

Because of the timing of the award notification and the significant traffic associated to the construction projects already underway at FMM, Genisot said most of the city’s more substantial infrastructure projects in that area will likely not begin until 2022.

“(The project) will probably be designed this year and then put ready for early spring of next year,” he said. “The positive thing is, that for (the city) to get close to $5 million in funding … that is some serious money.”