WASHINGTON — Congress finally could finish funding an Orestimba Creek flood-control study, which to date has been an exercise in frustration for Stanislaus County residents.
The study has been dragging on for nine years. Seven project managers have passed through. Each year, officials must hold their breath that the West Side city of Newman won't be swamped again.
"It's been frustrating along the way, just to keep this project rolling," Newman Mayor John Fantazia said Tuesday.
This week, Fantazia joined a 17-member Stanislaus County delegation in search of congressional help. The public officials and private leaders want money for the lingering flood-control study, a countywide emergency radio system and a Tuolumne River trail.
For $865,000 in federal funds, officials believe they can complete the feasibility study now focused on two options to contain the creek, which has seriously flooded 13 times in the past 50 years. The flood-control solutions could cost $30 million to $60 million.
Officials also want $2.8 million to complete a bridge and trail as part of Tuolumne River Regional Park, and $2.5 million to boost public safety communications. The latter funds would rehabilitate radio towers and make other improvements so police, sheriff's deputies, and fire and rescue personnel could talk on a common channel over more of the rural county.
"We just really need to rebuild our radio system," Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said.
The projects may be familiar, recycled from past Stanislaus County proposals, but the lobbying tactics are evolving. Success is neither guaranteed nor final.
"Each year, we've upgraded the presentation," said Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance. "We've tweaked it, just a little bit."
Rallying for common goals
Stanislaus is one of many California counties to dispatch local officials on an annual lobbying venture. Certain conventions apply; in particular, the county representatives will rally with one voice around a common wish list.
This year, the Stanislaus County delegation is distributing on Capitol Hill a full- color, six-page project summary that looks different from previous year's productions. Officials also have narrowed their project requests — what they call, in congressional parlance, "the ask" — to three rather than the four or five sought in previous years. Instead of a general evening reception into which lawmakers pop in and out, the delegation is holding smaller informal dinners with members of Congress and key staffers.
"It provides a better opportunity to interact," Bassitt said, though he demurred when asked whether a dinner party also makes it harder for a lawmaker to escape.
The Stanislaus County officials make their rehearsed, personal pitches to local lawmakers such as Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. The officials have learned that it's harder to get face time with either of California's two senators; but they also have learned, Bassitt added, not to underestimate the power of Senate staff.
Stanislaus County officials always hear that federal funding will be tight, but this year's cautionary message is amplified by the Capitol Hill tussle over congressional earmarks. Notably, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Democratic presidential rival, Sen. Barack Obama, on Monday both declared their support for a one-year moratorium on earmarks.
"On the earmark situation, (funding) depends on whether this is an issue of merit," Radanovich said.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at email@example.com or 202-383-0006.