By Ross Markman
In an effort to prevent cows from sharing the road with motorists in Beaver Creek Park, nine miles of the Beaver Creek Highway will soon be outfitted with springs.
The Hill County Commission this week awarded a bid to Patrick Construction to install 12 springs and 12 tanks no less than a quarter-mile from the road. Most of the tanks will not be visible from the highway.
"The main objective here is to try and get the springs up in the hills away from the highway," Commissioner Pat Conway said.
The project, he added, will begin as soon as a contract is signed.
The commissioners hope the springs generate enough water to keep thirsty cows from wandering onto the road. Brought in by ranchers, cows roam Beaver Creek Park from the day after Labor Day until Dec. 31.
Patrick Construction, located west of Havre, will do the work for $63,625, the lowest of three bids the commission received. The bid by Patrick Construction includes the installation of plastic liners, which are used to prevent leaks and rusting in the tanks.
To create each spring, Patrick Construction will tap the groundwater and dig a 30- to 36-inch ditch, in which a 2-inch PVC pipe will be installed. Each pipe will connect the spring to a 1,000-gallon tank.
"If it's a good spring, it will be a constant spring," Conway said.
In the middle of each tank will be another pipe that will divert excess water into Beaver Creek to prevent possible overflow.
The springs are being built because of a compromise the county reached with the state over how to keep cattle away from the highway, which is also known as State Highway 234.
State law says that any state road must be fenced if nearby grazing livestock presents a hazard to drivers.
Highway 234 used to be a county road. In 1993, the commissioners petitioned the state Highway Commission to make Highway 234 a state secondary road. The state agreed, which qualified Highway 234 for state funding.
When the state in 2000 took over maintenance of the road, the fence requirement kicked in.
"That was fairly well unacceptable to us," Kaercher said.
He said people thought a fence would be inappropriate and an eyesore in the county park.
The commissioners went to the Montana Legislature with a proposal to make Highway 234 exempt from the fencing law. The exemption was approved last year.
"Part of that is we have to put in off-site water," Kaercher said.
The commission is also investigating other safety options along Beaver Creek Highway, including reducing the speed limit and putting up road hazard signs.
Installing the springs will also save the county money, Kaercher said, as the fencing was estimated to cost about $600,000.
"And not only is this a money saver, it's just more acceptable to the park," he said.