Last week’s announcement of $87 million in federal stimulus funding for the Los Osos sewer project — while not unexpected — was nonetheless a huge relief. The $87 million from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture — consisting of an $83 million low-interest loan and a $4 million grant — is about half the amount needed for the $166 million project.
That’s good news, yet we couldn’t help but notice that the grant amount of $4 million is considerably less than the $16 million that had been mentioned in past discussions.
Turns out, timing may have been a big issue. The project could have been eligible for as much as $16 million in grant funding had the application been filed earlier.
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However, the application could not be submitted until a permit was granted. And according to county officials, delays in granting the permit — including a nearly six-month continuance by the state Coastal Commission — caused the application to be filed later than originally hoped. By that time, the pot of grant money had shrunk.
On the other hand, the news could have been much worse. Had the county been forced to wait any longer to apply, it could have missed out on the funding entirely.
That would have been a major blow. The USDA terms are extremely favorable — the loan is for 40 years, at 3.25 percent interest — and without that financing, the project could wind up costing homeowners as much as $40 per month more.
Keep in mind that even with the USDA funding, it’s still going to be a financial stretch for many. It will cost homeowners the equivalent of around $160 per month to pay for the project and to cover operation and maintenance costs.
However, county officials are hoping to reduce that amount even further. They are trying to secure another low-interest loan from the state to finance the balance of the project, as well as additional grants and loans to benefit low-income residents in particular.
But we get ahead of ourselves.
For now, we want to acknowledge last week’s accomplishment and give a round of applause to all who had a hand in it.
Credit goes to the staffs of various government agencies working on the project, especially the county Public Works Department.
Also, many public officials helped secure the USDA funding, including Rep. Lois Capps, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, state Sen. Sam Blakeslee and county Supervisor Bruce Gibson.
In this era of near-constant political strife, their bipartisan effort is a model of the way things can — and should — work.