Federal funding could clean Rock River | News

ROCK RAPIDS—Water quality is one of the infrastructure areas the American Rescue Plan targets in its funding to localities, and Lyon County could use part of its cut to take on polluted rivers.

The board of supervisors had yet to discuss the water-related projects before its June 8 meeting as it is still in the preliminary phase of planning how to spend its $2.28 million in federal funding.

Rock Rapids resident Richard Reitsma raised the issue during public comment — an often idle segment of the meeting — sparking further discussion from the elected officials on what should be done with the money.

“We had a continued number of spills and those spills are just worse and worse,” Reitsma said. “The Rock River is now twice as dirty as it was 10 years ago.”

The pollution in the waterway is a worthy target for the county, Reitsma said, and it’s something he thinks has long been overlooked. He pointed to a 2012 board study that recommended cleaning it up, but little has been done since to remedy the sludgy Rock River.

“Now we need to start thinking about what we must do if we want to have clean water for our kids and for our grandkids to come here and live in this county,” Reitsma said.

The U.S. Treasury issued granular guidance on how American Rescue Plan funding can be used. There’s two main buckets: COVID-19 and infrastructure. Of the infrastructure projects, water quality is listed as a main priority.

In a previous meeting with economic development director Steve Simons, the supervisors floated bankrolling rural broadband, another Treasury-approved project type.

It would cost $300,000 to cover the county’s recent George internet venture with Premier Communications. There would still be nearly $2 million left in federal funding left over if the project was covered by the American Rescue plan.

Simons told The REVIEW that selecting the right projects “just takes time” and the most likely outcome is that multiple projects will eventually be bankrolled.

“$2.28 million is a lot of money to just, you know, not have a plan,” auditor Jen Smit said during the May 25 meeting.

The board decided to form a committee that will come up with recommendations for how to spend the COVID-19 relief funds. The group will consist of county department heads and supervisors Cory Altena and Steve Herman.

Reitsma said that citizens should also be on the committee so that the public has a voice in such monumental, high-dollar decisions.

Supervisor Jerry Birkey was open to the proposal.

“I don’t think it’s such a bad idea to have citizens on the committee,” Birkey said.

Smit noted that there isn’t much precedent for this type of funding and the board likely has a lot of wiggle room.

“Your possibilities are endless,” the auditor said. “That’s what the committee needs to decide: How do we want to do this?”