Vegas Verdes: Rebuilding the Gallinas River and Its Park – Behind the Scenes

Published on February 23, 2020 in the Las Vegas Optic.

Earlier in this space, we described the astonishing amenities and improvements that the Gallinas River park Collaborative have planned for the new and restored Gallinas Park and River. We’ve told of some of those improvements that have already been completed. You might reasonably now ask: “When will all the still-awaited wonderful changes come to pass? And why is it taking so long?” The answers are soon (we hope) and money. Our estimate of the cost of the finished product is around $6 million.

Unless you have a very rich and generous uncle, getting money for a project such as ours is a long, arduous and tiring process. The GRPC does not have an uncle. First the GRPC must identify and select possible sources (either federal or state) provide the largest grants and are therefore the most attractive. Smaller amounts of money are available from private entities and they will not be ignored. Many of the GRPC’s proposed plans, however, require rather large cash amounts, and government is the best source.

Let us consider a more or less standard process for winning a government grant. It is not an exciting endeavor. First identify and study a money source (or two or three). If the requirements and goals of said funding agency seem to fit with ours, we submit a grant proposal. One of the pieces of information discovered when we studied the possible source is that it accepts proposals during a limited time period occurring once a year. If we miss the opportunity, we must wait another year before resubmitting. Assuming our proposal is timely, we now wait to learn if it has been selected. This could take up to nine months.

And then … notice arrives that the GRPC has been chosen. It is indeed cause for celebration, yes – but it also means that a great deal of patience is now required. Much must happen before we lay hands on the money. First, we must negotiate a contract – a time-consuming task. It includes demonstrating that we are familiar with government regulations, requirements, accounting procedures and the like. This done, still more preparation must be completed before money changes hands. Before the process began, the GRPC approached the community with its hopes and we responded enthusiastically.

That was some time ago, now the plan has progressed to a much more concrete form, and approval must again be sought from the community. But that’s not all. Contractors must be lined up. A complicated permitting process is undertaken. If the project is river restoration in particular, we must secure a Clean Water Act 404 permit through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the NM Environment Department. It involves archaeological and endangered species studies. If this project is installation of infrastructure, we must apply for building, electrical and plumbing permits and possibly others at the state and municipal levels. All of this might take as much as six months. After obtaining the permits, we must gather together necessary materials, decide on any necessary safety measures, and arrange public service announcements to inform people regarding what work will be done and when.

Finally, if the project is river restoration, the last bit of preparedness will be pre-construction monitoring. This means measuring, photographing and documenting the conditions and appearance of the river before work begins and doing the same again at the completion of the project. Now – 18 months or more after submitting our proposal, we can begin the work…maybe. Surprises happen and we must be ready for some so far unmentioned additional requirement. But if that doesn’t materialize, off we go.

The actual construction or installation of the improvements described in our proposal will take much less time than did the grant procuring process that preceded it. Of course, people giving away money want to be assured that it is well spent. During and immediately after the execution of our proposal, we will submit reports and any other necessary documentation to satisfy our granting agency. We will take the greatest pleasure, however, in reporting to the community. We want Las Vegas to know how much has been accomplished and how pleasing the results are. All is worth waiting for. The hard work that goes into acquiring funds is invisible to most of us. Nor are we aware of the special individuals and organizations that help make it all possible.

The Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance fills indispensable roles as fiscal agent and grant manager. State Sen. Pete Campos has been instrumental in securing NM Legislature Capital Outlay funding for past and future aspects of park renovation; the NM Environment Department River Stewardship Program, under the leadership of Karen Menetrey, has provided funds for river restoration. The Las Vegas City government and the San Miguel county government have both contributed resources and funding; the Las Vegas NM Community Foundation has provided funds; West Las Vegas High School has collaborated with the GRPC. These are a few of the many who have helped further the efforts of the GRPC.

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