This is a follow-up to a previous story -- 'On Your Side: Sen. Reid vows to resolve fire grant controversy'
-- from News 4's Joe Hart.
RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- With fire season approaching, you might be surprised to hear bureaucratic red tape is going to limit the amount of firefighting resources in the Tahoe Basin. It's because of an ongoing controversy over millions of dollars in unpaid federal fire grants.
In October 2011, the federal government froze the grant money which had been earmarked for contractors and firefighting agencies in Nevada. News 4 On Your Side investigated to find out if they will ever be paid, and if we are closer to getting this controversy resolved.
Ann Grant is a former board member of the now-defunct Nevada Fire Safe Council. Grant has put in countless hours working with the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to try to free up $2.5 million in federal money. The money is owed to contractors and fire agencies in and around the Tahoe Basin for the fire prevention work they performed more than two years ago.
"We have done everything they have asked us to do," Grant said.
But still, no payment. The problem is the Fire Safe Council used grant money from the Forest Service to pay for work that was funded by the BLM. After that, federal auditors stepped in and prevented anyone else from getting paid.
In February, we contacted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who vowed at the time to step in and get the situation resolved. "They've had enough time. We're going to speed this up," Reid said at the time.
Reid also said that he was just learning about the unpaid grants. "Quite frankly I didn't know about it until just a day or two ago," Reid insisted in February.
But it turns out that is not actually not true. Grant told News 4 she met with Reid's staffers at his office inside the Reno Federal Building in early 2012 about this issue, hoping to get answers then.
"Maybe his staff didn't tell him, I don't know. But we made several contacts with his office trying to get help," Grant said.
News 4 checked with Reid's staff to find out if the Senator did know about this issue two years ago. They confirmed he was briefed back in 2012, but they told us he is briefed on many issues on any given day. Sometimes more than the senator is able to keep track of, they told us.
Senator Reid was at a political event on the UNR campus last week, and was asked if he has made any progress settling this dispute since we last spoke in February. Unfortunately, two months later, Reid's mood seems to have changed and he told us he has not made any progress.
"I'm not going to say it will be paid. We're trying to get it done," Reid said.
But others, like North Lake Fire Chief Mike Brown, remain optimistic. "I think we're getting closer to with respect to the agencies participating together to try to rectify this situation," Brown said.
Adding to the frustration for many, the U.S. Forest Service and B-L-M have filed their own claims in U-S Bankruptcy Court seeking a total of nearly $10 million in grant money that was mismanaged by the Nevada Fire Safe Council.
Despite that, fire chiefs and contractors are still holding out hope the money will eventually end up in the hands of those who actually did the work. "It's going to have be somebody at the top who tells them to do it," added Grant.
The next step may be drafting legislation to authorize Congress to force the U.S. Forest Service to pay the contractors who did the work. One business owner in Gardnerville is owed nearly $20,000 for the work he did, while some fire departments are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.