The City of St. Helens has been rejected for the 2019 BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) Transportation Discretionary Grants program, receiving notification from the U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday, Nov. 14 according to a press release from the city.
The grant would have given the city $11.1 million in federal grant funding to extend The Strand Street and South 1st Street south, link the two streets to complete a loop on the waterfront property and tie the street extensions into Tualatin Street and South 2nd Street with a pedestrian path. It also would have funded approximately 1,500 feet of boardwalk and trail across the Columbia River.
The total project cost would be $12.6 million, city officials have stated. City officials have said the project would be key to the Waterfront Redevelopment Project.
John Walsh, City Administrator said that while the pool of applicants was smaller this year, only one project from Oregon was granted funds. There were 55 projects from across the country awarded funding this year, according to the city’s press release. The city applied for the grant in July of this year.
This is the second time the city has been rejected for the BUILD grant, having submitted a similar application and being rejected in December of 2018.
In 2018, there were 851 applications total, with only 11 percent being successful, the press release states. Last year, the city’s application finished in the top 12 percent of applications, Walsh said.
City staff will attend a debrief with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in January of 2020 to receive feedback on this year’s application.
“We had an excellent application. I don’t think it’s for lack of quality,” Walsh said about the 2019 BUILD application. “I think it’s just that there’s so many projects. If this was 20 years ago, this project would be funded easily.”
Walsh also said the federal grant money is not the sole funding opportunity the city is exploring. Grants on the state level, as well as from the Urban Renewal Agency, which would ideally be used as matching funds for grants, are also options, Walsh explained.
The failure to acquire funding does not mean the project will not happen, according to city officials.
A press release from the city states that the City of St. Helens remains committed to the St. Helens Waterfront Redevelopment Project and will continue to work to increase public access to a portion of the Columbia River, formerly owned by private industrial sites Boise White Paper, LLC and Veneer Mill.
Walsh echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s one of our highest priorities and we’re doing everything we can to ty to make it happen. We’re not going to compromise, we’re going to try and get it right,” Walsh said.