Delayed federal directive drives Saguache County deadline

SAGUACHE — Representing Senator Michael Bennet during a Saguache County Commissioners working meeting on Feb. 28, Erin Minks notified the board of a March 10 deadline to make requests for “potential projects that you might want to submit.”

Grant cycles and funding opportunities come and go, but Minks realized that giving notice eight working days from a deadline is not reasonable.

“No. It’s not a good time. This is a quick turnaround process,” Minks explained, noting that they opened the electronic portal in mid-February. Minks mentioned a webinar on the request process through Senator John Hickenlooper’s office a few hours later in the day.

“We’re teaming up on most of these” initiatives, Minks explained. “The two senate offices are the ones submitting requests.” Minks said she was not aware if congressional representatives were submitting earmark requests.

Minks suggested housing projects, as well as initiatives in the “ag and food space.” She also emphasized projects that already have momentum with engineering drawings and completed studies. Although the North 90 project in Center did not come up, it meets the criteria for accessing federal funds (as well as some state funds, Minks clarified).

Although “jail” echoed from the board table at the first mention of the request process, Minks suggested more “shovel-ready” projects instead (as well as calling it a “justice center” and cooperating with other jurisdictions).

Commissioner Tom McCracken asked about constructing an evacuation route south of Crestone and the Baca Grande Property Owners Association area. Minks mentioned other funding possibilities through the Colorado Department of Transportation for that project. Minks also suggested other funding avenues to diversify options.

“It’s kind of a gamble when you apply through us.” Minks stated. “You don’t know if you will get funding until Congress functions enough to pass a budget.”

Noting the tight deadline, Minks said, “We didn’t pick this time.” The Senate Appropriations Committee directed members to get projects within the next two weeks.

Minks thanked the commissioners for coming to the 2023 Farm Bill listening sessions.

“You guys provided really valuable feedback,” Minks said. “We’re building the Farm Bill now.”

Throughout March they are meeting and introducing “marker bills,” Minks added. One proposal, according to Minks, addressed concerns expressed by Saguache County ranchers during the listening sessions.

Under current law, ranchers with permits on fire-damaged land are not eligible for compensation from the Farm Service Agency for lost forage. The proposed addition would provide coverage for affected public lands permittees. Although the existing farm bill remains in effect until New Year’s Eve, March is the month for ironing out details in the 2023 version.

At the state capital in Denver, another legislative effort might also help San Luis Valley farmers and ranchers. Introduced into the Senate and assigned to the Agriculture and Natural Resources group on Feb. 23, HB23-1011 is called the “Consumer Right to Repair Agricultural Equipment” bill. If it passes, farmers can begin repairing their own equipment starting Jan. 1, 2024.

Currently, many owners are restricted by manufacturer agreements. According to HP23-1011, manufacturers would be required to provide the parts, embedded software, firmware, tools, and documentation for diagnosing, maintaining, and repairing equipment. Like the wheelchair repair legislation that passed during the 2022 session, this law empowers owners to manage their own equipment.

Failure to provide necessary resources, according to the bill, is a deceptive trade practice. In addition, the bill precludes contractual arrangements that allow manufacturers to avoid providing repair resources. Also, owners are forbidden from modifying equipment beyond safety or emissions standards, and manufacturers are not obligated to reveal trade secrets.