Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The Hill County Commission Thursday voted to accept a donation of 40 acres of land to build an industrial park south of Havre, with two votes in favor and one abstention. After holding a meeting with Bear Paw Development Corp. Executive Director Paul Tuss and Value-Added Ag Coordinator Pam Lemer, the council voted on the proposition to accept the land located off U. S. Highway 87 near Fort Assinniboine, from Dave VanDergriend of Idaho. It is planned to be the site of the Montana Agro-Energy Industrial Park, to house businesses focusing on value-added agriculture and alternative energy. Lemer said after the meeting that a survey of the land, to determine the exact boundaries, is now under way. “The land will be transferred at the end of the year,” she said. The city of Havre and the county commission had discussed accepting the land in joint ownership, and Havre Mayor Bob Rice, in a written statement, expressed his disappointment in the city being left out of the deal. “This venture would be in the best interest of everyone, and politics should not be involved,” he wrote. “The park would be a very positive economic development for our area, and both the County and City entities will benefit from it.” The Bear Paw Development representatives and the commissioners discussed the benefits of sole versus joint ownership during their meeting. Tuss said that he can see no definite benefit from joint ownership, as the city and other communities can still apply for grants, such as through the state Community Development Block Grant program even if not owners of the property. He and Lemer said some cities and counties have both applied for CDBG grants to improve property when neither entity owned the land. Tuss said the county owning the land would not prevent the city helping develop the infrastructure. “Ownership of this land is irrelevant to that,” he said. Commissioner Mike Anderson said the single ownership could make the development simpler. “It’s just a cleaner operation, I guess, if there is just one owner,” he said. Rice said in his statement that he had been told the county would get back to him about the idea of joint ownership, but he was not contacted About it or about the Commission’s meeting Thursday. Anderson and Commissioner Kathy Bessette voted to accept the land. Commission Chair Mike Wendland abstained. Wendland said that while he supports creating an industrial park on the Hi-Line, he does not think the proposed site is the best. “I have not been in favor of this from the start,” he said, adding that other sites would work better as an industrial park. The decision comes after several years of investigating creating an industrial park. In 2007, an effort to create a park to hold a biodiesel plant fell through when the company pursuing the park decided to purchase land of its own, and no plant has been created near Havre from that. The land being donated is close to the same property being considered in 2006 and 2007, with VanDergriend having purchased it from the previous owner in the interim. The land is also adjacent to land being pursued for another biodiesel plant, which Allied Bio-Energies announced recently it was purchasing. Lemer said during the meeting that several businesses have talked to Bear Paw Development about Havre, and liked many aspects of the area including the school systems, college and hospital, but also wanted a place to locate their business. That cut Havre out, she said. “Right now we do not have any place in this area to put them,” she said. “We’re sending away jobs, we’re sending away money.” Tuss said that, using money already received through the Growth Through Agriculture Program, the next step is to finish the survey, have the land appraised, have a site plan designed “and put up a sign.” Tuss said Bear Paw Development has already registered the name Montana Agro- Energy Industrial Park and its logo with the state for use at the park. The group also discussed funding for development of the infrastructure of the park, including water, sewer, electricity and curbs and gutters for the site. Grants are one possibility, including working with the city of Havre and possibly other communities and also in conjunction with Allied Bio- Energies. Bessette said creating a park, and its bringing infrastructure like sewer and water service to the area, could stimulate a high level of economic development. She said it was the creation of a county industrial park that allowed bringing the Holiday Village Mall to the area, and another county industrial park at the junction of U.S. highways 2 and 87 has helped bring many businesses in west of town, including the current Kmart and Wal-Mart. Wendland said he supports creating an industrial park, but many areas on the Hi-Line from Glasgow to Shelby including many in Hill County are already located on the main line of the railroad and have the infrastructure needed. He said other problems with the proposed site include taking it off of the county tax rolls and taking it out of the private sector for use or development as agricultural land. Wendland added that the land is apparently enrolled in the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program, where farmers are paid rent to return land to a natural state for soil conservation and to provide wildlife habitat. That contract would have to be bought back from the FSA before it could be used as an industrial park, he said. Bessette agreed that she does not want the county to have to buy out a CRP contract. Tuss said he has been planning to find out more about the situation on the CRP contract, and will proceed with that along with continuing the other work on the land swap and creation of the park.