Area organizations seek $1 billion in federal relief funds | Local News | #education | #technology | #training

ENID, Okla. — The release of applications for project requests under the 2021 federal coronavirus relief bill shows that Enid and Northwest Oklahoma entities are asking for more than $1 billion in funding for projects.

Release of the American Rescue Plan Act applications came after investigative news organization Oklahoma Watch filed an open records lawsuit against the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which previously had denied the news organization’s request for the records.

More than 1,400 applications were made for the money in Oklahoma, according to Oklahoma Watch, seeking more than $18 billion. The state has $1.87 billion to spend. Projects must be approved by the end of 2024, and the money must be spent by the end of 2026.

Several of the projects are statewide or multi-county in nature and include Garfield, Woods, Major, Alfalfa and Kingfisher counties.

All projects fall under five categories, which include Investments in Water, Sewer and Broadband; Public Health Expenditures; Addressing Negative Economic Impacts; Premium Pay for Essential Workers; and Lost Public Sector Revenue.

The projects are included in a detailed database on the Oklahoma Watch website at Projects are searchable by category and by name of entity requesting the funds.

For Northwest Oklahoma, more than $950 million in water, sewer and broadband projects have been requested.

Update to drinking water system

The largest request, $647,972,250 has been requested by the Alfalfa County Rural Water District to update the drinking water system to better serve current water customers and have the ability to add customers to their system.

ACRW will add additional lines, well fields, booster pumps and standpipes to extend and update the system with larger lines and pressure to serve the county border to border. To complete these updates, ACRW stated it will need large equipment and more workers.

Alfalfa County has a waitlist for customers they cannot add until these updates are made. The current system is about 60 years old and cannot support the growth of additional customers, the project request states.

Expanding broadband

Chisholm Broadband LLC has requested more than $300 million to expand broadband capacity to several counties across the state and in Northwest Oklahoma, including Garfield County.

Their proposals would expand broadband capacity directly to homes, businesses, and local governments in historically underserved rural communities.

Their requests state “We will provide high-speed broadband access for remote work, school and tele-medicine as well as access to online state services. By utilizing existing fiber-optic infrastructure we will extend the high bandwidth and low latencies benefits of fiber optic technology wirelessly, providing internet connections that exceed federal standards directly to end users. This provides much needed connectivity now, with a future proof expansion plan to meet internet needs into the future.”

Connecting the water lines

The city of Enid is asking for $20 million for a waterline infrastructure project to connect the Ames/Drummond well field to the new water treatment plant that processes surface water from Kaw Lake and well water from the well fields to distribute to the 75,000 people who live in or near Enid to provide good quality drinking water for the next 75-100 years.

More than $37 million in projects affecting Enid and Northwest Oklahoma have been requested under the Public Health category.

Seeking health care funding

Integris Health is requesting more than $35 million in funding that it says would serve patients statewide, including Garfield County.

One project would modernize the hospital system’s Sexual Trauma and Abuse Recovery (STAR) program. This program serves a significant number of children in DHS and OJA custody every year, totaling 3,596 patient days in 2021, according to Integris.

The project states, “These units provide high-quality, evidence based psychiatric care that aims to address specific trauma reactions, develop adaptive coping strategies, control impulsive behaviors and incorporate the family system in treatment and recovery processes as much as possible. This project aims to modernize Integris Health aging STAR units to provide an even higher level of care to those that call these units home for months and even years of their life.”

The other grant also would address mental health services Integris says would serve Garfield County patients through an Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment and Healing unit (EmPATH) to would allow for psychiatric assessment and evaluation to take place in a physical environment that is designed to be therapeutic, supportive and minimally restrictive. This unit would serve the system’s two largest facilities, Integris Health Baptist Northwest and Integris Health Southwest Medical Center.

Critical infrastructure

Fairview Regional Medical Authority is requesting $2 million in one-time funding to provide immediate capital to Fairview Regional Medical Center to be able to address high-cost infrastructure needs identified during the COVID 19 pandemic. The three critical infrastructure needs identified were upgrading the medical gas system, upgrading the HVAC system and upgrading the emergency back-up power system at the hospital.

Training opportunities

Under Addressing Negative Economic Impacts, Autry Technology Center is asking nearly $6 million for two projects.

The first proposed project, for $5 million, would build a 3-mile driving range and facility on Autry Technology Center property to provide driver training/testing opportunities for law enforcement, CDL drivers, firefighter/emergency services drivers and driver education for all of Northwest Oklahoma as well as other parts of the state.

The proposal states, “Currently there is a lack of this type of facility in Northwest Oklahoma. Enid Police Department has a state-of-the-art law enforcement training program to help meet the demand for quality police officers but lacks the ability to provide the driving portion of the training. They wish to partner with Autry to provide comprehensive law enforcement training. The driving facility would provide opportunities for training for the northwest quadrant of Oklahoma. Facilities are currently available in Ardmore and Oklahoma City but the distance from northwest Oklahoma makes driver training cost prohibitive (lodging, meals, time off work).

“Due to the lack of facilities in OK, there are limited training opportunities available. This driving range would provide more opportunities for training and testing and would be more economically feasible. This facility would also provide the opportunity for a partnership with the Department of Public Safety for CDL testing and driver license testing.”

Multi-purpose event center

Under Lost Public Sector Revenue, Alva Arena Authority in Woods County is asking for more than $16 million to develop an 85,000-square-foot multi-purpose event center.

The proposal states, “The Alva Regional Multi-Purpose Event Center is a project developed by a dual beneficiary public trust, beneficiaries being the City of Alva, Okla., and Woods County, Okla. The Alva Arena Authority was established to create a multi-purpose venue to enhance tourism and recruit business and their workers to the region.”

According to the proposal, the event center would include a dirt-floor arena for main events, a 31,000-square-foot exhibition hall, offices, conference room and exhibition area that can be divided into smaller units. The arena is expected to seat 1,100 people.

The projected project cost of a new arena is $29 million.

How projects are vetted

In May, lawmakers, frustrated with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s slow pace of approving ARPA projects, voted themselves into concurrent special sessions to evaluate project applications. Lawmakers are now approving funds for relief projects in the same way they use in the budget process.

Projects are vetted through working groups and subcommittees of the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding. Priorities include health care, behavioral health, workforce development, infrastructure and water and sewage projects. Each chamber then votes on the project funding with final approval from the governor.

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