Sen. Michael Bennet made a stop in Durango Friday afternoon for a listening session with the recipients of the $10.9 million allotted to La Plata County from the American Rescue Plan Act.
The visit was an opportunity for the lawmaker to see firsthand how the funds were put to use, and a moment of celebration for the La Plata County commissioners charged with dispensing the unprecedented influx of cash.
The bulk of the funds – $10 million – was broken down into three categories: $4 million for housing, $2.5 million for broadband infrastructure and $3.5 million for various social impact projects.
Each county commissioner briefed Bennet on one of the three categories before the recipients of social impact grants went around the room to share how they have leveraged the funds.
The meeting was a rapid round-robin of various La Plata County nonprofits.
Housing, food equity and access, children’s literacy – the money has had a wide reach across the county.
Mardi Gebhardt, board president of the La Plata West Water Authority, extolled the virtues of the new water dock in Kline; Ashley Gonzalez, the supervisor of San Juan Basin Public Health’s opioid risk reduction program, shared the successes of the program, which has now saved 18 lives; and Durango Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Randy Black took the senator on a brief tour of the department’s new mental health ambulance.
“That is incredible,” Bennet interrupted, visibly amazed, as Alejandra Chavez shared the story of how the residents of West Side Mobile Home Park formed a co-op and purchased their own park using, in part, a loan from the county drawn from ARPA funds.
At the event’s conclusion, Bennet offered both the county commissioners and the grant recipients an enormous pat on the back.
“I wish everybody in the country could have listened to the conversation we had today because it’s a reminder of what it looks like when thoughtful people have a chance to collaborate together,” he said. “ … ‘Inspirational’ is the word I want to use to describe the conversation we’ve had today.”
Standing next to DFPD’s mental health ambulance, Bennet said he was impressed by the Board of County Commissioners’ self awareness in recognizing that another entity – the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado – would be better positioned to review grant applications.
“The chance for these projects to bear durable results that are going to last beyond the pandemic is one lesson we can take; the importance of collaboration is another lesson we can take,” he said.