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Mitchell leaders compile infrastructure project list hoping to secure $13M in COVID-19 relief funds

City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said the restrictions that the city has to abide by in spending American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief money looks “a lot” different than than the CARES Act spending requirements.

Mitchell City Hall 5.jpg
The front entrance of Mitchell City Hall at 612 N. Main St. (Matt Gade / Republic file photo)

With the possibility of roughly $13 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan being up for grabs, city leaders are identifying major projects that could qualify to receive funding.

As part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that President Joe Biden signed into law in March, South Dakota received just over $974 million. Gov. Kristi Noem is proposing to allocate $600 million of that COVID-19 relief money toward water and sewer infrastructure improvements, which would be dispersed to cities throughout the state. Of that $600 million, Mitchell could receive up to around $13 million.

However, each city must first identify water and sewer infrastructure projects and the costs associated with them to have an opportunity at securing the state funds. On Monday, the Mitchell City Council began sorting through the infrastructure projects that could qualify.

“We’ve been told the ARPA money is going to be targeted in the first and second funding rounds coming up shortly,” Schroeder said, noting the first round is slated for January. “If we apply for these projects, that doesn’t mean we have to do them. We can back out if we don’t get the funding we thought we were going to get.”

Considering the city is planning to make roughly $33 million in infrastructure improvements in 2022, the timing of the potential funding opportunity works out nice for the city.

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During Monday’s City Council work session, Schroeder said bringing improvements to the south wastewater treatment plant is one of the “biggest” projects on the list that “needs to be done” in the near future. But it’s also the costliest project on the list, coming in at $30 million.

“It’s a big project and investment going about 40 to 50 years into the future. This is something that needs to be done, and there should be about $10 million of improvements we should be doing now,” he said.

With the south wastewater treatment plant project, it would address both of the city’s aging wastewater plants. As part of the 2022 budget, the city is bringing $10 million worth of improvements to the north wastewater treatment plant where crews remove contaminants from wastewater or sewage, which allows it to be returned to the water cycle with minimal environmental impact.

The city has already received a little over $7 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds since the pandemic, which includes $2.8 million from ARPA and $4.6 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act . But the latest round of potential funding could provide the city with its largest sum of money from pandemic relief funds yet.

However, the restrictions that the city has to abide by in spending ARPA pandemic relief money looks “a lot” different this time around. City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said most cities are planning to spend ARPA money on water and sewer infrastructure related projects because it will be the easiest to get funded through the federal relief money.

Ellwein noted the CARES Act that former President Donald Trump signed into law in 2020, which was specifically designed to provide economic relief for entities that were drastically impacted by COVID-19, had fewer requirements to spend the money.

“We initially thought first responders' wages could be covered with ARPA, but you have to document that the majority of their time is spent responding to the pandemic,” Ellwein said. “But with the CARES Act, they just assumed you were.”

Replacing the aging lift station at West 23rd and Ohlman Avenue near Lake Mitchell is another vital project the city will attempt to secure state funding.

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According to Terry Aker, civil engineer with SPN and Associates, the typical life expectancy of the city's lift stations hover around 30 years, and Mitchell has several that are 50 years or older. Of the 14 lift stations in Mitchell, Aker said at least 12 were in need of some sort of improvement during his presentation of a sewer system evaluation he gave to the City Council roughly two years ago.

“The existing structure is almost 50 years old, and there are significant odor issues and deterioration,” Schroeder said, noting plans call for moving the lift station across the road.

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