PORT TOWNSEND — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer has warned that action on community project funding requests could be slowed in the present House of Representatives.
Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, was in Jefferson County on Friday visiting agencies that hope to receive federal funding, but the appropriations process in Washington, D.C., is far from finished, he added.
Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula, met with representatives from Jefferson Healthcare, the Port of Port Townsend and the Public Utility District, all of which are seeking federal dollars to help complete ongoing projects.
Both Jefferson Healthcare and the port are hoping to receive Community Project Funding grants — formerly known as earmarks — for capital projects. Those grants will be included in the appropriations process for fiscal year 2024.
The PUD is not currently seeking a CPF grant, but it has received considerable federal dollars for various projects including the broadband network the utility is building.
Kilmer said the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has signaled they want to reduce spending to fiscal year 2022 levels, before major appropriations bills like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Chips and Science Act were passed.
“I don’t know yet what effect that will have on community project funding requests. I can tell you I think it’s concerning,” Kilmer said.
“As we can see from the agencies who’ve laid out in detail what a reduction to fiscal year 2022 levels would mean for them, it’s significant and it’s damaging.”
Jefferson Healthcare is seeking $2 million for its expanding rural healthcare for seniors project, which will add a new clinic to the hospital offering access to neurology, pulmonology, ear, nose and throat care and geriatrics.
That project, costing a total of $9.6 million, will help provide types of care not currently available in Jefferson County.
“For some patients, the difficulty in accessing care prevents them from starting that care,” said Jefferson Healthcare CEO Mike Glenn, during a meeting with Kilmer.
“More often it’s just a tremendous burden,” Glenn said.
The additional $2 million in federal funding will allow the hospital to complete the project, Glenn said.
The Port of Port Townsend is seeking $7.7 million in federal funding to repair 600 feet of breakwater protecting the entrance to the Boat Haven Marina. The breakwater, constructed sometime in the 1930s, is currently failing and in need of repair.
Part of the breakwater serves as a berth for the U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Osprey, and is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, said Eron Berg, port executive director, but the end portion is owned by the port and at risk of failure.
“The most recent repair was in 2017, but there’s been some additional damage,” Berg said. “We really need it to function. It gives protection for the commercial basin.”
Berg said port staff took Kilmer out on a boat to inspect the breakwater.
Without federal funding, the port will not be able to make the repairs, Berg said. In addition to Kilmer’s office, the port also has reached out to the state’s Senate delegation.
Lastly, Kilmer met with Jefferson Public Utility District staff to discuss the utility’s ongoing projects, which the representative has worked to support in the past, said Will O’Donnell, broadband and communications director.
“He just came in and checked in with all our programs,” O’Donnell said. “He’s written us letters of support on every federal program we’ve applied for.”
The utility has applied for several grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, and it is still waiting to hear back regarding a $5.4 million loan that would allow the utility to build out its broadband network south from the Chimacum area.
Kilmer said he felt that both the hospital and the breakwater projects were strong contenders for federal funding.
“I think a project like this speaks for itself,” Kilmer said of the hospital project. “Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or an Independent, you can acknowledge that making sure that people in rural communities get the care they need makes sense.”
Infrastructure refurbishment has been a priority for the Army Corps, Kilmer said, and the breakwater project was important for maritime trades.
But, said Kilmer: “I don’t think that’s where this process will end up. I don’t think the Senate will approve that, and I don’t think President Biden will sign that, but I think it’s sort of a crummy way to start the conversation around that.”
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.