PINEDALE – The Sublette County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday and discussed potential road improvements in the county through a federal grant program, including the U.S. Forest Service road that runs along the southern shoreline of Fremont Lake.
The Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) provides grants for projects intended to improve access to federal lands and generally includes more than 90 percent of the funding, with a 9.5 percent local match.
Most recently, Sublette County applied for and received a FLAP grant worth $8 million to improve the first phase of Skyline Drive north of Pinedale, which involved about 7 miles of roadway leading up to White Pine Ski Resort. Those improvements were completed last fall and the county contributed about $875,000 to the project. Once the county signs off on it, the road will be turned over to the county, which will also be responsible for all future maintenance.
The county now wants to apply for two more FLAP grants, and the town of Pinedale will apply for a third.
“We’ve got these applications for the second phase of Skyline Drive and the Upper Green,” said Rio Verde Engineering’s Mike Jackson on Tuesday. “Mayor (Bob) Jones – he’s got the lower boat dock road also in the works.”
With the May 19 application deadline looming, Jones approached the county, wondering if the commissioners would be willing to help fund the local match on the U.S. Forest Service road along Fremont Lake, which would return the roadway to an asphalt surface.
County clerk Mary Lankford explained that if the commissioners did want to help with the local match, three options were available – a donation to the town, a loan or adding a bike path to the project.
There are currently two bike paths that converge in that general area, though they don’t actually connect.
“This would loop that bike path and we could commit to that construction of the bike path as part of that (FLAP) project and tie that match to that,” Lankford explained.
The board, however, wasn’t inclined to go that route.
“Connecting those two bike paths is way down on my priority list,” chair Andy Nelson said.
“I’m having trouble saying we are going to commit future money toward recreation,” commissioner Dr. David Burnett said, citing last year’s election campaign, during which he emphasized the need to establish budget priorities. “We haven’t established those priorities.”
Commissioner Tom Noble also referenced last year’s campaign and the emphasis placed on economic development in the county.
“This boat dock is well used,” he said.
“This is the only boat dock (on Fremont Lake) functioning right now,” Nelson said.
Commissioner Joel Bousman, however, wondered why the town needs the county’s help in the first place.
“Is the town in such dire straits that they cannot do this project without the county paying for their match?” he asked Jones. “I don’t get it.”
With its water treatment facility at the end of the roadway, the town is already doing some basic maintenance on the road to ensure access to its facility and if the FLAP grant were successful, the town would agree to future maintenance as well.
“The thing I like about this project is that the town owns the road,” Nelson said. “For $100,000 or $150,000, it’s their baby.”
For Jones, the request to include the county in the funding is based on a desire to see local partnerships in place for a location that has broad benefit and appeal.
“Fremont Lake is the place for Sublette County,” he said. “Everybody comes here. The tourists come here. … Our interest is to try to help the whole situation and be a team player. … I think the idea here was that it’s good for everybody, not just (Pinedale). This road, I would argue, is just as important as the one going up to the ski area.”
The commissioners were reluctant to commit to the requested match, opting to see how things unfold instead.
“There’s a chance we may come up with the match; there’s a chance we may not,” Nelson said.
The town is applying for the grant, regardless of whether the county is willing to help or not, but Jones hopes to see that partnership materialize.
“This is a leap of faith here that if we go on and do it, that you’re going to be with us,” Jones said.
Even if FLAP grants are awarded, they can still be turned down so the town plans to proceed.
“Are we hurting ourselves by submitting this?” Jones wondered. “I don’t want to cause trouble and have you guys mad at the town because maybe we won and the Green River (Lakes road) didn’t get done.”
The commissioners reassured Jones that despite the three FLAP grant applications – including the two for the county and the one for the town – they’re glad to see the town apply.
“I think it’s great that the county isn’t always the instigator of these grants,” Nelson said.
The commissioners voted unanimously to pursue their two FLAP grants – one for phase two of Skyline Drive and the other to make significant improvements to road up to Green River Lakes. And the board encouraged the town to apply for its grant as well.
“(We’ll) put them in the pot and see where we end up,” Jackson said.