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Federal earmark freeze chills local funding requests: Pajaro Valley...

Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Federal earmark freeze chills local funding requests: Pajaro Valley water agency seeks to tap new federal funding source

WATSONVILLE -- Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency leaders are waiting for a $13.6 million federal reimbursement for construction of a wastewater treatment plant.

The check is not in the mail -- and it may never come.

The funding, authorized by Congress but not appropriated, is hung up in the federal spending debate. Millions of dollars for other Santa Cruz County projects -- from Pajaro River levee improvements and rail line repairs to a Dominican Hospital program aimed at at-risk births and a wetlands education program based at Pajaro Valley High School -- also are in jeopardy due to a freeze on the controversial appropriation system known as earmarks.

At best the fate of stalled earmark funding is uncertain, according to David Beltran, spokesman for Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel.

But as one source of funding dries up, water agency officials are looking for others to tap. For starters, they are applying to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for a $2 million grant.

"It's another way for us to get the dollars that we've already been authorized for," said Mary Bannister, agency general manager.

But that grant isn't assured, either.

According to Lydia Gutierrez, an agency consultant, the grants are designed to get at a backlog of federal funding promises and will provide reimbursement money for already completed projects. But the grants are competitive, and Pajaro Valley doesn't meet all the criteria, such as protecting endangered species, she said.

The White House's just released budget includes $23 million for the grant program, Gutierrez said. Across the western states, 56 agencies are eligible to apply.

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission also will be looking elsewhere for $1 million it hoped Farr could secure for repairs to its newly acquired rail line, said Deputy Director Luis Mendez.

But Mendez said the agency's immediate plans for recreational rail service would not be affected because the segment of line from Santa Cruz to Davenport is in better shape than other segments and doesn't need to be upgraded now.

"If the commission wants to do something with the rest of the line, yes, not having the funds to make the rest of the improvements could impact that," Mendez said.

$5 million, Pajaro River levee rebuild

$500,000, Santa Cruz Harbor dredging

$500,000, Dominican Hospital fetal monitoring program

$13.6 million, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency recycled water plant

$500,000, San Lorenzo River flood control

$211,500, Health Improvement Partnership outreach in Pajaro Valley schools

$400,000, Chabad of Santa Cruz program for at-risk youth

$1 million, Santa Cruz County psychiatric health facility

$268,000, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Pajaro Valley schools wetlands education program

$1 million, Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission railway rehabilitation

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