by Tim Leeds
The Havre City Council has decided to take a closer look at joining the Rocky Boy/North Central Montana Regional Water System.
Council members Monday decided to bring in experts on the regional water system to answer questions about it.
"We need a better education," council president Rick Pierson said.
The idea seemed dead about a month ago, when council members said at a meeting and in interviews that joining the system didn't seem viable for Havre.
The item appeared on Monday night's council agenda at the request of council member Pam Hillery, who said constituents told her they wanted the City Council to take a vote on the issue.
Hillery asked the council to adopt a resolution to pay about $20,000 to the regional water system authority to study how much it would cost the city to join the system and answer other questions about participating in the system.
The council postponed a vote until it hears from experts on the project.
The water system will treat water from Lake Elwell at Tiber Dam, southwest of Chester, and pipe it to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and member communities and rural water districts in north-central Montana. It will serve about 20,000 people.
Without a vote by the City Council, Havre citiy officials opted out of joining the system in December 1997. The council decided instead to take out an $8 million loan to upgrade its water treatment plant, which treats water from the Milk River.
The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce earlier this year asked the council to again look into the possibility of joining the regional system, citing concerns that the Milk River may not supply enough water for the city in the future.
"I think it is our obligation as a seat of government to decide, make a decision on what we are doing and not doing," Hillery said Monday night.
Council member Terry Schend said questions he wants answered include whether Havre would have to build a station to reduce water pressure where the regional system joined the Havre system, and whether Havre would need to treat the water again.
Schend said if the study answered the questions council members have, he would support paying for it. He would not if it only addressed the cost of Havre's participation, how big the regional water treatment plant would have to be if Havre joined, and how big the pipe would have to be to transport the water to Havre, he said.
Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick said the city needs to look at what can be done to ensure Havre has a good supply of water.
Lou Lucke of Havre told the council it should remember that Havre has no water rights to the Milk River.
The city has a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to use water from the river. The water in the river is primarily dedicated to irrigation.
Charlie Grant of Havre said the council should also consider that water compacts being negotiated with the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap Indian reservations could allocate more water from the Milk River to the tribes.
"Examine this and leave no stone unturned until we know everything going on," Grant said.
Chamber president Chuck Wimmer said the chamber is trying to be visionary and prevent problems down the road. He said upgrading the water treatment plant was needed at the time, but Havre may have other needs in the future.
"There's no easy answer to this," Wimmer said.
The state and federal government are paying most of the cost to build the $229 million regional water system. The cost of Havre's participation was once estimated at $34 million, a figure many believe is now unreliable.
Mayor Bob Rice gave the council members a list of his questions after the council meeting, including who would be in charge of the treatment plant, and who would oversee the design, maintenance and water quality.
Rice's list also asks who would be required to deal with the quality of Havre's water and any necessary redesign of the Havre system, and what would happen to the city's upgraded water treatment plant.
Rice said he wants to bring someone in to answer questions about the regional system other than Annmarie Robinson, an official of Bear Paw Development Corp. and coordinator for the authority, who earlier gave a presentation to the council. He said he has someone in mind but declined to name that person until he could find out if the person could talk to the council.
Hillery said she has the answer to one question: whether paying for the engineering study would require Havre to join the system.
"Absolutely not," she said, adding that it will be up to the authority to let Havre join.
Wimmer said after the meeting that he is glad the council is trying to find out more about joining the regional system.
"I think it's great they're at least willing to visit this," he said, adding, "There's some very good questions that need to be answered."