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Memphis city leaders seek answers on why certain infrastructure grants are being left on the table

“That infrastructure is ready to essentially have a catastrophic failure,” said JB Smiley, Memphis City Council Vice Chair.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — While MLGW leaders says upgrades are on the way in Shelby County, a lot of people, including Memphis City Council members, are worried about the aging infrastructure already in place.

“That infrastructure is ready to essentially have a catastrophic failure,” said JB Smiley, Memphis City Council Vice Chair.

This is a failure many are trying to avoid after December’s arctic blast left thousands the subject of rolling black outs.  MLGW says it’s pursuing $197 million in grant funding to help improve the gas, water and electric systems across the county.  

MLGW President Doug McGowen took over last month and tells ABC24 he and the utility company are reviewing the previous administration’s grant applications to find out why and if the MLGW missed out on applying for any other infrastructure improvement grants. McGowen adds in the past grants could have been missed out on simply because other projects were going on at the time.

“We had just issued bonds, we just had a plan for a water system and so the timing of that grant may or may not have been consistent with the work that we were doing,” said McGowen.

This discussion continued with Memphis Public Works on Tuesday.

“A criticism that I have for the Strickland administration, y’all don’t participate,” said by Martavius Jones, Memphis City Council Chairman, during Tuesday’s council meeting.  A federal $1.2 trillion bi-partisan investment was on the table last year.  According to Jones, Memphis Public Works had said the plan was still in the works, but when Jones went to a conference with other city leaders, he learned the money was already being distributed across the country.

“$185 billion, nearly 20 percent is already out the door,” said Councilman Jones, “Why do we put all of the burden on the people here in Memphis and Shelby County, when there are federal funds to help with some of the things we need.”

The talk has now centered around a more aggressive approach in the grant finding process, potentially finding grant writers for every division in the city.

“If they want to hire their own grant writer they can, but our job is to make sure there are resources available for every division,” said Councilman Smiley.

“In an ideal world, we would have someone who’s sole responsibility in every division in the city of Memphis is to find and apply for federal grants,” said Councilman Jones, “Securing just one federal grant in many instances would probably cover the entire salary of at least one individual, if not multiple individuals.”

A rate increase was approved by the city council back in 2020 which would fund more than one billion dollars in electric, water and gas system upgrades over the next five years. However, the city says the pandemic delayed the plan’s full potential by two years. 

Councilman Smiley estimates the plan to finish up in the next two and a half years, and expects it to help solve a lot of MLGW and other infrastructure issues.

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