Cass County eligible for $175,000 for conservation of energy projectsPublished 5:00am Saturday, September 5, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS – Cass County is eligible for $175,000 in grant funding for energy efficiency and conservation block grants.
The state has just announced the block grant program, Grants and Project Manager Sandy Gower advised the Board of Commissioners Thursday night.
Gower also reported that she met with Dowagiac District Library at its request to discuss potential funding sources for a library expansion project.
Commissioner Ed Goodman, D-Silver Creek Township, whose wife, Jackie, serves on the library board, asked what sort of sources Sandy identified.
“I haven’t been able to find any grant funding for those kinds of projects at this point,” Gower said. “I’ve been doing the same thing for Cass District Library. There are a lot of low-interest loans and good financing programs that they’re eligible for, but not grant money that will pay for bricks and mortar.”
Gower is working with Maintenance Supervisor Dave Dickey on potential energy projects.
The final request for proposals (RFP) has not been issued yet.
Potential projects could include an electric vehicle, boiler replacement at the Sheriff’s Office, wind and solar hot water units at Animal Control and the jail and replacing parking lot lights with LED illumination.
Information provided to date indicates that cooperative/joint projects with other jurisdictions would receive favorable consideration, she reported, so “we are contacting other jurisdictions to see if there is an interest.”
Gower assisted the Village of Vandalia with in infrastructure improvement grant to resurface a portion of Bogue Street. The project should be finished this construction season, with work done by the Cass County Road Commission.
She partnered with the Road Commission to obtain a federal highway grant for an eight-foot bike path/sidewalk from Hilton Street in Cassopolis to the county campus east of the village along M-62.
Gower told Commissioner Johnie Rodebush, D-Howard Township, “The Federal Highway Administration, which is where the funds are actually from, approved the project, but, as of this afternoon, MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) still had not approved it. MDOT says it has to be 10 feet, but there are areas where we cannot physically make it 10 feet wide. I don’t know what their issue is. We’ve been working up the chain at MDOT trying to get it shaken loose.”
Gower enumerated her economic development efforts as: providing staff services to the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) board, which includes preparing agendas, coordinating activities, researching potential programs and providing information on state, regional and local economic development activities.
“As chair of the EDC,” Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, said, “I want to say how much help Sandy has been to us in trying to identify opportunities. She’s been a great help to the EDC.”
She is the single point of contact responding to inquiries from the Web site and phone calls. Obtaining financing – grants – was the “primary area of interest.”
Gower met with Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) representatives and two local businesses to discuss potential state incentives for expansion projects.
She also worked with the Michiana Regional Economic Development Partnership. This includes the seven counties of Cass, Berrien and St. Joseph in Michigan and St. Joseph, Elkhart, Kosciusko and Marshall in Indiana.
“Sandy, I like to see you working with the Michiana Regional Economic Development Partnership,” praised Chairman Robert Wagel, R-Wayne Township. “State boundaries should not prohibit us from working together.” Wagel also inquired as to who was “keeping an eye on” the Edwardsburg corridor.
“I actually just met with Chuck Eckenstahler today,” Gower said. “They’re meeting Sept. 15 to start putting together the development plan they would use if they decide to create the TIF district. They’ll have a list of projects and cost estimates they’ll bring back to the county once they get it developed.”
Gower participated as a judge in the Lewis Cass Intermediate School District’s annual student business plan competition.
She coordinated the EDC’s first Economic Development Leadership Summit May 13. Several more summits are being planned to target specific segments of the community, including education and government.
Gower indicated she is developing the EDC’s effort to hold a “Venture Island” business plan competition like one in California described by economist George Erickcek at the 18th annual Intergovernmental Forum March 24 at Southwestern Michigan College Mathews Conference Center.
“They have new businesses develop a business plan and compete for a money prize. Most of the programs we’ve found around the country, the top prize is usually $10,000 raised through donations. We are working with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission to do this on a three-county basis” with Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties.
Gower partnered with a five-county consortium of Cass, Kalamazoo, Berrien, Van Buren and St. Joseph to co-host an MEDC-sponsored Manufacturing Diversification Summit at Southwestern Michigan College Aug. 19.
Purpose of the summit is to assist manufacturers with diversifying their product lines and customer base.
Targeted areas are defense, aerospace and alternative energy.
For Planning Commission, Gower provides staffing, including attending meetings, providing information on training opportunities, coordinating agendas and disseminating information on planning issues at the state level.
She completed the Michigan State University Citizen Planner Class along with four Planning Commission members.
She is facilitating a fall 2009 training session for local officials on smart growth principles for rural areas.
Gower also recently attended an adaptive re-use redevelopment seminar MSU Extension sponsored.
“Most of that concentrated on how you can redevelop historic buildings” such as the 1899 courthouse, she told commissioners. “They talked a lot about incentives and programs that are available for developers. We wouldn’t be eligible for them, but a private developer would be who helped make the project feasible because they can get tax breaks. There also were a lot of really good examples of things that have been done.”
Gower participated in the emergency management tabletop exercise, worked with the Parks and Recreation Commission on planning and funding for bike trails throughout the county, attended the public hearing for the Edwardsburg Corridor Improvement District and worked with the ad hoc group trying to preserve Underground Railroad history associated with the Bogue house in Vandalia.