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Porterdale to seek development grants
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Porterdale’s city storm water system has deteriorated in many parts of the city to the point that the old clay pipes are nearly or totally nonexistent, city officials said Tuesday.

 The city is planning to apply for a federal Community Development Block Grant, which could total between $500,000 and $800,000, to begin replacing that rotted, leaking or nonexistent infrastructure and possibly begin a lending program for qualifying homeowners to make repairs and exterior renovations to their properties.

 “Once you get past the inlet, the drain, there’s nothing, no pipe,” Robert Witcher, director of the Public Works Department, said Tuesday.

 The city has until April 2 to put together an application for the federal grants, and to decide which they have the best chance of nabbing. It considered two types of federal grants: A single-project grant for $500,000, which would likely focus just on the storm water lines and would require a $10,000 local cash match, or an $800,000 multi-project grant that would cover both infrastructure and housing and would require a $40,000 local match.

 City officials said storm water lines along Hemlock Street could be a prime candidate for grant money because much of the surrounding neighborhood drains into a line there before being discharged into the Yellow River.

 That area was chosen because of the nexus of infrastructure, specifically storm water drainage that was called “horrible” Tuesday, and a higher level of poverty. It could also qualify for a housing grant because it has a higher home ownership rate.

 All the grant work is in the preliminary stages and no decisions have been made as to which projects to seek funding for and which grants to apply to. The City Council and mayor will have to officially sign off on the application. Funding would not be approved until at least September, state officials said.

 Specifically, officials considered those projects that are of the greatest need to the city and the projects that would benefit the most low income residents. Glenn Misner, director of the Office of Field Services for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which distributes the federal CDBG money for many cities and counties, said those types of projects generally are more competitive for grant money.

 The neighborhood surrounding the existing mill on Ivy Street also has at least 20 percent of the population earning less than the federal poverty line, said Nina Kelly, a project manager with the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Commission. That means the grant application would be more competitive than if a project were selected in another part of the city.

 Additionally, the city could use SPLOST funding to install a new drainage line from Hemlock Street to the river before work begins there on a new park, and that SPLOST money could count toward the required local match. The city’s investment in storm water projects in that area would also help the application be more competitive.

 The $500,000 single project infrastructure grant is highly competitive, state officials said.

 If the city can show the need is great enough and there are enough occupier-owned properties in the area, the city could qualify for a multi-project grant, where the city would install new storm water lines and establish a lending fund for low income homeowners.

 That grant, which totals $800,000, could be easier to get, but may be harder to qualify for. However, the money could be the seed for an ongoing lending pool, where money would be loaned to needy homeowners in the designated neighborhood. The homeowner would pay the loan back to the city, which then lend again. The money could remain in a designated account and could be continuously lent to homeowners who qualify.

 Kelly said city officials would have to provide more detailed information on exactly which and how many properties are rentals. Bob Thomson, the Porterdale city manager, said his office could complete maps depicting the housing situation in that neighborhood by the end of the week.

 City officials said much of the city’s underground infrastructure is in bad shape. Martin Boyd, a consultant with Carter & Sloope who is working with the city on the grant application, said the city replaced a main sewer line that runs along the old railroad bed north of Highway 81 in the mid-1990s.

 “From a sewer line standpoint, that line is in good shape,” he said. “However, the tributary lines that feed into it, and particularly south of Highway 81, are in horrible shape.”

 In 2004, Porterdale replaced water lines south of the Yellow River. Lines on the north side of the river are older and need replacing, he said. Boyd said the city may in the future try for United States Department of Agriculture grants to upgrade parts of the sewerage system, as well.