By Crystal Thompson
Members of the North Central Montana Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc. (RC&D) met Thursday night to celebrate a successful year.
A meeting of the RC&D Board was held from 4-6 p.m. at the Duck Inn in Havre. A dinner celebration followed, with Mayor Phyllis Leonard as guest speaker. RC&D staff and board members gathered with local government and organizations to discuss the goals and accomplishments of the RC&D.
The local RC&D office is in Shelby, however, it's programs span all across north central Montana. The goal of the RC&D is to maintain the rural Montana lifestyle while creating opportunities for youth and coming generations. Their continuing mission is to assist in management, protection and utilization of area natural resources in order to enhance the quality of life.
The North Central RC&D Area, Inc. was authorized by Congress in 1998. Even before that time, the RC&D was developing plans for programs in our area with support of county, city and tribal governments, conservation districts, and community development organizations.
The master of ceremonies at last night's dinner celebration was Paul Tuss of Bear Paw Development Corporation in Havre. Tuss also serves as secretary for the RC&D. Larry Robertson, RC&D coordinator, said that without the cooperation of organizations like Bear Paw Development, the programs that the RC&D provides would never become fully viable. Robertson added that the success of RC&D programs like Affordable Housing and the Amtrak Express Freight lies in the cooperation of organizations and individuals who are willing to offer support. Fred Davison, the outgoing RC&D chair, called Tuss a "key man" in the success of the RC&D in our area.
Mayor Leonard expressed her appreciation for the recent teamwork between the RC&D and Bear Paw Development. She said by working together, she hoped to maintain the resources that are still available in our area, and continue to improve and create local programs.
"We need to work together to let Helena know that we are still viable," Leonard said, "We need to remind them that Eastern Montana isn't outer Siberia."
The RC&D worked on a variety of projects in the year 2000, and are planning to continue with their efforts. The RC&D is currently working to establish a five county Economic Development District (EDD) through the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA). Cascade, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties have already made application to EDA for EDD authorization. The five counties have developed a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to help guide regional development efforts to improve the economic foundation for communities to grow.
One of the RC&D's most successful projects is the Affordable Housing program. In 1998, the RC&D partnered with the Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) in Great Falls to assist families in the purchase of their first home. Late last year the Montana Board of Housing awarded the NHS/RC&D partnership $1,000,000 to serve first time homebuyers. The RC&D placed 49 families in new homes last year by offering down payment and closing cost assistance. Doreen King, Administrative Assistant at the RC&D in Shelby, recently received top score at a training in New Orleans, Louisiana, qualifying her to take over duties for the Homebuyer Education.
The RC&D has taken on several projects for the improvement of rural Montana, and with continuing cooperation and support, they hope to continue their success throughout 2001.