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Stimulus money has tight deadlines

Sean Ryan

Supertight project deadlines may explain why only one community in northern Wisconsin – and 20 in the entire state – applied to share in $2 million in federal stimulus money to clean up contaminated sites.

The northern Wisconsin village of Baldwin asked for about $30,000 from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources program to demolish a building and clean a contaminated site. The catch: Grant applications were due last week and project work must begin by Oct. 1.

Village President Don McGee acknowledged that the tiny window of opportunity may be an advantage for Baldwin.

“We were ready to go,” he said. “That was probably our plus.”

The village is accepting bids for the demolition project even though it does not know whether it will get a grant. If the DNR rejects the application, the village will simply plug in more of its own money to complete the project, McGee said.

Baldwin plans to demolish the Thompson Building, a vacant office at 705 Main St. The village on Wednesday will acquire the building and later will demolish it and remove contaminated soil from the site. The village plans to resell the land for new development, McGee said.

The state in May received $2 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the DNR Ready to Reuse Hazardous Substance Loans and Grants Program, which provides money to clean contaminated properties.

John Sager, a hydrogeologist in the DNR’s northern region, said municipalities were not even calling with questions about the grant program.

“That’s the sole one that we’ve seen,” he said of the Baldwin application, “and we don’t know why that is.”

Baldwin has budgeted some of its own money toward the project, and has a DNR grant to tear down the Thompson Building. The stimulus money would pay for contaminated soil that was discovered on the site this year, McGee said.

“We figured that if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,” he said.

Bids for the less than $50,000 demolition are due Sept. 9, but the village won’t know whether the DNR will approve its request until after the contract is awarded, said Dennis Johnson, supervisor of environmental services for project engineer Ayres Associates Inc., Eau Claire. The cost of the project could actually increase if it gets stimulus money, he said. So Baldwin is asking for two bids — one for a stimulus project, one for a regular village demolition job.

“From a contractor’s standpoint, there’s Buy America provisions, federal wage rates and all sorts of provisions,” Johnson said. “How that translates into the bid costs, I don’t know, but it could increase it.”

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