By STEPHEN GROVES, Associated Press
PIERRE, SD (AP) — A proposal by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to use the bulk of federal coronavirus relief funding for water and sewer projects has so far met with little opposition in the state Senate, but a powerful committee on Friday withheld its approval to consider the proposal further.
The Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday heard enthusiastic support from groups representing municipal governments, water service providers and a conservation group for sending $600 million in federal funds to a program of grants that would fund water supply projects across the state.
But the Republican committee chairman said he also wanted to make sure the state was ready to disburse the funding before the bill won committee approval.
“A bill of this gravity – we don’t want to rush it,” said Sen. Gary Cammack, the Republican leader in the Senate, adding that it was the biggest budget item he had ever addressed.
The funding would allow utility providers across the state to launch the next generation of water piping and treatment, said Kurt Pfeifle, director of the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems.
“This will ensure that we continue to provide adequate service,” he said. “Making sure the water is clean, safe and filtered.”
Several large projects hoping to tap into the fund would bring water from the Missouri River to the Black Hills region and the northeast corner of the state, both of which have experienced droughts in recent years.
But even the $600 million allocation won’t come close to matching all of the projects that have applied for funding. Hunter Roberts, secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the state has received applications for 250 projects requesting more than $3.2 billion.
The state will use an existing loan program for water infrastructure projects to distribute the funds, but Cammack said lawmakers want to make sure the Water and Natural Resources Board is ready to handle the influx. of requests.
“It’s huge, we really need guarantees in this sense,” said the senator.
The state plans to spend $975 million from the federal government over the next five years. Cities and towns will receive an additional $276 million to spend on a wide variety of eligible projects under the U.S. bailout law that Congress passed last year.
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