By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Whatever form the proposed armory/law enforcement training center takes after construction begins this summer, it will require a cash infusion from the federal government to make the project as splendid as local officials hope it turns out.
The project, on the site of the current Baker County Fairgrounds, will at minimum feature a new armory that 30,000 square foot, $4.2 million portion of the project has already been funded.
But whether theres money and interest in the project for three more planned phases remains to be seen.
Blue Mountain Community Colleges board of trustees is scheduled to decide this month whether it wants the college to be a part of the project.
A $1.3 million grant application to the Economic Development Administration would augment the landscaping and site work on the facility, including improvements to D Street.
And the proposed Pacific Northwest Law Enforcement Training Center will be housed at the new facility as long as the center secures at least $2.1 million in federal funding to train law enforcement officials in a four-state region.
Lobbying in D.C.
In an effort to clear up some of the funding questions, a trio of local officials County Commission Chairman Brian Cole, local law enforcement training coordinator Lana Emery, and the interim director of the proposed local law enforcement training center, Steve Kernes spent most of last week in the nations capital, lobbying the Northwests congressional delegation and administration officials to fully fund the project.
They were aided by Steve Silver, a Virginia-based lobbyist whos been paid a $15,000 fee by the county to help steer the project through the current federal funding cycle.
Cole says the contingent came back convinced that all four construction phases will be funded through regular congressional appropriations and grants, and that money can be secured both for PNLETC research and training.
The Center has already secured a $200,000 federal grant to poll the regions rural law enforcement agencies about the kinds of training their officers need. Students from BMCC and Minot State University in North Dakota are currently conducting the research.
In addition, President Bushs proposed budget contains a $3.5 billion increase for law enforcement training programs in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Cole said.
Richard Sutton, whos managing the current grant for the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, told the local contingent that hed expedite completing the funding for the study and that there is substantially more funding available to design and implement training once the research is completed, Cole said.
Since Sept. 11, Cole said, theres never been a better time to look for funding for law enforcement training.
In the meantime, training continues
The local training that Emery is coordinating will continue whether the proposed center locates in the armory or not, Cole said. More than 20 federally-funded sessions are scheduled this year; each brings an average of 30 officers to the community for up to a week at a time.
In fact, a class in drug interdiction investigative techniques for patrol officers that began today at the Sunridge Inn has 70 students, more than twice the normal amount, Emery said. The course is paid for by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, where Emery was formerly a fellow.
Baker County is an official FLETC export training site.
Its evident that the need is out there, she said. The training center is a concept that was whole-heartedly embraced by everyone we talked to in Washington. There are no guarantees, of course, but we didnt hear one negative thing. Were still batting a thousand.
Cole said that Kernes designation as the centers interim director gave the contingent credibility with Washington decision-makers.
Were in business already, and that was our message, he said. We presented ourselves as an existing institution, and that greatly helped our cause.
A strategy to maximize congressional funding for the PNLETC is to convince the delegation from all four Northwest states that the center is needed. The top law enforcement official in Idaho has already written a letter of support for the center, a document that the contingent circulated in Washington. More letters of support are expected.
In all, the group met with nine senators and representatives or their staffers from all four states, as well as officials from the Department of Commerce. That department contains the Economic Development Administration, which awards needed construction and road improvement grants.
At stake is a $1.3 million grant thats still pending. A meeting last week with Sandy Baruah, an acting deputy assistant secretary in the Commerce Departments Economic Development Administration, convinced the group that additional funds are probably available, Cole said.
They have a new philosophy now theyre more favorable to funding large-scale, high-impact, multi-state projects, he said.
Included is a grant that will match one from the Oregon Department of Transportation for D Street improvements.
Even if sufficient funds are authorized to build each of the four phases, the operational cost of the new facility remains a concern for some county residents, Cole acknowledged.
My goal is to have the facility pay for itself through leases with BMCC and PNLETC, he said. As a result of this trip, Im more confident than ever that it will.
For her part, Emery said that in the past, shes felt that the center was on-target for keeping PNLETC out in front of potential rivals.
Now I feel like were way out in front of the pack, she said. Were very pleased with the representation were receiving from our Northwest delegation.
And, she added, We went to places in Washington that I didnt know existed before the trip.