Southern New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program: 2014 Nutrient Management Grants
Updates as of August 13, 2014
We received 19 proposals totaling $3,082,379 from 12 entities (3 non-profits and 9 governmental subdivisions of the Commonwealth) by the June 9, 2014 pre-proposal deadline. On June 25, 2014, 8 of the 19 applicants, with requests totaling $1,215,999, were invited to submit a full proposal. Full proposals were due Monday, July 21, 2014.
On July 21, the Buzzards Bay NEP received 7 full proposals with requests totaling $843,674 [corrected value]. On Thursday, July 31, 2014, a review committee consisting of 3 federal agency employees and 4 state agency employees met to discuss, score, and rank the full proposals. On August 6, the Buzzards Bay NEP provided to the U.S. EPA a letter containing the reviewers' combined rank order of the proposals and the mean rank scores of the seven proposals we received. The Buzzards Bay NEP will provide this letter to the applicants when the EPA publically announces the funding levels for projects on Cape Cod, and in the Buzzards Bay NEP and Narragansett Bay Estuary Program watersheds. The Buzzards Bay NEP expects the EPA announce funding levels in early September. Proposals will be funded in their rank order determined by the selection committee to the extent of EPA funding. As noted in the RFR, the Buzzards Bay NEP expected between $500,000 and $1,000,000 to be made available to the Buzzards Bay NEP.
We had re-opened the Question and Answer period for Invited Proposals. The new Question and Answer period closed Friday, July 11, 2014 at 4:00 p.m.
July 1, 2014 Notice: On page 14, the sentence under the heading "C. ADDITIONAL REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION" should have read "If selected, the Respondent will be required to submit the following forms to complete a contract:" Therefore, NONE of the documents on the list in that section needs to be submitted with the proposal. Moreover, some of the forms will change for some subdivisions of the Commonwealth. This constitutes a change to the grant solicitation.
The Request for Proposals from the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program
The Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program (NEP), through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs' (EEA) Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), has issued a request for proposals as part of an EPA initiative called the Southern New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program. This solicitation is being issued concurrently with a similar request from the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program for projects in the Narragansett Bay watershed, which includes areas of Massachusetts in the Blackstone, Ten Mile, and Taunton River watersheds. The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program request for proposals will be posted on the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission website.
The focus of this first year of grants will be on both nitrogen loading to impaired coastal waters and habitat, and phosphorus loading to impaired fresh waters and habitat. Funding will be for projects designed to prevent or reduce sources of nutrient pollution, or increase the ability of partners to do so. Both large and small proposals are encouraged.
Application to the Southern New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program, Nutrient Management Grants will be a two-step process. First, applicants will submit a two page pre-proposal (to the NEP where activities are proposed), which will be ranked in a competitive process by a Review Committee. The strongest proposals are expected to add to the scientific or management knowledge base, have transferability and scalability, demonstrate innovation, and show strong collaboration among partners. Pre-proposals were due Monday, June 9, 2014, 4 p.m. to the Buzzards Bay NEP office in Wareham.
The highest-ranking proposals will be invited to submit full proposals. It is expected that invited proposals will total $2 million, but the exact cutoff will be at the discretion of the Review Committee. It is estimated that EPA will fund projects in the Buzzards Bay watershed that will total between $500,000 and $1,000,000. The maximum request for a single project is $400,000.
Question and Answers for the Full Proposal Application
The new Question and Answer period will close Friday, July 11, 2014 at 4:00 p.m. Invitees should email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Below are questions we received (paraphrased for clarity or brevity) and responses. These responses should be considered tentative until finalized on Monday July 14, 2014. These answers are for clarification purposes only and do not constitute an amendment to the grant solicitation unless expressly stated as such.
Question #1: Will you post a list of all pre-proposals that were invited to submit full proposals? Are pre-proposals available for public review?
Response to Question #1: While the grant solicitation process is open and underway, the Buzzards Bay NEP will not post or make available the list of invited applicants, nor make available any pre-proposals for review.
Question #2: On page 14, there is a list of documents that need to be submitted with the proposal. Where can I find the "Commonwealth of Massachusetts Standard Contract Form" and the "Scope of Services and Budget Attachment" (Contract Attachment A)?
Response to Question #2: These two documents are prepared by the Buzzards Bay NEP. Furthermore, on page 14, the sentence under the heading "C. ADDITIONAL REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION" should have read "If selected, the Respondent will be required to submit the following forms to complete a contract:" Therefore, NONE of the documents on the list in that section needs to be submitted with the proposal. Moreover, some of the forms will change for some subdivisions of the Commonwealth. This constitutes a change to the grant solicitation.
Question #3: On page 11 of the solicitation states that successful proposals will have "watershed level benefits or an implementation plan that increases the scale of project benefits or cost effectiveness." Please elaborate further on what "implementation plan" refers to?
Response to Question #3: In this case, "implementation plan" should be read as "a plan for implementation" or "an implementation strategy" as outlined in the applicants proposal.
Question #4: The instructions state there should be no more than 10 pages for the application. Is that 10 pages front and back, or just 10 overall pages?
Response to Question #4: The bid solicitation states that "proposals must not exceed ten (10) pages in length " This was intended to mean that the body of the proposal should be 10 single-sided pages or 5 double-sided sheets. The solicitation also states that the ten page limit does not include additional required documents, including the cover sheet, letter from the applicant, locus map, letters from property owners (if applicable), letters from partners, and budget page(s).
Question #5: The Bid Solicitation was amended so that the forms in section 3C "Additional Required Documentation" no longer need to be submitted with the full proposal. Must applicants submit the other required documents (such as letters from property owners, etc.) with the full proposal?
Response to Question #5: The only section of the bid solicitation that was amended was the requirement to submit original copies of the required forms listed in Section 3C "Additional Required Documentation.” These are the contractual documents that must be completed if the applicant is awarded funds. All other items listed on page 13 must be submitted, including but not limited to, the Cover Sheet, a letter from the applicant, letters from project partners, a letter from the land owner(s) if the project is taking place on private property, a locus map (if appropriate). See also response to Question 4.
Question #6: Can we submit the same letters of support from project partners or property owners that were submitted with the pre-proposal or do they need to be altered?
Response to Question #6: You may submit the same letters as were submitted with the pre-proposal.
Question #7: If a property owner letter was not submitted with the pre-proposal, must such a letter be submitted with the final proposal?
Response to Question #7: The purpose of the letter from the property owner in the pre-proposal phase was to convince the review committee that the project could viably proceed if the applicant received funding. In the pre-proposal phase, letters from property owners were not essential if the applicant was the property owner, or if it was evident that the property owner was already allowing a specific action on the property. Letters from property owners are required for new projects if the applicant is not the property owner, or if the activity is not already ongoing. Letters from partners or property owners that identify actions dependent on the outcome of the proposed work can strengthen an application. Letters previously submitted in the pre-proposal phase or new ones should be included in the final proposal.
Question #8: Are applicants allowed to increase or decrease their match commitments?
Response to Question #8: Applicants are allowed to change match commitments (both the total or percent match) to reflect changed conditions since the pre-proposal was submitted. Applicants must still meet the 25% match minimum of total requested.
Question #9: Are applicants allowed to increase or decrease their budget?
Response to Question #9: We understand that after the submission of pre-proposals, applicants may have refined certain project needs and cost estimates. In this context, it is acceptable to change the budget in the final proposal, with detailed justification provided by the applicant. However, the final proposal must not substantially deviate from the spirit and outcomes of the pre-proposal. On the other hand, substantial deviations in the scope of work or substantial increases in the requested funds (in the opinion of the review committee) could result in either rejection of the project or budget cuts without changes in the scope of work.
Question #10: On page 12 of the grant solicitation, under "Background," does the "Organization's qualifications" mean only the organization writing the proposal? If we have partners, should we also list their qualifications at this point? I do not want to be redundant and waste space, because under "Project Description" it requests Staff Qualifications, List of Partners and their roles, responsibilities and qualifications.
Response to Question #10: "Organization's qualifications" refers to the applicant, which is the entity that would sign the contract with the Commonwealth and would be responsible for overseeing the work of their staff, or their subcontractors, and for ensuring that the project is completed on time. “Staff Qualifications” under “Project Description” would be the appropriate place to identify the expertise or experience of individuals (the staff of either the organization or subcontractor) that would have responsibilities for specific tasks.
Question #11: Does this grant program allow full government rate overhead charges as would be allowed for a standard government submission, or is there a restriction on the rate because the solicitation is issued by the Commonwealth?
Response to Question #11: The RFR is silent on allowable indirect rates, and the Buzzards Bay NEP does not have a policy on indirect rate limits.
Question #12: Would a graphic of the proposed project be considered part of the 10-page proposal limit?
Response to Question #12: Yes. Only the locus map and other documents specified in question 4 are excluded from the 10-page limit.
Question #13: On page 12 of the bid solicitation, under "Project Description," applicants are asked to "provide a specific, step-by-step narrative of each task...." Do you mean protocols or something more generalized? If you do mean protocols how detailed would you like them? Would you like the lab protocols or just something along the lines of "the water was then sampled for nutrient i.e. N/P analysis"
Response to Question #13: The applicant’s goal is to provide sufficient detail to convey to the review committee that the methodology is appropriate in the context of the study, that the applicant understands what parameters should be measured, and that the approach can meaningfully answer any questions being proposed. If chemical analyses were proposed for example, it would be appropriate to mention the methodology (e.g., "Hach Nitrate Color Disc Test Kit") or EPA method numbers (e.g., EPA Method 353.2).
Pre-proposal Questions and Answers
The pre-proposal question period closed Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Below are questions we received (paraphrased for clarity or brevity) and final responses. These answers are for clarification purposes only and do not constitute an amendment to the grant solicitation unless expressly stated as such.
Question #1: If work is proposed in both Narragansett Bay and Buzzards Bay, should we submit two separate proposals?
Response to Question #1: Irrespective of the nature of the work, two applications are always required. If the activities proposed in the two estuary watersheds are not interdependent, if there is no economy of scale, or no reasons to link the projects, two separate standalone applications should be submitted to each estuary program. On the other hand, if because of the nature of the work, economies of scale, or for other reasons, the activities are fundamentally interconnected as a single project, the pre-proposals to each estuary program should identify the requested grant contribution from that estuary program and explicitly state that the project is dependent on funding from the other estuary program. In such cases, the combined funding request from the two applications cannot exceed the $400,000 total project limit. For such linked applications, invitations for full proposals or selection for funding will require that the project be sufficiently highly ranked by both review committees.
Question #2: As the source of funding is from the U.S. EPA, would grantees be required to comply with U.S. EPA Affirmative Action policies that are in place for awards of $50,000 or greater?
Response to Question #2: As noted in the Commonwealth Terms and Conditions, applicants must comply with all elements of Condition 10 (Affirmative Action, Non-Discrimination In Hiring And Employment). As further noted in Condition 14 of the ENV Supplemental Terms and Conditions, the requirement to comply with the state’s Affirmative Market Program only applies to contracts for the procurement of goods and services over $50,000 (regulated under 815 CMR 21.00), and does not apply to grants (regulated under 815 CMR 2.00). These documents are on the COMMBUYS website with the request for proposals (see link above). There are no specific document submission requirements or final reporting requirements relating to Affirmative Action for sub-award grant recipients over $50,000 in this grant program.
Question #3: Would an application that seeks to study [insert type of study here], be eligible for funding?
Response to Question #3: We suggest that potential applicants review Section 1C of the grant solicitation, "Eligible and Ineligible Projects" (especially the lists on page 4-5). As noted on the scoring sheet in Attachment E, a majority of reviewers must concur that a particular project is eligible for funding according to these criteria.
Question #4: How important is it for respondents to have project partners?
Response to Question #4: The scoring criteria are provided in Attachment E. Collaboration is evaluated in scoring element 5, and worth 10 of 115 points. Also, the degree of collaboration among partners may potentially affect other scoring elements such as perceived effectiveness, sustainability, or other criteria, if deemed relevant by the reviewers.
Question #5: What is the preferred sub-watershed scale (i.e., HUC level) for evaluating impact of the proposed projects?
Response to Question #5: Site-specific projects will generally be evaluated at the watershed of impaired marine embayment or freshwater pond watershed. A map of those watersheds in Buzzards Bay, where defined, are included in the solicitation, and at http://restore.buzzardsbay.org/impaired-waters.html. In most instances, these watersheds are mostly at the HUC12, HUC14, or HUC16 level. However, under scoring element 4 (Regional Significance), and possibly other scoring elements, the relevance and transferability of the proposed work to other impaired embayments in Buzzards Bay and across southern New England may be considered.
Question #6: Is there a preference for projects that will use the grant to directly fund construction/implementation?
Response to Question #6: In terms of eligibility, on page 2 of the solicitation, it is stated, "projects will be sought that implement immediate action to reduce or prevent nutrient pollution, or to develop designs or plans to prevent or reduce nutrient pollution from various sources, and to support program building in support of these efforts." This is amplified on page 4 with, "eligible nutrient projects include proposals for implementation as well as proposals for feasibility, planning, policy development, and program-building projects that are expected to result in tangible benefits that meet the goals of this effort. Implementation projects typically include those that result in specific actions relating to construction, or specific activities including implementation of regulatory or non-regulatory programs, and education elements. Feasibility, planning, policy development, and capacity building and program building projects will prepare for future on-the-ground implementation projects, and can include design or research elements." We believe the scoring element criteria in Attachment E meet these stated goals. Certain planning studies are explicitly identified as ineligible for funding including "studies to develop TMDLs, general nitrogen or phosphorus loading studies, and development of Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plans (CWMPs)" (page 5).
Question #7: Are the criteria for matching funds fixed?
Response to Question #7: The criteria for matching funds is explicitly stated in scoring element 8 (Match).
Question #8: What is the schedule for selection and funding?
Response to Question #8: The schedule is clearly stated on page 15.
Question #9: What has the level of interest in this round of grants been so far?
Response to Question #9: We are unable to objectively answer this question.
Request for Information from the Buzzards Bay NEP and Narragansett Bay Estuary Program
On May 6, 2014, the Buzzards Bay NEP, in partnership with the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, posted here a draft of the request for proposals as part of a request for information. This request for information was undertaken because this is a new grant program, and we sought comments on the scope and proposal review criteria to ensure that the grant program would meet the goals of the Southern New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program, the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program, and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program. Below are selected questions and comments received, and responses. We will keep these posted to aid in the submission of pre-proposals.
Selected Comments and Questions Received on Draft Solicitation and Responses
Question/Comment #1: Are there any eligibility limitations on the land ownership type (public / private) where on-the-ground projects are proposed?
Response to Question/Comment #1: There are no eligibility limitations on the land ownership type.
Question/Comment #2: The solicitation for bids (grants proposals) suggests you will only accept $2 million in pre-proposals. Because the single proposal cap is $400,000, if it happens that a number of large projects were ranked high, they might preclude consideration of other promising proposals. The review committee should select the appropriate cutoff level of ranked proposals based on their quality.
Response to Question/Comment #2: The Buzzards Bay NEP and Narragansett Bay Estuary Program have incorporated this language in the final grant solicitation: "The number of applicants to receive invitations will be at the discretion of the Review Committee. Invitations will be offered to the highest ranked proposals in order of rank by the Review Committee. The tentative cutoff is $2 million (twice the maximum possible available), but because the maximum possible request is $400,000, the precise cut-off will depend upon the amounts requested among the highest ranked proposals and the total number of pre-proposals received. The goal of the Review Committee is to ensure that the highest ranked and most promising proposals are invited to submit full proposals. The Review Committee has discretion to select among equally scored proposals based on factors such as project diversity or geographic coverage."
Question/Comment #3: By making comments on what the request for proposals looks like, does that disqualify a person or entity from applying for the grants when the grant solicitation is on the street?
Response to Question/Comment #3: No, the submission of comments, suggestions, recommendations for funding categories, or even proposing specific projects will have no bearing on either eligibility or likelihood of funding. Conversely, failure to submit comments will also have no bearing on eligibility or likelihood of funding. The purpose of a request for information is to assist in the development of a potential procurement (or in this case grant program) by inviting other departments, potential bidders or other interested parties to provide technical and business advice concerning standards, practices, costs, limitations, needs, and other information which are relevant for successful implementation of our program. Comments received about specific project proposal ideas that are not submitted in the form of a question about eligibility or recommended topic area, will not be listed here, but may be used by the programs to evaluate draft grant selection criteria.
Question/Comment #4: Some comments were received about the fact that the primary focus of the grant program in its first year is on nutrient issues in southern New England watersheds.
Response to Question/Comment #4:The focus on nutrient related impairments emerged out of discussions among the Southern New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program partners, a diverse group of stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations and state, federal, and local agencies concerned with the watersheds of Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay, the south side of Cape Cod, and the Islands. Nutrient pollution is widely regarded as one of the most significant water quality issues facing this region--one that will cost the region billions of dollars in the coming decades and is a top concern identified in the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans of both National Estuary Programs.