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Stimulate us please 

SLO County officials are sending The Ferguson Group to Washington D.C. in search of money for local projects, especially for a piece of the pending $825 billion federal stimulus package.

The Los Osos sewer project tops the county’s project list for stimulus money. “Shovel-ready” has become the new buzzword and the Los Osos project is more shovel-ready than any other project, officials said.

Michael Miller of The Ferguson Group told county supervisors on Jan. 27, “The Los Osos project is an excellent candidate” for stimulus funds.

Public Works Department administrator John Diodati called the stimulus funding a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for Los Osos and said the project “is definitely our number one priority.”

A total of five projects might qualify for stimulus funds, but none seemed as probable as the Los Osos project. Other projects include a new county airport terminal and parking facilities, new interchanges on Willow Road and at Highways 101 and 46, and funds for county bike trails.

Los Osos’ sewer project is effectively ready to go. It has a state-approved design and is in the final environmental review stages.

But by pushing the project forward to meet federal deadlines, county officials seemed only to enrage a group of Los Osos residents who regularly chastise them about the project.

A small group often criticizes county supervisors and the Public Works Department during weekly meetings, accusing them of rushing the project. They regularly argue the county’s preferred design will be too expensive for residents and lead to more groundwater contamination.

“You are in a race for a shovel-ready project,” Julie Tacker said after supervisors heard from The Ferguson Group. “To be shovel-ready today is to be irresponsible for the future.”

The project will probably cost about $165 million, which would cost residents $200 to $250 per month without federal assistance. County officials don’t know how much stimulus funding could be available or how it might be paid out. Federal money could be distributed through low- or no-interest loans, or possibly as grants. Regardless of how it might be allocated, county officials believe stimulus funds will significantly cut local costs.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose district includes Los Osos, said in an earlier interview that the county has a project that could qualify for stimulus funds. But changing the project design at this point could mean losing the federal help.

It’s still too early to tell what the stimulus package will look like, although the general belief is that federal dollars are on the way. An early version of the stimulus bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, but is far from being finalized.

The Ferguson Group will lobby for about 30 SLO County projects in Washington, D.C., in the coming weeks.

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