The City of Sedalia is still moving forward with a $10.09 million federal grant for its newest industrial park despite nearly a year of delays at the federal level.
The city received the U.S. Department of Transportation grant in December to help extend existing railroad tracks to the new Sedalia Rail Industrial Park in northeast Pettis County, which is home to Nucor.
According to City Administrator Kelvin Shaw and Public Works Director Brenda Ardrey, the city is hard at work completing USDOT requirements for the city to receive the funds.
“It’s federal funding so there are mountains of red tape...” Shaw explained. “It’s been a frustrating situation for us because it seems like every time we jump through a hoop they throw another two up in the air and we have to jump through those.
“It has been a slow and agonizing process. Brenda has been burning a lot of midnight oil and getting a lot of information. I joke about the file has to weigh 40 pounds before they can approve it but I think they’re up to about 140 pounds.”
The city initially was told it should qualify for a categorical exclusion, which means it would not be required to do many of the studies or “red tape” otherwise required. After submitting the information needed for the exclusion, the city was told months later the USDOT was not sure whether it would need the additional information so the city needed to submit it all anyway.
“The whole thing about categorical exclusion is it’s supposed to tell you you need to do full-blown environmental surveys and cultural surveys,” Ardrey explained. “... Part of the categorical exclusion is also the size of the project. Relatively speaking, this is a very small project if you're looking at a highway or a rail project. That’s why we originally went that path...Then as we got into it, it was like, ‘well we need this and we need the full-blown environmental survey.’”
Since then, the city has been working to get all of the needed studies and paperwork completed. An archaeological study was conducted by Missouri State University to look at the historical and cultural importance of the ground. The Section 106 cultural resources survey was completed, which will go to the federal rail administration which then submits it to the state historic preservation office and the tribal historic preservation offices.
Environmental and wildlife studies were also done. The city had to make sure there were no endangered species within the project habitat and no suitable habitat for such a species. Ardrey said the city hit another snag when a property owner removed fence rows that could have potentially had a suitable habitat around them for Indiana Brown Bats, an endangered species.
The federal government shutdown from December to January, which started just two weeks after the city received the grant, further slowed down the process.
The USDOT also was converting the program that awarded the grant over to another program, which further muddled communication. The city has still not received the official statement of the award, which is the terms and conditions, according to Shaw; a draft was received a few weeks ago. Ardrey added out of the four letters she was sent with links to directions on what to do, none of them worked.
To speed up the process, Ardrey spent a weekend going through other grant applications similar to the city’s.
“Anything they cited anybody for as not being complete I made sure that I went back in and provided that information,” she said, noting it helped greatly with the amount of information city officials have been asked for.
The city also reached out to Missouri’s federal delegation, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., for assistance. Shaw said the trio has been helpful and Ardrey said the city has started to get more direct answers with their assistance. Nucor has also been patient, understanding, and helped in the capacities it can, according to Shaw.
“What we asked for is tell us all the hoops and we’ll jump through them,” he said. “We don’t want to bend any rules, we don’t want to break any rules, we just want to know what the rules are. They've been very helpful with that.”
The city is also applying for a pre-award authorization. This would allow the city to spend city money at its own risk prior to the federal government signing off on the grant, according to Shaw. The money would be paid back to the city through the grant once funds are received. The city would use its money to start on the purchase of properties needed for the project, which is a lengthy process, according to Ardrey.
To further delay the project, Ardrey and Shaw said they anticipate needing to rebid the project once funding is received since it has been so long since the initial bids.
“We’re a spot in their mountain,” Ardrey of the federal government. “$10 million is huge to a community of this size but overall, when you look at national transportation planning, it’s small. Sometimes it’s just making sure they understand that we were ready to go with this project. All we want is for us to dot their i’s and cross their t’s and start putting construction workers on the ground.”
“This site really was shovel ready,” Shaw added. “We had it bid out, we were ready to give notice of awards, but they weren't ready.”