Fredonia unsure on block grant application

Fredonia’s trustees seem to agree that the village’s yearly Community Development Block Grant application should focus on infrastructure this time. However, there was no consensus on what, exactly, to apply for, at a special meeting earlier this month.

Travis Gordon, a development adviser and grant writer retained by the village, told the board the village’s grant from the federal program should be used on a water system interconnect between Fredonia and Dunkirk on Central Avenue, using a 12-inch water main. The grant can be up to $1 million but localities must match 5 percent of each grant, he said.

The problem with his proposal, in trustees’ eyes, was the estimated cost of the entire project is $2.5 million. With just $1 million, or less, coming from the CBDG grant, the village would have to pay the difference.

Gordon said work on the dam and spillway at the village reservoir was considered. However, that would be even more expensive than $2.5 million to complete and the interconnect project is more “shovel-ready,” he said.

He said that current interconnects with neighboring water systems, at either end of the village on Main Street and on Vineyard Drive, were unable to meet the demand when the village had a water emergency in September 2020. Gordon also said the current system would be unable to meet the needs of Brooks-TLC Hospital Systems when it makes its planned move to Fredonia.

“Having a fully redundant water system is something that the Brooks hospital has mentioned specifically as an impediment to moving to Fredonia,” he stated. Gordon added that the last cost estimates on a spillway-dam project came in 2012, and a new engineering study on what exactly is needed at the site should be done before any work is committed.

“I understand the interest in the interconnect … but I think we need to take care of home first,” said Trustee EvaDawn Bashaw. She advocated making sure the reservoir is in good shape before doing any further water projects.

Trustee James Lynden commented that interconnect advocates keep bringing up the hospital, but a site plan for the move to Fredonia has already been approved.

He added that the Vineyard Drive pump station wasn’t properly functioning during the September 2020 incident. Lynden said of the concerns that there wont be enough interconnections during a similar issue: “That’s ridiculous to keep saying that. There were some problems that came up that were beyond our control … with the Vineyard Drive pump station that should have been operational before these other things ever happened. So, I’m not buying that crap, either.”

He added that most of the interconnect project would actually be in the city of Dunkirk. Trustee Roger Britz said about five-eights of the project would be in the city and wondered, “why aren’t we talking to Dunkirk to help us fund this?”

Mayor Doug Essek, an advocate of the new Dunkirk-Fredonia interconnection, said he has met with city officials on the matter, who told him they didn’t have enough money to help. He stated that the village had a deal in place with the city during the administration of Mayor Athanasia Landis, whom he defeated in 2019 to become mayor, but the city redirected funds after Fredonia showed a lack of interest in completing the project.

“Right now we’re just trying to fill out a grant application and give it a project that seems feasible,” Essek said. “We could put in the spillway and the dam but that is $5 million or more and the maximum for this grant is $1 million.”

Bashaw said the village is currently running a big debt load and shouldn’t bond anymore, even for the cheaper interconnect project.

Gordon said he was just going off Essek’s plan for the year, which makes village infrastructure a priority. He said communication between village officials should happen more speedily. “That is why we are having this meeting at this point, to see what kind of projects are available,” he said.

Essek said, “Sooner or later these projects have to get done.” Lynden said it would be more vital to work on the dam and spillway than the new interconnection, stating the latter “doesn’t make sense.”

“I can tell you from past meetings, I not only encouraged discussion on any of this, I begged the board to get input on any of these projects,” Essek said. “There’s been crickets. Nobody has wanted to discuss this unless we get this fully paid for.”

Trustee Scott Johnston said, “Everything has doubled, tripled and quadrupled in price. I don’t think $2.5 million (for the new interconnect) is actually even close to what it would be currently with materials.” Johnston advocated using part of the grant to find out how much such a project would actually cost currently.

Britz wondered what else the village could do with the grant, asking for options. “Whatever project you have that has a hard cost to it, can be plugged in and I’ll change the narrative,” Gordon said. He added that it would be good to have a list of such projects available to look at.

The trustees agreed to get lists of ideas for projects to spend the grant on, from Department of Public Works head Scott Marsh and from Chris Surma, who runs the water treatment plant. In fact, Marsh began texting ideas to Bashaw while the meeting was still going on, she reported.

Gordon will have to work quickly: The grant application is due July 30.


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