By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management on Thursday said $348 million in grants and low-interest loans have been approved for 86 water and sewer projects around the state.
Most of the money is federal, including some of the $225 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding allocated for water and sewer by the Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey earlier this year.
A total of $473 million will be awarded through ADEM this year with more announcements in the coming months, the agency said.
“These funds are going to communities with the most critical needs, such as in the Black Belt, that would not otherwise be able to afford the repairs and upgrades on their own,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said in a written statement. “These projects are going to have a significant, positive effect on the lives of millions of Alabamians.”
Alabama Daily News reported last month municipalities and their utility providers applied for $3.1 billion for nearly 600 water and sewer projects.
“We make no pretense that we can satisfy all the water and sewer infrastructure needs in the state of Alabama,” LeFleur’s Thursday statement said. “The billions of dollars in requests we have received total several times the amount of money we have available. Projects we are not able to fund this year will be considered for funding in future years.”
Lawmakers and Ivey put the $225 million in ARPA funds into three categories: $120 million for sewer systems for “emergency or high need projects;” $100 million as matching grants; and $5 million for Blackbelt sewer projects.
Separate from the COVID-related ARPA funding, ADEM is including in this year’s allocations $137 million from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law approved by Congress last year. The state expects a total of $765 million in water and sewer funding over five years.
Meanwhile, the state also has about $111 million in grant and loan funding available through a state revolving fund.
Information about each project’s funding source has not been available through ADEM, but officials on Thursday said there are still APRA funds to distribute.
As of Thursday, grants have been awarded to projects in 48 of the state’s 67 counties. Spreadsheets on ADEM’s website list the water and sewer project applications and indicates those that have been granted. Awards range from less than $100,000 to $41 million for a wastewater project in Mobile.
To date, more than $77 million in grants approved for Black Belt communities. Those grants do not have to be repaid and in most cases do not require local matching funds. Another $45 million will be awarded to Black Belt projects later.
LeFleur last month told a panel of lawmakers that in allocating the money, ADEM is trying to balance the needs of areas with dire utility situations while also taking into account the needs of growing areas.
“We’re in triage mode, trying to find the ones with the most critical need,” LeFleur said.