City, RMU funding well project with $8 million worth of grants
‘If you look at the grant dollars we’ve received in the last six years, it's well over $10 million’
ROCHELLE — For its upcoming Well 8 iron removal plant project, the City of Rochelle and the Rochelle Municipal Utilities water department have received grants to cover the $8 million cost of the work, City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh and RMU Superintendent of Water/Water Reclamation Adam Lanning said.
Well 8 is off Caron Road near Wiscold Drive, and was drilled and built in the 1950s. It was shut off in the 1990s due to high iron levels becoming an issue for area users, and the well has been idle since. In Lanning’s tenure at RMU, each of the city’s wells has been rebuilt except for Well 8. The city considered drilling a new well to replace Well 8 and abandoning it, but chose to continue with it and pursued a grant for an iron removal plant.
“It's in the industrial park and will provide clean water for those businesses and provide job retention, which made us eligible for more money,” Lanning said. “Through the process we also received a Sen. Brian Stewart appropriation grant from the state for $1 million. And then we applied for a low-interest state loan. In this case because we're removing iron, we qualified for $6 million in principal forgiveness on the loan. The cost estimate for the project is about $8 million, so we're going to get a large portion of it paid for through grants. What that means for our customers is we won't have to raise rates.”
Lanning said the original cost estimate for the project was $4.5-5 million before rising prices were seen in recent years, and the grant funding kept the project “on the table and moving along.”
RMU has also received grants for sewer lining in the past 5-6 years.
“I put in a significant amount of my time to get these grants,” Lanning said, “It can be a lot, but it pays dividends. By getting them, it helps us accomplish all of the work we're getting done. We're in the same boat as a lot of other towns. We have aging infrastructure and we have to come up with ways to do those improvements.”
The city also recently received a $1.1 million grant for downtown redevelopment as part of the state’s Rebuild Illinois’ Downtowns and Main Streets program that it will use to reconstruct seven existing city parking lots, construct two new city parking lots, install three level-three electric vehicle charging stations and construct a public restroom facility to support the downtown district businesses and community events.
Fiegenschuh praised his staff members for their work on applying for grants to conserve taxpayer money and get more projects done each year.
“With project costs going up, it helps fund those additional costs,” Fiegenschuh said. “It reduces our overall debt that we owe and the burden on our ratepayers. It says something about Adam and our staff who go out there and just work hard to find as much money as they can to fund these projects. If we don't get it, somebody else is going to take it. Why not try to get as many of those dollars into Rochelle as possible? And these folks have done that.
City Community Development Director Michelle Pease heads up the downtown parking lot project and has applied for and received other grants for the city in the past. She called the grant process “lengthy”, but said it’s one of the things she enjoys most about her job.
Other grant-funded city projects in recent years have included the demolition of Hickory Grove, improvements to the City of Rochelle Railroad, and $265,000 given to local businesses to get them through COVID-19.
“The total of grants we've secured in recent years is in the millions,” Fiegenschuh said. “If you look at the grant dollars we’ve received in the last six years, it's well over $10 million in grants. And I'm not even counting the $8 million that Adam got. That's close to $20 million in grants in the last 6-7 years that we've secured for downtown improvements, COVID-19, railroad, water, waste water, Hickory Grove and hopefully soon, the electric side.”
Pease said the receipt of grants requires a lot of documentation with the issuing body which is done by multiple city departments. Reports on the project’s progress, even after it’s completed, are required in many cases.
“It's a nice collaboration between multiple people and departments,” Pease said. “There's a great deal of work behind the scenes, but millions and millions of dollars come into the city that's free money is well worth every minute spent.”
Fiegenschuh said that receiving grants as a city helps to reprioritize funds for other projects and to do projects more quickly.
“I think our staff does a fantastic job with grants,” Fiegenschuh said. “We're always out there trying to secure additional funding for projects. If it's a project the city council wants, we're going to look for alternative funding for it.”