Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the adage, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” While scholars can offer no evidence that Franklin actually coined the proverb, it is hard to dispute its wisdom or the value of planning. In the world of infrastructure, the notion of “winging” multi-million-dollar water, wastewater, solid waste, or transportation projects seems foolish because it is. In Montana and Idaho, the value of carefully planned infrastructure projects is so great that several federal and state agencies regularly provide qualifying communities with thousands of dollars of grant funding to have licensed engineers and architects prepare preliminary engineering reports, facility plans, or preliminary architectural reports that lay the foundation for future grant and loan applications for many types of infrastructure construction projects.
To help you understand what funding is available to your community, we offer the following descriptions of some of the planning grant programs available in Idaho and Montana.
Idaho Department of Environmental Quality – Drinking Water Facilities Program
The IDEQ’s Drinking Water Facilities Program provides planning grants up to $45,000 to eligible communities for preliminary engineering reports and facility plans. The program requires a dollar-for-dollar match, and IDEQ will begin accepting Letters of Intent for FY 2021 in October 2019.
Idaho Department of Commerce – GEM Program
The GEM Program provides up to $50,000 for planning and project implementation projects. The GEM Program requires a 20% match, and examples of eligible projects include water and sewer infrastructure for new a business, remediation of slum and blight conditions blocking business development, and matching funds for the creation of assets with a high certainty of aiding future economic development efforts.
The IDC accepts applications for GEM funding on the third Monday of March, June, September, and December.
Montana Department of Commerce – Treasure State Endowment Program
In 2019, the Montana Legislature allocated $900,000 to the Treasure State Endowment Program (TSEP) to finance the development of preliminary engineering reports, capital improvement plans, and other types of planning projects. The maximum grant award is $15,000 with a one-to-one match. Grants are awarded to eligible applicants on a first come, first serve basis. The MDOC began accepting applications for the 2021 Biennium on June 17, 2019 and will continue to receive requests until it obligates all the available funds.
Montana Department of Commerce – Community Development Block Grant
The CDBG Program funds a wide array of planning projects including preliminary architectural reports, growth policies, capital improvement plans, housing assessments, income surveys, and occasionally, preliminary engineering reports. Grants up to $50,000 are available with a one to three matches required. Eligible applicants include cities, towns, and counties. Counties can also apply on behalf of tribal utility authorities, non-profit organizations and water, and sewer districts. Although the MDOC has not yet announced a date, the next application cycle is expected to open this summer.
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation – Renewable Resource Grant Program
DNRC’s Renewable Resource Grant (RRG) Program provides up to $15,000 for preliminary engineering reports and technical reports and $5,000 for PER updates and capital improvements plans. The RRG Program does not require a local match, and the application cycle for the 2021 Biennium is expected to open later this summer.
A common practice for communities that want to develop a preliminary engineering report for a water or wastewater project is to use RRG funds to match a TSEP planning grant.
Montana DNRC – Reclamation and Development Grant Program
DNRC’s Reclamation and Development Grant Program (RDGP) provides up to $50,000 with no match required for projects that will reclaim areas impacted by mineral development or prevent or eliminate severe and unacceptable damage to natural resources. Eligible projects include problem analysis, feasibility or design studies, environmental monitoring, remedial action plans, site assessments, and research. The application due date for 2021 Biennium funding has not yet been determined.
Other sources of planning grants include USDA Rural Development, Montana’s Coal Board Program, Montana’s Tourism Grant Program, and the Montana Main Street Program. For more information about any one of these programs, please contact our Boise office at (208) 576-6646 or if you live in Montana, call us in Helena at (406) 495-6189.