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Officials hurry to submit stimulus projects

Application process still changing, often confusing

POSTED: March 2, 2009 11:54 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

The old Georgia State Patrol post building on U.S. 129 has been gutted. Building a new post is one of many projects submitted for possible funding under the federal stimulus plan.

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On Monday, Hall County received bids to build a replacement post for the Georgia State Patrol on U.S. 129.

How it pays for the building is up in the air.

The patrol post is one of many projects submitted for possible funding under the federal stimulus plan. If it is accepted, the building would be paid for with federal dollars. If not, the county will use bonds to pay for it.

The clock began ticking Feb. 17 on a 120-day deadline for getting initial stimulus projects under way. At the same time, the application process is not clear and county officials are hopeful of knowing more this week.

Public works projects represent about 40 percent of the massive spending plan and are the part of the bill that federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support.

"Building roads, bridges, water and sewer projects are all needed and will have the advantage of being initiated very quickly," said U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. in an interview with The Times. "We can make sure that road contractors and others can get their folks back to work. A lot of them have had to lay off people."

Brian Rochester of Rochester and Associates engineering firm said his company’s business started slowing down in 2006, when residential builders began curtailing the start of new projects. By 2007, the slowing began to be felt in commercial projects.

Rochester’s firm already has done the engineering work on a number of public projects, including a proposed park on Cool Springs Road. The ability to move ahead quickly on that project hinges on stimulus funds.

"We’ve already submitted a lot of the shovel-ready projects if funding becomes available," Rochester said.

Details about suitable projects and their approval is a process that has changed daily since the president signed the bill into law.

"There have been daily memos about how money will flow down to the state and local levels, and that’s what everybody is trying to scramble to figure out," Rochester said.

Danny Lewis, executive director of the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center, had three of his staff members in Washington on Monday for a briefing on the stimulus.

"The original plan called for the project to be moving and people hired in 90 days," Lewis said. "A lot of us said we can’t do that and asked for 180 days. Congress agreed to 120 days."

There are numerous legal requirements for projects ranging from environmental permitting to competitive bidding, some of which can take months.

In Hall County’s application, the "shovel-ready" projects have already been engineered and in the case of the state patrol post, the construction bids already will be completed.

Rochester said the firm, which has potential projects for a number of local governments, may benefit from the influx of federal funds.
He said other major projects, 12 to 24 months out, will have to clear the governmental processes.

"Not all the money coming down has to be let in 120 days, Rochester said.



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