The Montana City School and Clancy Water and Sewer District will likely receive funding for proposed water projects through competitive grants offered by the state with money from the American Rescue Plan Act; the Basin Water and Sewer District is unlikely to receive funding, as is a proposed wastewater project in Clancy.
A drinking water system project proposed by the Montana City School ranked first out of 243 grant applications, according to a preliminary ranking list the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation released on Aug. 16. Clancy Water and Sewer District's proposed drinking water system ranked 28th. Both of those projects are likely to receive funding, according to Collette Anderson, an engineering and project manager with Great West Engineering who works with the Clancy district board and crafted its grant applications. She said that the state has $250 million to disburse in competitive ARPA grants, starting with the highest ranked-grant and moving down the list.
"You hit $250 million right around project number 59 or 60," she said, meaning that projects ranked lower than 60th were less likely to receive funding.
One caveat: The rankings were simply the DNRC's recommendations, she said, explaining that it's up to a legislative commission to review the list and make a formal recommendation to the governor about which projects to fund. The commission meets on Thursday, Aug. 26, she said, and grants should be awarded by the end of the year.
"There's also been some discussion that the legislative commission may choose to allocate only half that funding and [then] have future application periods," she said, in which case only the top-30 or so projects would receive funding. With Clancy's water project ranked 28th, "it looks positive either way for Clancy if they don't change the rankings."
"The water [centralized well project] application included an application to the State’s Competitive ARPA program for $5,476,000. Currently, the total estimated cost for the project, including Phase 1 and Phase 2, is $7,749,000," Anderson wrote to the board earlier this month. The district hopes to bundle the $5.4 million grant with other grants it already received, as well as a $748,000 State Revolving Fund loan "assuming half of the loan will be forgiven (essentially a grant)," to fully fund the $7.7 million needed for the centralized well project.
The water system's goal is to reduce dangerous amounts of nitrates and uranium found in some drinking water in Clancy, according to a 2018 Treasure State Endowment Program grant application. Nitrates can cause methemoglobinemia, or blue baby syndrome, which can be fatal to infants, according to the application, which also stated that uranium can cause kidney damage and "has been linked to cancer." Because of the contaminants, the board said at their June 22 meeting that they hoped to rank high on the competitive grant’s public health and safety criteria.
"It looks really good for the water project," Anderson said, noting that wells could be developed as early as 2022, with a distribution system built in 2023. "We've already been working on the project, looking for potential water supply sources, so we're already working on it from that angle."
The $5.47 million Clancy grant application was tied for 28th with an application from the town of Joliet.
"The board's goal in applying for this was simply to get the best funding package they could to minimize the cost to users," Anderson said. "If this does go through and they get this funding, that does solve that problem to a big extent."
Though Clancy ranked high, Montana City School ranked highest—first out of every application. The $235,350 grant would help the school complete an ongoing effort to connect to a new well established in 2020 and to treat the water from the well, which was found to have elevated levels of arsenic, according to the grant application.
"We only have one water source here at the school, and there’s been a couple of times over the past few years we’ve had to shut the water down," Tony Kloker, the school's superintendent, said. "It’s very difficult when you have 500 students and 60 employees."
Kloker, and the grant application submitted on the school's behalf by engineer Holly Manning of Robert Peccia & Associates, said that the school's current lone well is located downfield of its septic drainfield, leading to elevated nitrate and coliform in the water. Twice in the past decade the school has been without water—once when the well pump failed, once when a sprinkler line ruptured—Kloker said.
Clancy also has a nitrate problem, possibly from wastewater infiltrating drinking water, but a proposal to establish a centralized wastewater system there ranked much lower on the DNRC's list, clocking in at 189 and very unlikely to see funding.
The wastewater system, first discussed in 2012, would bypass failing private septic systems, but high costs have hobbled the project. The district submitted an APRA grant application for $8,553,500 to fund the wastewater system in Clancy.
"They're not as far along with the project," Anderson said, contrasting it to Clancy's drinking water project.
A $1.67 million grant application from the Basin Water and Sewer District also ranked low, landing at 128. The district has already secured $250,000 in local water and sewer ARPA funds allocated by Jefferson County and a $400,000 state revolving fund loan from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The board hoped to use that money as matching funds for the state ARPA grant, the sum of which would fund replacing all drinking water service lines from main lines to properties, construction of new wells, upgrading water treatment and powering the system with renewable energy.
In lieu of the $1.67 million grant, the district board is "going to have to look at what we can still afford and what’s the biggest priority. We’ll have to run through the list," according to Board President Jason Norman, who submitted the grant application on behalf of the district.
The district still has a total of $650,000 from the county ARPA funds and the state revolving fund, he said, and that could be used to accomplish some of the board's original goals. The district must repay 50% of however much of the $400,000 loan it uses. The board won't meet to discuss how to proceed until Thursday, Aug. 26.
Norman said previously that replacing the service lines was estimated to cost $480,000. Drilling new wells would cost $275,000 for each well, he said.
"I don’t know what everybody else is going to think. The one thing that’s for sure is we planned, regardless, to go forward with replacing the lines to the business or homes," Norman said. "That project we will still be doing. It’s just, after that, what else are we going to do?"