By Ross Markman
The Hill County Commission decided Monday it will request letters of support from Rudyard's fire department, school district and post office to bolster a grant application for money to replace a county bridge.
The 55-year-old Wanke Bridge crosses Sage Creek and spans 58 feet north of Rudyard. It's slated as the first of about two dozen Hill County bridges to be repaired or replaced, according to a study performed by Entranco, a Helena-based construction, planning and development company.
"The more letters you can get, the better. They like to see a thick application and backing," said Karl Yakawich, a project engineer for Entranco, who attended Monday's meeting.
The commission has a May 3 deadline to apply for the matching grant from the Treasure State Endowment Program.
Replacing Wanke Bridge is estimated to cost between $180,000 and $200,000, according to Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development Corp. and the person spearheading the grant application process.
"And that estimate could go up," Robinson said.
County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said he would contact the Rudyard fire department, ambulance squad and school district, requesting a letter of backing. All three need the bridge in order to operate efficiently, the commissioners said.
Jerry Otto, county roads supervisor, said he would call the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks office in Havre in an effort to solicit additional written support.
The more letters of support, the better, Robinson said.
"We're as confident as we can ever be. It depends on who applies and all the factors. They're funding three-fourths of the applications," she added.
The state estimates it will receive between 40 and 60 TSEP applications. It will award a total of about $14 million for bridges and other infrastructure, Robinson said.
As for Wanke Bridge, Entranco vice president Dan McCauley said it received the highest priority based on categories like traffic, structural integrity and safety. Entranco inspected each of the county's bridges based on Montana Department of Transportation guidelines, weighing components like foundation, stringers and caps much heavier than routine maintenance items like guardrail repair and painting, McCauley said.
The County Commission will meet again on April 18 at 2 p.m. to discuss how the county, if awarded the grant, could fund its half.
"We won't know where we're ranked until November of '02. We won't be on top, but we'll hopefully be in the funding somewhere," Robinson said. "The hard work's done, but you probably would not see that bridge replaced until at least 2004."