Jeffco trying to get its piece of federal earmark pie

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By AJ Vicens

Jefferson County wants $7.6 million in federal funds earmarked for various county projects in fiscal 2009.

The money is for projects ranging from completing work on the air-traffic control tower at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport to efforts to prevent the exploitation of senior citizens.

The Ferguson Group — a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm — represents Jeffco and works to get funding the county wants. Trent Lehman, the lobbyist at the Ferguson Group handling five of the eight projects Jeffco is requesting money for in 2009, declined to comment and referred questions to former Deputy County Administrator Nanette Neelan. Neelan could not be reached for comment.

District 3 Commissioner Kathy Hartman characterized the county’s lobbying efforts as successful. She denied that the county’s approach is to ask for more money than it knows it can get, even though the county has only received $27.7 million of the $92.2 million it has asked for since 2005.

“When you’re talking to senators and congressman, there’s a limit to how much they can realistically ask for,” Hartman said. “They can’t — given some of the new mandates on earmarks — they have to be careful in terms of the limit to how many (earmarks) they can get through.”

More than half of the $92 million requested has been for improvements to the I-70 and Colorado 58 interchange. Jeffco asked legislators for $49 million for the project in 2006 but ended up getting about $5.9 million. Another $21 million was requested for improvements to the Bowles Avenue and Wadsworth intersection in 2006. The project received $1.6 million in federal funds.

The biggest priority in 2009 for the county is $1.7 million for continued work on the Jeffco airport’s control tower. The county is also asking for $2 million for work on the I-70/Colorado 58 interchange. The county is also requesting $2 million to improve Waterton Road from the South Platte River to Wadsworth and to improve the intersection of Wadsworth, Waterton Canyon Road and the Lockheed Martin access. The smallest request for 2009 is $30,000 for the county’s Communities Against Senior Exploitation program.

Hartman said the projects are listed in order of importance, with the top three being transportation-related. The list represents the county’s priorities plus input from the Ferguson Group on what it thinks is “probable,” Hartman said. The lowest priority on the list is a $500,000 request for planning and a potential “facility to implement technologies and processes” for bioenergy production.

The word “earmark” refers to chunks of funding individual members of Congress attach to pieces of legislation that directs funds to specific projects. Critics say it’s a way for lawmakers to reward friends or contributors.

Hartman expects earmarked fundss to decline.

“I expect the number will go down,” Hartman said. “There ee is already a serious effort on the part of Congress to at least ID who the sponsor is. In the past, earmarks go into bills in the middle of the night ee I think there will be far fewer earmarks.”

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.