Plans to close the Manitou Incline this month for repairs may be endangered by funding issues.
"I'm very cautiously optimistic at this point," Karen Palus, director of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services said late last week, as a contract had yet to be drawn up for workers to repair the upper part of the mountainside stair stepper, perhaps this region's most popular trail.
The city had expected to have a contractor in place by the end of July, as outlined in its request for proposal. But the timeline has been thrown off by recent snags in the process to ensure reimbursable funding for the anticipated $2 million project.
When the Incline reopened Dec. 2 after repairs, city officials announced a third and final phase was selected to receive that money through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program. The funding would cap a roughly $5 million effort to build erosion-mitigating structures along the steep stretch of railroad ties.
But now that funding appears to be in question. The state department administering the grant program told The Gazette on Monday that the city's request for proposal returned one bid, raising eyebrows among federal granters who require an open and competitive process.
Micki Trost, a spokeswoman with Colorado's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the department is "working to make sure (the city) was following specific guidelines under federal requirements."
"We've seen it with other smaller projects in our state, where jurisdictions didn't follow processes according to federal guidelines, and projects become ineligible for reimbursement. That's not uncommon," she said. "But our goal is to get them every dollar they were allocated."
Trost said the city's procurement office has not been instructed to rebid the project, but it has been asked to return a thorough cost analysis of the project, proving necessary the money eligible for reimbursement. The office did not return a request for comment late Monday, but in an earlier request, its manager, Nicole Spindler, wrote in an email that a contractor was anticipated to be awarded in early August. She wrote that "additional information" was requested by the state but did not elaborate on the process going forward.
Also uncertain is the one submitter of a bid, though the local contractor picked for the previous two phases, Timberline Landscaping, seems likely. Owner Tim Emick did not return requests for comment but told The Gazette previously that the company planned on submitting a bid.
Officials would like to gate off the trail in three weeks for the Aug. 19 Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon weekend that marked the start of the 3 1/2-month-long closures in 2014 and 2016.
With the concern of construction running into winter weather, the clock is ticking.
"If we are much past the end of August, we'll have to push it back a year," Palus said.
Steve Bodette, overseeing the project as the parks department's capital project coordinator, said late Monday "it's in procurement's hands now." He expressed confidence in the office's bidding process, saying that "we followed our rules."
The Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program made $235 million available to Colorado communities in 2016. Allocating those funds, Trost said, "is a slow process to protect the city, state and federal government so that it's spent correctly."
Officials involved in the Incline's makeover have described paying for this phase as more complex than the others, which were possible through a mix of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local sources, including Colorado Springs Utilities, the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks fund and the nonprofit advocate Incline Friends.
Acquiring the money through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development "is never simple," said Manitou Springs Public Service Director Shelley Cobau, who is familiar with the disaster recovery grant program that is paying for work on the town's flood-damaged streets in the wake of the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire.
"You march through paperwork with them," Cobau said, adding that eight-month waits for funding clearance have been typical.
Incline lovers would likely be split on the trail closing or not this year, said David Adair, president of the Incline Friends. Count him among those who want the repairs to happen sooner rather than later - especially on the upper portion, where broken culverts jut from the eroded path with dislodged ties.
"It's gotta happen one way or another," Adair said, "so it might as well get done now."
Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332