By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Plans for a regional water system in north-central Montana are taking another step forward this week with public meetings slated for Conrad, Chester and Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
Rick Duncan of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said the meetings, running from tonight through Wednesday, have a dual purpose. One is to update what has been done in planning the Rocky Boy/Northcentral Montana Regional Water System. The primary objective, Duncan said, is to start collecting public comments about environmental impacts.
"We're hoping this will help in identifying problems," he said. "The thought is to help identify those potential areas of concern earlier on so we won't have to go back and restructure later."
Potential problems could involve topics ranging from wildlife habitat or cultural, historical or archeological sites to existing infrastructure, Duncan said.
The comments people submit will be included in an environmental assessment that will be conducted by HKM Engineering of Billings, the consultant hired to do the engineering studies for the project.
Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said the tentative date of completion for the assessment is the end of January.
Once all of the requirements are met, possibly next summer, Congress will be asked to fund construction in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2004, Robinson said.
The project would provide water for about 19,000 people on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and communities off the reservation.
A water treatment plant at Tiber Dam would treat about 10,000 acre-feet of water a year, providing water to an area from the Sweet Grass Hills to Dutton and from Loma to the area north of Havre. Entities included in the authority are the Rocky Boy Reservation, Big Sandy, Chester, Conrad, Dutton, the Galata County Water District, the Hill County Water District, the Loma County Water and Sewer District, the North Havre County Water District, Oilmont County Water District, Sage Creek County Water District, Shelby, Sunburst, the Sweetgrass Community Water and Sewer District, and the Tiber County Water District. Havre declined to enter the agreement, proceeding with the upgrade on its own water plant instead. Communities east of Havre could not join the project because of the difficulty of routing the system around Havre.
The proposal for the water system grew out of a plan to provide quality drinking water to residents of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Communities in north-central Montana created the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority to include people off the reservation in the system.
The cost of the project is estimated at $219 million, which would be spread out over the life of the project. It is estimated to take 10 years to complete.
Robinson said before money can be appropriated for the project, a final engineering report must be submitted to the federal Office of Management and Budget, which has three months to review the document. That office then submits the document to Congress, where it must reside for 90 days before money can be appropriated for the project.
HKM Engineering expects the final engineering report to be completed by the end of September, Robinson said, but the environmental assessment must be completed before the report can be submitted.
The environmental assessment will return either a finding of no significant impact or find potential impacts that might require that an environmental impact statement be prepared, she said.
"We're hoping we will not need an EIS," she added.
The first meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Norley Hall in Conrad. Tuesday's meeting is set for 7 p.m at the Liberty County Courthouse in Chester, and Wednesday's is set for 10 a.m. at the old Stone Child College gymnasium at Rocky Boy.
Robinson said people who can't attend the meeting but want to identify environmental concerns can send written comments to the Regional Water Coordinating Committee, P.O. Box 170, Havre MT, 59501.
The comments must be received by Aug. 15 to be included in the environmental assessment, Robinson said.