EagleHerald staff writer

MADISON, Wis. — Thursday morning at 1905 Hall Ave. (Marinette City Hall) unfolded with a bit upbeat commotion as notifications, confirmations and congratulations flooded into the mayor’s office regarding a long-awaited and official announcement from Gov. Tony Evers. Evers, along with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), officially awarded the City of Marinette a $1 million grant to help boost the city’s fortification of road construction projects and also to pave a promising road toward winning a much greater funding opportunity from the federal government.

Approved by WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson, the $1 million Transportation Economic Assistance (TEA) grant award, which was catalyzed in large part to the job and economic growth and development related to various expansion and construction projects underway throughout the Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM). Those shipyard projects are meant to ready FMM for the construction of a new line of U.S. Navy, technologically advanced Constellation Class frigates.

“It’s a good day for (Marinette) taxpayers and a good day for shipbuilding,” Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot told the EagleHerald via phone in a brief window of calm on a busy day.

The TEA program provides financial assistance to communities to support transportation infrastructure improvements that help attract new employers or encourage existing employers to expand. A municipal or county unit of government must sponsor a TEA application. The project must have the local government’s endorsement, and it must benefit the public.

For some time, the anticipation among city officials regarding the TEA Grant remained high as an unofficial confirmation award arrived several weeks ago. Thursday, however, a long period of hard work and grant application processing culminated with Evers’s announcement.

“We are proud to be partners with Fincantieri and the City of Marinette in this tremendous project, which not only will create jobs and stimulate the local economy but will also show the world the type of high-quality and technologically advanced products that are made right here in Wisconsin,” Gov. Evers said.

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. If the Navy commissions FMM to build all 10 frigates, the contract burgeons to a total of $5.6 billion. Moreover, that contract promises to gradually and considerably increase 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 construction of the new Navy frigates. In addition, over the past five years, the WisDOT has also awarded $34 million directly to Fincantieri Marinette Marine from the Harbor Assistance Program (HAP) for shipyard improvements.

“Our important work here at Fincantieri Marinette Marine is made possible because of strong relationships and collaboration with our surrounding communities and their leaders,” said FMM CEO Jan Allman. “The city of Marinette and Mayor Steve Genisot have been instrumental in our continued progress. That support is enabled by strong advocates in our state legislature as well as Governor Evers.”

In a recent interview with Genisot, the mayor stated that annually the city generally engages in about $1 million worth of road and infrastructure projects, which only underscores the TEA Grant’s positive financial impacts for Marinette.

“This significant investment by Wisconsin DOT will bring future economic development for years to come,” Genisot said. “We appreciate this great partnership and the efforts by all those involved to support and strengthen Navy shipbuilding in our community.”

A press release from the Governor’s office stated that the TEA grant provides additional support for the planned increase in shipbuilding productivity at FMM. The grant supports a $2.6 million reconstruction of Ludington Street in Marinette that will provide better access to the Fincantieri shipbuilding facility.

The city plans to reconstruct Ludington Street from the U.S. Highway 41/Hall Avenue intersection east to Stanton Street near the entrance of Fincantieri’s shipyard. The project will fortify the road base and lay down add new pavement and stormwater drainage. City officials expect to break ground on the project later this year with completion slated for the fall of 2022.

“Time and again we have seen how investments in our transportation infrastructure help strengthen communities, create jobs and strengthen local economies,” Secretary-designee Thompson said. “In 2020, I was pleased to approve 11 TEA grants totaling $5.2 million, which will help create 1,005 new jobs and retain an additional 716 jobs.”

POTENTIAL FOR MUCH MORE

In April, before the TEA grant announcement, Common Council President Dorothy Kowalski described the dedication and commitment that goes into applying for such grants.

“Everybody involved in putting grant applications together does a good job,” Kowalski said. “Those grants don’t just come to us. The 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.”

During that time the EagleHerald also reported on the city’s application efforts and the promising potential of winning an even larger infrastructure grant.

Worth $5 million, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) Public Works Infrastructure grant represents part of the billions of dollars of available economic development assistance included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. At a March 20 Special Common Council meeting, after almost a year steeped in application paperwork under the guidance of Ayres Associates, a company that assists in the application process, city officials put the final touches on the EDA grant application for those federal funds. According to Genisot, Marinette’s chances of winning the grant look good.

“We’ve got some positive feedback from the EDA but nothing official,” he informed the EagleHerald Thursday. “It is looking good but until it is official, it’s not official.”

If successful, Marinette could have a busy and prosperous year of infrastructure improvements for which the taxpayers carry no burden. The city hopes to utilize the TEA grant funds to pay

According to the EDA grant application, the city must provide a 20% match of that approximate $5 million in funding. After all the calculations those matching funds equate to about $973,000. However, thanks to the $1 million state TEA grant awarded yesterday as well as some creative forethought and insightful financial calculus on the part of engineering consultant firm Ayres Associates, who assists the city in grant applications, taxpayer money will not be footing the bill to meet that 20% match.

Instead, the city plans to combine federal and state dollars, using the $1 million state TEA grant to cover the $973,000 match on the federal EDA grant.

Genisot remains optimistically reserved on the expanding potential of growth and development on the Marinette horizon.

“So much development is starting to come to a head,” he said.