Legislature chips in $1 million for Airglades

LABELLE — Momentum is gathering behind Hendry County as it seeks further state and federal assistance to build a crucial piece of plumbing for the looming development surrounding Airglades airport’s conversion into a privately owned cargo hub.

Commissioner Karson Turner asked to pull an item from the county board’s consent agenda for its regular meeting Tuesday night, July 16, to let commissioners discuss the multimillion-dollar plan to build a wastewater force main from the City of Clewiston out to the airport, a distance of over 6 miles. The county-owned airport’s purchase by an investor consortium of Florida growers and shippers called Airglades International Airport LLC, led by CEO Fred Ford, is expected to be finalized within a few months.

Mr. Turner said he and county Public Information Officer Emily Hunter had met recently with Hendry’s lobbying firm, Gray-Robinson, and he made the formal announcement about the 2019 Legislature’s allocation for the project.

“We were awarded a million dollars from the State of Florida. I think we’re approaching a million six now ($1.6 million) or maybe a little bit more … in total, and I just think it’s time for us to be brought up to speed on that overall project. I don’t remember the details of us hiring Tetra Tech … or what exactly their role was.”

He said wanted clarification, “and then, what is going to be the next step or the next 10 steps with that project?”

‘Invest … wisely, swiftly’

“Where are we going to invest that money?” Commissioner Michael Swindle chimed in. “We need to do that wisely and swiftly…” Mr. Turner agreed, adding, “Swiftly is the key word there.”

The agenda item, a request presented by Grants & Special Projects Coordinator Janet Papinaw, called for commissioners to authorize staff to proceed with two or more specific grant applications to finance the full project, which is expected to cost several million dollars. The county had made requests for up to $14 million to put in the wastewater system connecting to Clewiston’s treatment plant, Mr. Turner noted.
As for progress on the overall project, Ms. Papinaw’s report said: “The due diligence and permitting phase, funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), is near completion. The construction phase is estimated to cost $4 million, and the funding sources need to come from at least three sources to complete this project. Estimates for construction are a few years old, and the decommissioning of the existing package plant was not included at the time. The exact cost will be determined by competitive bid.”

Needed matches being sought
The report stated that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) provides funding through the Public Works and Economic Development Adjustment Assistance Program and that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) provides funding through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund for infrastructure projects that attract businesses, create jobs and promote economic growth.

The construction phase of the Airglades to Clewiston Waste Water Forcemain Project is estimated to cost $4 million. The EDA requires a dollar-to-dollar match ($2 million). The Legislature’s appropriated $1 million is eligible for matching funds, the report said, and the balance of $1 million may be applied for through the DEO to complete the project.

County Administrator Jennifer Davis said that Hendry County “applied for an 80-20 grant from EDA.” Mr. Turner said, “That was for $13 million, plus or minus, right?” The county did not get it. “Now,” she added, “we have another opportunity for a 50-50 grant with EDA — same agency, just a different avenue — and we’re also looking at a DEO grant for about $1 million. And she’s asking for your approval, if we identify a grant opportunity for us to be able to apply, so we can get the entire $4 million put together,” Ms. Davis said. “We’re also looking at the USDA — every opportunity.”

She also explained that the Tetra Tech contract Mr. Turner asked about is still in force.

With that, Commissioner Darrell Harris moved to approve the request and the board quickly voted 5-0 to go forward with whatever grant applications staff can find. County Attorney Mark Lapp was cleared to execute the necessary papers, and Board Chairman Mitchell Wills to sign them.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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