Havre Daily News
A phone call from U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., on Monday dislodged crucial paperwork from the grip of Washington, D.C. bureaucracy - meaning that initial construction can begin this year on the Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water System.
“This is a huge turning point for us,” project coordinator Annmarie Robinson said Tuesday.
Rehberg's action allows work on a $3.5 million intake at Lake Elwell to begin as early as August, Robinson said.
Without Rehberg's phone call to an official at the federal Office of Management and Budget, the final engineering plans for the intake's construction could have sat in a Washington, D.C., office for too long, causing the project to miss Montana's short construction season and forcing organizers to wait until next year to begin work on the intake.
Rehberg said he learned that the reports were still at the Office of Management and Budget on Monday. He called the official charged with reviewing the report and left a voice mail message, asking why the document was being held up. In his message, he said he also mentioned a meeting with President Bush later that evening.
“In about 22 minutes, they called back,” Rehberg said in an interview Tuesday.
As part of the federal appropriations process, such plans must be reviewed by the office and by Congress before any work can begin, even though federal legislators approved the funding. Rehberg said the process can be frustrating.
“That's what drives us all crazy about bureaucracies,” he said. “You shouldn't have to be a squeaky wheel. It shouldn't have to be that way.
“I said, ‘Get it out,'” Rehberg added. “It's a good project. It needs to move forward.”
It's now time to begin securing dollars for the St. Mary's diversion reconstruction, he added.
Robinson said the project's organizers wouldn't have been able to seek out contractors to do the work if the plans had remained with the budget office.
Rehberg's move and the report's release is “a very, very positive thing,” said North Central Montana Water Authority member Shaud Schwarzbach said.
“That's what we've been waiting for,” he said. “It was definitely a timing issue, and thank goodness it happened when it did.”
The water system will bring water treated at Lake Elwell to at least 18,000 residents on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and in communities across the area. It has been authorized by Congress with a price tag of $229 million. With inflation and the rising cost of materials, it is now expected to cost about $275 million, HKM engineer Gary Elwell said Tuesday.
The water authority, which represents the nontribal communities that have expressed interest in joining the system, has been working with the Chippewa Cree Tribe to move the project forward.
This spring, the city of Havre, along with the other cities, towns and water districts in the authority, will make a final decision about joining the system. Water authority members will attend public meetings here and in other north-central Montana communities to educate residents about it.
Robinson said engineers from Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson have been meeting with community representatives to gather information about different cities' water needs.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice today said that the city will ask the authority and engineers to give them final cost estimates with the assumption that, if the city joined the project the pipeline would be built to supply Havre with 100 percent of its water needs. That pipeline could exist to backup the city's existing water infrastructure or as a total supply.
Last summer, some city officials had discussed the possibility of connecting with the system as a partial supply, but Rice said he doesn't think that idea will be workeable. A pipe built to supply half the city's needs would not likely be expanded at a later date.
“We kind of decided as a group, that if we were going to go into this, that it served no use as a partial supply,” Rice said. “You're going to save no money and it restricted the ability to get more water” at a later date.
A public meeting will be held in Havre in May, Rice said.