Inola Mayor Larry Grigg and Trustee Billy Wilson met with State Representative Tom Gann and U.S. Congressman Markwayne Mullin to discuss Inola’s $5 million sewer project.
The gist of the project, because Inola is under a Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality consent order, is to update all of the town’s sewer system from the old, cracked and unprotected from infiltration clay-tile pipe that was placed in the 1960s.
Old clay-tile piping has been reported to cause wastewater infiltration issues in cities and towns across the country.
“In the last couple years, when we get a real fast, big rain,” Grigg said, the sewer system gets backed up and overflows at multiple points across the system.
So far the town has spent half a million in grant money to produce a comprehensive report of the issues and hire a full-time engineer.
“A lot of the problems are private, which we are addressing with door hangers,” Grigg said. “We had 100 cleanouts that didn’t have caps on them.”
Sewer cleanouts in homeowners’ yards a necessary for spot-removal of clogs, but when left uncovered can cause massive amounts of rainwater to enter the sewer system and lead to overflow.
Currently the town plans to replace sections of the system at a time with funding they receive from state and federal grants.
Mullin, owner of Mullin Plumbing in Broken Arrow, gave advice on how to go about replacing parts of the system.
But, in his capacity as Congressman he asked, “So, how can I help?”
“Well, there are a several ways,” Wilson said. “One of the things, right off, is that any of the grants and the appropriations that we are trying to get, we’d like your support.”
“You have our support on any of that,” Mullin said. “I can’t help write the grant, but we want to be supportive of the grants. When you find a grant, before you submit it, we want to have our support letter with it.”
Mullin said that when his office gives a support letter with a grant application, they follow up with the agency where the application was sent with a courtesy call.
The second method of support Wilson asked for was some form of direct federal assistance that wouldn’t require grant applications.
“We look at the executive branch of the federal government, and it’s ‘Infrastructure, infrastructure’,” Wilson began.
“With the infrastructure package, unfortunately, you have too many people playing politics with it, and if we get it, it will have to be done next year,” Mullin interjected.
“Until we can get line item appropriations back it is going to be very difficult,” Mullin said. “The nasty secret to what happened when we cut out earmarks, we also cut out our ability to do line-item appropriations, which makes it very difficult for us to then get federal dollars back to our communities.”
Wilson asked, “So what does that leave you with?”
“Grants,” Mullin said. “And begging and pleading. Saying ‘please, please, please’ look at us’.”
Mullin explained that grants and federal agencies look at growth, projected growth and need when they consider allocating funds.
“We have growth, we have projected growth, we have need, but we don’t have the amount of growth and the projected growth as Ohio and Mississippi,” Mullin said.
Gann asked, “In your opinion, would it be better to go for the entire $5 million or to phase it in?”
“Shoot for the moon,” Mullin said. “Pull that bow back as far as you can pull and arch it.”
Wilson said that many state and federal agencies are short on funding, which means their more particular about the grants they give out.
“The funding is getting narrow, but their projects and their mission hasn’t changed,” Mullin said. “Inola is in a very unique position. You have a tremendous amount of growth that’s taking place. You’re having traffic problems in Inola! That used to only happen during trains, maybe football games, but it’s crazy when you think about it. What a wonderful opportunity that you have. It’s a headache, but it’s an opportunity.”
Mullin suggested that the best way to do that is to hire professional grant writers with expertise in writing grants for sewer and water projects.
In addition to grants, Wilson said he has appreciated the help Inola has received from the Cherokee Nation.
“People give a lot of the tribes throughout our state black eyes, but they are filling a gap right now between the federal government and the state on a lot of these projects,” Mullin said. “The Cherokees do a phenomenal job in the 14 counties that they have, but we’re leaning on them more and more and we shouldn’t have to do that.”
After the meeting both Wilson and Grigg said they were happy that Mullin gave Inola his time and support with grant letters.
“It went well, he was honest about writing grants and his endorsement and backing is appreciated,” Grigg said.
Wilson said he was disappointed that the federal rhetoric about infrastructure didn’t match the reality, but that he greatly appreciated what Mullin was able to do for the town even with his hands tied.
There are plans to meet with Senator James Lankford in the near future.