Erick Toledo, Water Specialist, New England and Jenna Day, Community Development Specialist, New England
When is a bridge an asset to be considered in your water system’s financial planning? One small system, the Leino Park Water District, located in Westminster, Massachusetts, is an example of just that. The residents and water board knew they had to do something to replace this crumbling structure that was integral to servicing their community. Its value was always clear to the sixty-five households for whom it was the only right of way, but unfortunately it was not a priority for local or state highway funding. One would not normally categorize this as a water system asset, but out of desperation, ingenuity was born.
After nearly a decade of patching the physical structure and countless meetings with town and state officials, the Leino Park Water District board members were told the sixty-five homes served by the bridge were too few to qualify for traditional road and bridge funding sources. Then the Leino Park Water District Board took matters into their own hands. They secured clear ownership to the bridge and land on which it is built and approached USDA Rural Development (RD) program staff to discuss their options. The had a good relationship with RD, having successfully completed loan repayments on a past water infrastructure project, so they figured they would see if they could apply for funding assistance from federal infrastructure dollars to replace the aged bridge.
Unfortunately, what looked like a promising standard application process that the system had been through before has since become more complicated and ground to a halt. RCAP Solutions received a referral from the MA/CT/RI state RD office in November 2017 to assist in the application process. Under a very tight deadline, RCAP Solutions’ staff completed the required Environmental Assessment (EA) to expedite Leino Park’s application for the replacement of the bridge. RCAP Solutions staff completed this report for free under their USDA Technitrain grant within three months. This service is often something systems pay for out of pocket—but it is an eligible work product under several RCAP’s funding sources. If your system is struggling to find funding for your required EA or Preliminary Engineering Report (PER)—contact your local RCAP and/or RD office. Like in the case of Leino Park, if your local RCAP has the expertise, they could assist and provide these services free of charge. RD also has pre-development planning grants available for low income systems that can cover these application development costs: https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/water-waste-disposal-predevelopment-planning-grants.
Another option is the Community Engineering Corps (CEC), the domestic version of Engineers Without Borders. They have a very simple application process—although they mostly provide free engineering services for low income systems—they consider each application one on one to determine need and eligibility: http://www.communityengineeringcorps.org/.
The Board of the Leino Park Water District submitted their USDA RD funding application and though there have been a few setbacks, they are confident that funds will soon be awarded, maybe even this federal fiscal year. RCAP Solutions, the local RD staff and the Leino Park Board worked closely together to accomplish this. The existing bridge, pilings, and concrete abutments will be removed and replaced with a timber structure, designed, engineered, and built on-site that will meet or exceed state/ local specifications. Now that they own the right of way, they can plan to maintain this community/water system asset into the future. Fixing it now will ensure public safety and will allow local municipal and emergency vehicles easy access to the 65 homes if needed that they currently do not have.