INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- Millions of dollars in federal firefighting grant money has still not been paid out, and now the fight is being taken to the highest levels of our government.
A recent On Your Side Investigation uncovered millions of dollars in federal firefighting grant money has not been paid out even though the work was done years ago. According to North Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Mike Brown, his department is out nearly $700,000 because grant money to pay his crews never arrived after funds were mismanaged by the Nevada Fire Safe Council more than two years ago.
"We've felt this. We're living it. We're trying to get through it," Brown said.
The problem, according to Brown's staff at the North Lake Tahoe Fire District Headquarters, is that the now-defunct Nevada Fire Safe Council used $800,000 in grant money from the U.S. Forest Service in the summer of 2011 to pay for work that should have been funded by a BLM grant.
After the mix-up was discovered, federal auditors moved in and froze the Nevada Fire Safe Council's accounts in October 2011, affecting $2.5 million in federal grant money. More than two years later, private contractors and fire agencies in the Tahoe Basin are still waiting to be paid.
Tahoe-Douglas Fire Chief Ben Sharit said his department is owed more than half a million dollars. "We continue to struggle to make up that lack of revenue."
And yet, no one is suggesting that the money is gone. "The money exists in federal coffers today. earmarked for work that has already been completed," said John Pickett with the Tahoe-Douglas Fire District.
Senator Harry Reid's office was contacted to find out what can be done to get the situation resolved. Reid said he didn't know about the problem until we brought it to his attention. Now that he is aware, he says he will go straight to the top of the two federal agencies involved, if that's what it takes.
"If we don't have something in a week or so, what I'll do is I'll call Tom Vilsack with the Dept. of Agriculture, and Neil Kornze, head of the BLM and we'll get to the bottom of it," Reid said.
That is welcome news to Brown and Sharit, who say the funding shortfall is impacting their ability to fight fires and prevent them. Their agencies have had to cut back on the number of crews they pay to clear brush and conduct controlled burns.
"We don't have the impact we've had in past years. We're not getting the acreage done we've done in past years," said North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District Fire Chief Mike Brown.
But after a two year wait, there may be a light at the end of tunnel. It may simply be a matter of cutting through the bureaucratic red tape that's holding up millions of dollars in grant money.
Senator Reid says enough is enough. "They've had more than enough time to take care of it. So we're going to speed this up."