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When time is short, find an airplane and a pilot

In an attempt to meet a deadline for the submission of an application for a $7.7 million grant funding package, town staff was, almost literally, flying by the seat of their pants.

In fact, Town Planner James Dickhoff had to take a flight out of Stevens Field last month in order to deliver the grant application to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) representatives in Denver, squeaking in the door with the town’s documents just in time to meet that day’s deadline.

As the grant application approached the 11th hour, it became evident that driving to Denver put meeting the deadline in jeopardy. It was at that point that Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem began making calls to find another way to get the application turned in. Several phone calls later, not only had the town secured the services of the local San Juan Flyers flying club (with pilot Randy Barlow volunteering to take the helm), but received an offer from RD Whittington of The Springs Resort to cover the expense of fuel and maintenance.

It’s no wonder the town scurried to complete the application, burning the midnight oil (again, almost literally) in order to copy and collate necessary documents, then taking the extreme step of securing a flight out of Stevens Field to make the trip to Denver: The town could be getting around $6 million in GOCO grants to fund improvements in and around the San Juan River in town, a project qualifying for GOCO’s River Corridors Initiative Grant.

Late last year, town staff was informed it had been approved for the second round of funding determination for the lottery-funded grant. At that time, Dickhoff reported to council that the town would apply for $2 million in GOCO River Corridors Initiative Grant money.

According to a December GOCO press release, $18 million was available for grants in 2012 for projects centered on river corridors. However, in a press release provided to the town at the start of this year, that available amount doubled, leading town staff to bump up its request in order to complete the entire proposed plan, rather than staging the project in phases, pursuing potential grant funding in a piecemeal manner.

In late January, Dickhoff informed the Pagosa Springs Town Council that the town would need to provide a partial match for additional GOCO funding, committing to over $300,000 a year over the next three years, leading to $7.7 million in total costs for the expanded project.

That project would include finishing the trail from the current terminus to the 6th Street river bend, then tying the system in with the trail on the opposite side of the river with a new pedestrian bridge. The project also proposes installing other trail amenities, such as shaded river observation structures, educational interpretive displays, restrooms and parking.

The process began following a Request for Concept Papers by GOCO issued last August, when 63 papers were submitted, with just 17 projects invited to apply for grants, and the Town of Pagosa Springs being one of the towns invited to apply.

While flying to Denver may seem like taking extreme measures in order to meet a deadline, Dickhoff said that last-minute submissions of grants are the norm and not the exception.

“We got it there around four or four-fifteen,” Dickhoff said, “and GOCO was still waiting on five other applications.

“This is not atypical for grants. Everyone wants to turn in the best product they can and that usually means waiting until the last minute to turn it in because it’s such a competitive process.

“All seventeen grants were delivered that day,” Dickhoff added.

As to why the town cut it so close in completing the application, Dickhoff said, “Unfortunately, it seemed like almost every element was late getting to us.”

However, both Dickhoff and Mitchem said that it was a team effort in getting the application ready for final submission — reams of paperwork that amounted to around 150 each, with 10 binders going to GOCO staff and another 30 packets provided to GOCO board members.

“There were quite a few hands working on it (the grant application),” Mitchem said, stating that local firms Davis Engineering and Riverbend Engineering provided site sketch plans and civil engineering designs, while additional town staff took on various aspects of completing the application.

Mitchem added that, as the deadline closed in, the town took advantage of a “portfolio” of contract grant writers offered by the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation.

“We had a grant writer working on it, as well,” Mitchem said, “that came out of the CDC’s portfolio.”

Fortunately, the flight to Denver was greeted by clear, unseasonably warm weather and the town was able to meet a deadline that could well determine the future of the San Juan River through town.

Final determination for which projects receive funding will be made in June.

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