Allenville and Whitewater are the latest area towns to benefit from the $787 billion federal economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in February.
On Tuesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that his department was releasing $618.5 million for 193 rural development projects in 34 states, including $1.6 million for construction of a long-planned sewer system to serve the two southwest Cape Girardeau County communities. Voters in the two towns overwhelmingly approved a $950,000 bond issue in April 2008 to provide local matching money for the project.
"It will be a wonderful project for us," said Erie Foster, former chairman of the Allenville town board and a member of the Whitewater-Allenville Water and Sewer Board. "A lot of people have overflowing sewers and open sewers, and there are a lot of small children in both communities. We need to get this cleaned up and get this a healthier place to live."
The project, estimated to have a total cost of $2 million, will direct wastewater from homes in the two communities to a treatment plant near Allenville. Once construction begins, Foster said, the sewer system is expected to be finished within 12 to 18 months.
The stimulus bill will help the USDA catch up on a backlog of projects that has grown to $1.7 billion worth of completed applications for water supply and wastewater treatment projects, USDA officials said during a teleconference led by Vilsack. In addition, the department has $3.5 billion more in projects in various stages of applying for help.
Allenville and Whitewater had been told the project could be years away before stimulus funds pushed up the timetable.
"They had a backlog of projects and you get put on a list and you get rated," Foster said. "We were somewhere in the middle, and we couldn't do the project until the money becomes available."
Of the $1.6 million announced Tuesday, $1.06 million will be a grant and $574,000 will be a loan, said Stephanie Walker, spokeswoman for the USDA Rural Development office in Dexter, Mo.
Allenville and Whitewater are awaiting word on an application for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to defray the costs, Foster said.
Other Southeast Missouri projects included in the list announced Tuesday are:
* $550,000, a combination of a $350,000 loan and a $200,000 grant, for Risco in New Madrid County.
* $2.9 million, a combination of a $1.5 million loan and a $1.4 million grant, to Hayti in Pemiscot County.
* $2.4 million, a combination of a $1.95 million loan and a $461,000 grant, to Gideon in New Madrid County.
All of the projects announced Tuesday are for water supply or wastewater treatment projects. But details of what the money will buy for the Bootheel towns were unavailable Tuesday.
In the teleconference, Vilsack said clean water supplies and reliable sewage systems will make it easier for smaller communities to attract the businesses that will revitalize the towns.
The projects will create of save about 12,000 jobs nationwide, Vilsack said. That figure includes the workers needed to build the new treatment or water supply systems as well as the ongoing work to maintain and operate them.
The lack of adequate sewage disposal or drinking water treatment systems can kill a town's chances to land new jobs or attract other development, Vilsack said.
"Once treatment facilities are upgraded, the towns can more aggressively market themselves for job growth, it will create expanded housing opportunities and new retail opportunities," Vilsack said. "That is all a result of improving infrastructure. What is great is that it is all targeted to rural areas and making sure rural areas can compete."