Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
With 2007 coming to a close, local governments and groups have a lot of irons in the stove for the next year. Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said there is evidence showing that economic growth and even some population growth seems to be happening in the Hill County-area, and that activity could continue. “It’s hard to look in a crystal ball,” Tuss said, “ but if you look in the crystal ball for 2008 a few things indicate it will continue.” Tuss said one area that could provide an intense stimulus is continued interest in alternative fuels, like bodiesel and ethanol. Montana citizens and its government, including the members of its congressional delegation, continues to push to develop incentives and requirements for alternative fuels, he added. “There’s going to be continued emphasis on the federal level and leadership in individual states to create a domestic supply of fuels,” Tuss said. Earl Fisher BioFuels LLP., a partnership between Brett Earl and Logan Fisher, is already up and running in Chester. The two fourth-generation Montana farmers are working to develop a plant that they intend to eventually produce 1 million gallons of biodiesel a year. Other interests include Allied Bio Energies, which CEO Scott Geda and vice president of operations Robert Allen say will eventually produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel a year at a plant the company intends to build near Havre. Both Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation have indicated interest in building ethanol plants, as well. Tuss said north-central Montana’s rural nature, as well as the state support for alternative energy, could benefit the region in developing projects like these. “I think Montana is fairly well-positioned to become a national leader in alternative energy and biofuels projects,” he said. Both the city and county governments have many projects planned, ranging from repairing historical buildings to repairing infrastructure to creating new services that should improve the quality of life in the area. Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he has several items he plans to have the city work on, including some he has been interested in nearly from the start of his term in office in 2002. He said some of those he would like to see completed before his second term ends in 2009. One of these is an idea he learned From the mayors of Billings and Laurel while at a mayors’ annual training session, Rice said: creating an insurance fund to pay for repair of water curb-boxes and water mains. Rice said Billings and Laurel both add a small fee to the monthly water bill, creating a fund to use to help pay for repairs. In Havre, paying for those repair projects often as high as $5,000 each is the responsibility of the property owner, he said. Rice said he wants to continue to investigate creating that fund and possibly implement it this year. “We’re going to have to do our homework on that,” he said. The city is also negotiating with a couple of retail stores interesting in opening locations in the area, Rice said, adding that at the request of the companies he cannot name them at this point. Rice said he also wants to work on creating a walking path up the hill on Fifth Avenue up to student housing on the Montana State University-Northern campus. Some of his other plans are to improve existing infrastructure. The city will be working with the state Department of Transportation to renovate Fifth Avenue, including replacing curbs and gutters and building handicap-accessible pedestrian crossings at the crosswalks, he said. “It’s going to be a bit of an inconvenience, especially with the (First Street reconstruction project) starting back up,” he said, “but it’s necessary and it’s not costing (the Havre taxpayers) any money.” The project will be payed for with federal and state highway funds. Rice also said the completion of the First Street project, including new water drainage systems, will also benefit the community. He also has received a $5,000 grant from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway that will be used to replace benches and trash receptacles downtown with permanent concrete structures, Rice said. Other projects will include paving projects on the east end, and proceeding with subdivisions once the city and county’s growth plan has been updated to meet state requirements, expected to happen in January. The Hill County commissioners say they also have an extensive list of projects the county is working on in the upcoming year. One of those is creating a transportation commission to oversee public transportation to other communities in the region. The system could use a bus, or possibly even a car or van, to provide transportation to areas like Great Falls or Billings. One project is to build a computer system that could coordinate such transportation in the region. Several counties around Hill County already provide some transportation, and a system to coordinate those systems could increase efficiency and prevent duplication. Commissioner Kathy Bessette said many people have expressed interest in such a transportation system, including college students who would like to be able to get to the Great Falls International Airport without having to leave their cars there. “I think there was interest in all sorts of ages,” she said. Bessette said another program the county is working on is assessing the need to build housing suitable for elderly residents. The county has received grant funding to hire an architect to conduct a study, and has interviewed two firms and will interview another this week, she said. A high-profile project is continuing to work on renovating the ground floor of the courthouse. Commission Chair Mike Anderson said the work is nearly complete to pour a new floor in the level and rebuild the handicap access and stairs on the east side of the courthouse. The county will put the project to rebuild the ground floor in a new design next year, he said, with the hope that the county agencies now in temporary housing soon could move back into the courthouse. Another major project is completing the work on the Northern Tier of the state communication project, which will provide seamless communication with government agencies and organizations tied into the system. It will also allow specialized grouping of communication. “That’s another multimillion dollar project that we find ourselves intimately inerweaved with,” Anderson said. Havre and Kalispell will both have control systems allowing coordination of communications, with, for example, all groups involved in an incident set to communicate with each other during the incident. The infrastructure is nearly complete, and now the groups that will use the system need to be “mapped” to allow the communications system to be designed. Other projects planeed include work on structures at Camp Kiwanis in Beaver Creek County Park. The county intends to work on repairing the lodge at Kiwanis, and to look at the feasibility of repairing the chapel, which was built by the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The county will also use a grant to pay for a study on seepage at the dam at Beaver Creek Reservoir about 8 miles south of Havre. Anderson said the dam, built in the mid- 70s to provide irrigation storage, flood control and recreation, has some apparent seepage. That could be caused by a spring in or near the dam, but that has to be determined, he said. The representatives of Bear Paw, Havre and Hill County all said one issue will continue to be a major factor in 2008 and into the future: community’s interest in rebuilding aging infrastructure including the structures for transportation, and water and sewer systems. “That hasn’t lessened at all and I can’t foresee a time in the future where the appetite will decrease,” Tuss said. Rice also said it is an issue all communities have to deal with. “It’s either pay me now or pay me later,” he said.