FD group takes projects, priorities to D.C.

An annual pilgrimage to the nation’s capital by local leaders seeking federal help with everything from education to infrastructure is underway.

A 13-member delegation from Fort Dodge was to begin meeting with congressional staffers this morning in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

”We’ll lay out a project and we’ll work specifically with staff who work through all the grant programs and then we will know which grants to apply for,” said Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich.

”The reason it’s best to go to D.C. to do that is the staff is all right there,” he added.

The group will also meet with U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican; U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat; and U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron.

Bemrich said the group also wants to visit U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Clive, who represented Webster County for about 16 years before moving to the Des Moines area as a result of the reapportionment following the 2010 census. It was Latham who recommended that local leaders come to Washington periodically.

Such lobbying trips have been conducted for more than a decade. Officials who have made the trips never expected to return to Fort Dodge with money or immediate promises of money for projects. And this year, the trip is being made at a time when budget cuts called sequestration are slicing $85 billion from the federal budget.

According to Bemrich, making personal connections and explaining local priorities to congressional staffers who don’t come to the Fort Dodge area very often are the major benefits of the Washington visit.

Not all local elected officials agree that there is value in lobbying trip this year, however. Webster County Supervisor Bob Singer, who is the first vice president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association, went on some previous Washington trips to lobby for federal support for turning U.S. Highway 20 into a four-lane route all across northern Iowa. He’s not going this year.

During a recent meeting of the association, he said congressional staffers generally say that they’re supportive of the highway project, but then add that there’s nothing they can do to help because the representatives and senators are no longer earmarking money for projects in their districts.

”What is the value in going to get that message?” Singer said during the meeting. ”I’m not seeing anything coming out of Washington, D.C., that’s helping us here. I think it’s a waste of time going out there.”

The U.S. Highway 20 project is one of the items the delegation will discuss during its Washington visit. Other initiatives the group will seek assistance with include:

  • Continued operation of the quality fuel testing lab at Iowa Central Community College.
  • Expansion of the homeland security training center at Iowa Central Community College.
  • Upgrading nursing program equipment at Iowa Central Community College.
  • Development of a railroad spur into the western end of Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation.
  • Constructing another water main to Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation.
  • Hiring a part-time manager for Market on Central.
  • Applying for a $400,000 grant to pay for checking potential development sites for contamination.
  • Seeking $500,000 for a low interest loan fund that helps pay for repairing downtown Fort Dodge buildings.
  • Expansion of the Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park.
  • Construction of a 42,000 square foot building for Community and Family Resources.
  • Continued funding of the Essential Air Service program that supports flights to and from Fort Dodge Regional Airport.

The local delegation was scheduled to meet with federal officials all day today and perhaps Thursday morning before returning to Fort Dodge Thursday afternoon.