Gateway Sun

Gateway owes an apology to the people and wild life that live near Estero Bay.

It turns out that our community’s sediments (and possibly our nitrogen) is being deposited there.

This is the basis for which GSCDD Supervisor Rod Senior made a $3,000 gamble on obtaining a federal grant under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act at the March 19, 2015 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

“This is good news,” announced Senior. “There is a federal grant available for lake bank restoration.”

Senior explained further: “There is $8 to 10 million available in the state of Florida. Handled by the DEP (Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection) on behalf of the federal government.”

The deadline for the application is March 31, 2015 said Senior.

We only called it a gamble after listening to Senior discuss his plan.

Senior has reached out to grant expert Ryan Ruskay to write up the application by the deadline at a cost of $3,000 for his services. You might recall that Ruskay is also the man who is applying for a grant on behalf of Gateway to get money to help pay for the soccer stadium lights to be replaced.

As for this newest grant, Senior states: “The reason why it’s believed that we’ll be successful is because of the Estero Bay Aquatic Reserve. There’s a lot of nutrients flowing in to there from 6 Mile Cypress into Mullock Cove .. Mullock Creek .. Mullock .. whatever they call it. [room laughter] and then into Estero Bay and there’s too much nitrogen flowing in to Estero Bay.”

Senior corrected himself, “Nutrients.” (Not nitrogen.)

“We can make the case that it’s sediment at the top of the box – not nitrogen, sediment – that’s flowing into our storm water system and in to the 6 Mile Cypress and into Mullock and into Estero Bay,” added Senior.

Vice-Chairman Margaret Fineberg asked how much the grant application would cost. Senior gave the $3000 figure and said that Ruskay is available by telephone if any of the Supervisors wants to speak with him.

Then Fineberg asked Senior if he’d like to make a motion.

“Yeah I’d like to suggest we apply for a grant,” replied Senior.

Gateway’s attorney Anthony Pires Jr. asked Senior what dollar amount they’d be applying for.

Senior didn’t know.

“I asked [Ruskay] that question and he couldn’t tell me the dollar ceiling,” said Senior.

(A bit of editorializing here, but doesn’t that seem like an important piece of information to have?)

Nevertheless, a motion was on the floor so Pires went through the process of describing the grant, explained Senior’s motion in full, stated the cost parameters, and basically set the floor for the vote from the Supervisors.

Supervisor Gary Neubauer seconded the motion.

Senior offered one last time: “If the board has any questions, [Ruskay] is available by telephone if any of you want to talk with him.”

Aye! .. Aye! .. Aye! .. said the Supervisors, one by one.

“You want to talk with him?” asked Senior.

“NO!” said the Supervisors in unison.

“AHAHAHHAHAHA!” laughed everyone at the meeting.

The ayes served as the the votes in favor. Motion passed 4-0, and yes that’s exactly how it happened, including the laughter.

Because it was so hilarious.

Gateway obviously isn’t the only community in Florida with lake bank restoration issues who will be applying for this grant money. But we’re probably the only one that didn’t know how much we could apply for before authorizing spending $3,000 to apply for it.

Just imagine if it turned out that the limit was $2,500.

The whole thing lasted three and a half minutes in the board meeting. The fact nobody knew what the odds were that we would get the grant, nobody knew how much we could apply for, and that nobody knew what level of competition there would be from other communities in Florida didn’t seem to bother any of the Supervisors.

But it bothered us. So we reached out to Senior.

In an email to the Sun, Senior explained that Gateway’s Fixed Asset Reserves are simply inadequate to solve the lake bank restoration problems so the GSCDD is forced to look at other funding opportunities.

He also clarified that the available grant money was $6-7 million, rather than the $8-10 million mentioned at the board meeting. Senior also provided far more concrete answers to the basic questions surrounding this grant application than he was able to share in the meeting, by writing:

———————-

Section 319 grant applications are evaluated and administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the deadline is March 31, 2015. Given the imminence of this deadline, I approached Ryan Ruskay of RMPK Funding. Mr. Ruskay has previous experience working inside the DEP and specializes in federal and state grant applications. He has demonstrated a 70% success record over 14 years as a consultant in obtaining such grants. If successful with this application, Mr. Ruskay believes that GSD will be awarded between $500,000 – $700,000 of Section 319 federal grant money. This would be a 60/40 matching grant whereby GSD would need to finance 2/3rd (i.e. 40/60) of the amount of federal grant. I think Mr. Ruskay’s fee for his services not to exceed $3000 is good value. At the March 19, 2015 GSD board meeting, I obtained the support of my board colleagues to authorize Mr. Ruskay to file the application. There are three or four more sources of federal, state and SFWM (Southwest Florida Water Management) grants available to GSD for the Pond Bank Restoration Project, each of which has various deadlines. My goal is for GSD to obtain a total of $2m in grant financing for the Pond Bank Restoration Project. The result would be that GSD’s contribution would be $2m or less, instead of $4m. It is important not to raise expectations too high because the grant process is competitive and quite complex. However, I really think it is worth GSD pursuing grant financing as part of a continuing effort to save money for Gateway residents wherever possible.

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Florida is 65,755 square miles. Gateway is 8.8 square miles, meaning we make up approximately 1/7400th of the state from a geographic standpoint. Population-wise we’re about 1/2400th.

The odds of a community that makes up 0.014% of Florida (geographically) getting 7-10% of the available grant funding seems pretty remote.

Senior believes that Ruskay’s extensive knowledge of the DEP’s inner workings when it comes to grants meant it was worth it to take a shot. After-all, if the GSCDD applied for 20 grants at $3,000 each and even 1 of them paid off it would be a huge win-fall and make the other 19 failures mostly meaningless. Or at most a ‘cost of doing business’ in the world of grant applications.

We understand that.

But the way the whole thing flew past the Supervisors with so little concrete information available to them, and with such small odds of success from a purely mathematical point of view – it just didn’t seem like that should be the standard operating procedure at GSCDD board meetings.

For now all we can do as a community is hope that Senior’s faith in Ruskay is well-placed. And we will say that based on the limited information we have about him, Ruskay is about as good of a partner as we could hope for in terms of applying for this money.

We just found it out of place how fast and loose the whole thing went down. And we still don’t like the numbers.

But we can promise you this: if Ruskay gets this grant the Sun will never question paying that man ever again.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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