Earmark for Hayden Center gets project close to full funding, could be done by end of 2022 | SteamboatToday.com

Earmark for Hayden Center gets project close to full funding, could be done by end of 2022

Hayden is close to securing most of the funding it needs to complete the Hayden Center by the end of next year after a return of the controversial practice long known as earmarks to Congress this spring.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, announced that $2.87 million has been directed toward Hayden in a yet-to-be-approved bill — part of a list of 56 projects totaling $115 million Bennet was able to get through the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“It will get us within $650,000 of finishing the whole thing,” said Hayden Town Manager Mathew Mendisco. “As opposed to maybe 2023 or even 2024, if it happens and the grant we applied for from the state happens, we’ll be able to complete everything by the end of next year.”

The Hayden Center opened earlier this spring with limited amenities, while construction continued to turn the former high school into a regional center with fitness facilities, performing arts spaces, community kitchen, technology room and child care center, among other things.

Mendisco said there have been some construction delays because of supply chain issues, but things were still on schedule for the child care facility, operated by Totally Kids, to open in January 2022. Other stalled phase one work should be done by February, he said.

“We’re actually still on budget,” he said. “To be on budget in this type of inflationary market, I think that’s a great thing.”

In 2011, both Republican and Democrat parties voted to ban the controversial practice, now referred to as congressionally designated spending, after earmarks were often associated with corruption — perhaps most famously with a project dubbed the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska that received a $223 million earmark in 2005.

But both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives reversed that this year, each voting within their conference to allow earmarks once again, now with more safeguards in place to prevent corruption.

Senate Democrats also reintroduced the practice earlier this year, and while Senate Republicans voted to maintain the so-called earmark ban, the vote was symbolic, and several Republican senators have asked for congressionally designated spending.

“Congressionally directed spending is an opportunity for senators to help fund projects that are important to communities across their state but may get overlooked by a traditional agency review process,” said Kate Oehl, a spokesperson for Bennet’s office. “The Hayden Center is an example of a project that would have a tremendous economic impact for the community.”

Mendisco said Bennet encouraged him to put together an application for the funding, and the project was relatively high on Bennet’s priority list. The project being “shovel ready” probably helped garner support, Mendisco said.

Money for the Hayden Center is part of several Senate appropriations bills that are being negotiated by the House and Senate appropriations committees. The bills are required annually to fund the government. But Congress failed to pass a budget by Oct. 1, which prompted the passage of a continuing resolution to maintain current levels of federal funding until Dec. 3.

“Our office is hopeful that a majority of Sen. Bennet’s requested projects will be included in a final spending bill, and he will continue to advocate for their inclusion,” Oehl said.

After the appropriations committees negotiate a final spending bill — talks that Politico reported earlier this month are at a standstill — it will need to be approved by both chambers.

The Hayden Center money is part of $158 million Bennet and Colorado’s other U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper have designated for Colorado.

The overall spending, if approved as currently outlined, would have an impact to the west of Hayden, as well.

Nearly $1 million is slated to go to the city of Craig to acquire three affordable housing sites, and another $1.3 million is for emergency generators needed to maintain Craig’s water and wastewater treatment facilities during a power failure.

Other local projects proposed included extending Steamboat Springs’ Yampa River Core Trail to the west by more than 2 miles; repaving the parking lot and adding an air conditioning system at the South Routt Medical Center in Oak Creek for $260,000; and replacing the deteriorating Moffat County Courthouse. Each of these are no longer being considered for funding this time around.

Mendisco said he believes the Hayden Center was a high priority project in part because the town is impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels, something he said Bennet has made a priority to address, especially in Northwest Colorado.

Hayden is also entered into a federal competition for pandemic relief dollars to build an industrial park near the airport — funding that also is partially targeted at coal-impacted communities.

“They have really been pushing forward our coal transition type stuff,” Mendisco said of Bennet and his staff. “We’re hitting on so many gaps that we know we all have. I think it’s easy to support a good project.”

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