Official backtracks on firehouse funds

From Staff ReportsApril 4, 2009 

A dispute over which president's administration cleared the way for a federal grant in Pikeville boils down to paperwork and promises.

Vice President Joe Biden visited the small town's volunteer fire department Wednesday to announce more than $1 million in loans and grants through federal stimulus money to build a fire station.

Fire department officials, though, said they had requested the money months earlier, during President Bush's administration, and were told in December by a U.S. Department of Agriculture official that the $1 million loan and at least some of the grant money was coming. They recounted numerous meetings with Agriculture Department officials and put out contract bids for construction.

Agriculture Department officials Thursday sharply disagreed with the fire officials, saying the application for the federal funds was received March 5 and was approved the same month. The Agriculture Department provided a copy of the application with the March date.

Russell Robertson, the fire department's president, repeated Thursday morning that a North Carolina-based Agriculture Department official told him in December the loan was approved. But Thursday afternoon, after speaking with Agriculture officials in Washington, Robertson said he was wrong. He said he misunderstood and the department had applied for the money in March.

The Agriculture Department official who spoke to Robertson in December did not respond to a request for an interview.

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