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Hi-Line Living: Looking ahead in 2018

 

January 12, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Editor’s note: The Havre Daily News wanted to talk to local officials and see what they thought would be major issues, good or bad, to look at in the coming year. Several county, tribal and college officials were contacted but did not respond with interviews or information by the printing deadline for this article. Responses from officials who did talk to the Havre Daily follow.

Economics Havre Area Chamber

The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce has a new executive director, and she said she wants to continue and expand on the success the organization has had in recent decades.

Jody Olson came out of retirement to take over as the executive director at the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce in July.

She said 20 new businesses have joined the Chamber since she took the wheel, for a total of 290, and the plan is to keep her eyes peeled and to keep adding. For example, she said, a new flower shop has recently opened as well as an automotive repair facility, both businesses she would like to recruit.

Olson will also be aiming for ag producers, she said. While the Chamber has an agricultural committee, no ag producers are part of the organization.

Olson said she is feeling good about 2018.

"I think that's going to be a great one," she said.

In addition to recruiting new business, Olson wants to improve communication, and maybe even change a thing or two.

Olson said she is excited about the creation of the recent website which lists events happening in the area, http://www.havreareaevents.com.

"I've had people say to me there's nothing going on in town. Really? I have two or three things every weekend that I go to," she said. "I'm hoping this will help."

The Chamber teamed up with Montana State University-Northern's radio station, KNMC, to create the website.

Olson said she is always listening to input from people, and it is those open ears that will most likely lead to a new route for the Festival Days Parade in 2018.

"Several people want the parade to go through downtown, so I think that's a given," she said. "I want it to go right downtown, either through Second or Third (street), past the downtown businesses. ... I think I'm going to do that."

She said she will talk to the mayor and see about getting the parade route changed. The reroute would mean that, instead of it taking a right at City Hall and toward Simon Pepin Park, it would go in the opposite direction.

Olson said another goal is to "brag on our successes," to let people know about those doing good work.

Bringing back a convention and visitors bureau, Olson said, is also on the agenda.

"With that, we'll be able to bring in some advertising dollars, but we'll be able to bring in some bigger conventions, concerts, things like that," she said.

Bear Paw Development

Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said this year will not see new goals but will see new activity as his organization continues to work with local communities and entrepreneurs to enhance economic development.

Bear Paw is the oldest economic development district in Montana and one of the oldest in the nation, helps local governments and individuals in Blaine, Chouteau, Hill. Liberty and Philips counties as well as the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations, with public infrastructure needs and business development.

Small businesses, Tuss said, are a key component to the health of the regional economy, and Bear Paw can assist entrepreneurs in starting or expanding businesses.

"We are going to be very focused on that in 2018," he said.

Bear Paw in 2016 through financing and services helped maintain or create 64 jobs and coordinate $4,329,123 in funding for business start-ups, expansions and community enhancements.

Bear Paw Director of Community Development Michele Turville said that in 2018 several longstanding projects will be completed, including upgrades to the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line in Havre and construction of the Antelope Court housing project south of Havre.

In the year ahead, Tuss said, Bear Paw hopes to increase its work in value-added agriculture.

"We want to redouble our efforts to make sure that anyone who is out there, who is an agricultural entrepreneur, who has an idea about adding value to their commodities, is given the opportunity to do so," Tuss said.

Universities Montana University System

As well as heading Bear Paw Development, Paul Tuss is also a member and former chair of Montana's Board of Regents of Higher Education. Tuss said the university system will face some new strains in the coming year.

Tuss said that in 2018, the university system will have to contend with deep budget reductions.

The cuts to funding are the result of cuts made due to a drop in revenue caused by overly optimistic revenue projections, less oil and gas revenue coming into the state and a historically bad wildfire season.

A longstanding freeze on tuition rates for state universities was also ended, as universities try to maintain the quality of the programs they provide students, Tuss said.

Tuss said the regents will have to find ways to ensure the 40,000 students the system serves continue to receive access to a quality education.

"In a tight budget environment, which is what we are in right now, we have to be as creative as possible in making sure we are stretching every dollar as far as we can possibly go towards accomplishing that goal," Tuss said.

The Regents' website says they will meet at Montana State University-Northern May 22-23.

Stone Child College

Students at the college at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation have some new opportunities in the coming year with the addition of a four-year program.

Stone Child College, the tribal college on Rocky Boy is known for its low cost of tuition.

Stone Child College President Cory Sangrey said, beginning this semester, students at Stone Child College will have more opportunities when the college begins to offering classes for its new Bachelor of Science program in elementary education.

Montana Office of Public Instruction and Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities each gave their approval last year to move ahead with the program, Sangrey said.

She said the program is one Stone Child has been eager to offer.

"Every time we do a strategic plan, every time we do a survey at the college, it's always come up that we should have our own bachelor's degree program here," she said.

The program will be the first for Stone Child and will make it the second tribal college in Montana to offer at least one bachelor's degree program.

Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Indian Reservation offers 17 bachelor's programs, including one in early childhood education, the college's website says.

Work began to establish the program about five years ago, she said, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Stone child also formed a partnership with Salish Kootenai to get the program started.

A central goal of the program, Sangrey said, is for Stone Child to produce more teachers on the reservation.

Already, about 14 people have enrolled in the program.

Sangrey said the college is looking toward offering other bachelor's programs but has no plans about what specific subjects will be offered or when.

Government Hill County

The Hill County Commissioners say they have many of projects for 2018, with hope of improvement or completion on current ones and hope for fresh starts on others.

Commissioner Chair Mark Peterson said the wheels of government move slow. He said that slow progress includes headway on the two-bank Milk River Levee system. The levees were judged unsatisfactory by the Army Corps of Engineers after 2014 and 2015 inspections, and the goal is to get it back up to standards before FEMA remaps the area and extends the floodplains, which would most likely result in skyrocketing mandatory flood insurance for those in the floodplains.

The commission has already taken the first step to get the levee back up last year. A letter of intent, which keeps the region eligible for a Corps rehabilitation program in the event of a flood, was submitted and then approved Sept. 18. The commission is at the door of the next step, which includes submitting a system-wide improvement framework action plan, or SWIF, Peterson said. A SWIF includes details about what repairs and changes need to be done, a time frame in which those repairs will be done, how the repairs are going to be paid for and the expected completion date. The SWIF takes about two years but it's not out of the question to see some progress - such as finding funding - this year, he said, adding that while it is certainly not certain, it is not out of the realm of possibilities.

An old project the commission hopes will see completion in 2018 is an asphalt overlay on Fresno Road. The goal is to resume construction this spring and finish the project, Peterson said.

With the final lump sum of insurance money from the July 4, 2015 hailstorm recently deposited, the roof of the Bigger Better Barn, which took a major pelting, will be repaired this year, Commissioner Diane McLean said. Insulation will also be added to the barn.

A third player joined the internet game in town - Triangle Communications has expanded its internet presence in Havre, recently completing its Phase 1 Fiber Buildout laying down fiber optics along First Street and to some distance south, and McLean said she's excited about the chance to be on fiber optics

One of Peterson's pet projects, something he said he has been pushing to get fixed for years, has been Montana Secondary Highway 232 that runs from Havre to the Port of Wild Horse on the Canadian border. The death of two people traveling that road in August continues to prove how vital it is to make the road safer, Peterson said.

"I'm excited that we're actually starting to get somewhere with Highway 232," Peterson said. "It's a long-term thing, but according to the state secondary roads, the timeline might be 2023."

That road first went on the state's priority list 20 years ago, Peterson said.

"What's really exciting about that is that coincides about the next time the next (Federal Lands Access Program) funding requests are coming about," he said.

If work is completed on Highway 232 to mile marker 8, "at that same time, we can make the second number one priority on 232, which may be from mile marker 8 to 14," Peterson said. "So those two projects might even coincide within a year of each other to get those portions done. It's a long ways in the future but I'm excited to see that it's getting closer."

McLean said it was good to start the new year with a fully staffed sheriff's office. The office went through months of trying to fill deputy spots. In addition to being loaded on deputies, the dispatch office was also recently filled, she said.

Havre

Havre Mayor Tim Solomon said he hopes to make headway on the Bullhook drainage project.

The city contracted with an out-of-state company to install new concrete culverts in Bullhook, which is covered by pavement and even buildings for most of its course as it runs from south of town to the Milk River. The company did not complete the project in 2016 and the city has been negotiating with it since then.

Solomon said he would love to finish see the project completed and move onto the its next phase.

The city will also need to cleanup from the October snow storm that has littered the streets with tree limbs and left many loose branches hanging, presenting a safety hazard,

Havre has applied to the state for disaster relief funding, a request that has been approved.

Workers were set to begin clearing debris and cutting down dangling tree branches in late December, but the start date was postponed due to snow and cold temperatures. Solomon said he would like to find ways to fund planting new trees to replace some that were damaged in the storm.

"We got a lot of cleanup that still has to be done," he said.

Simon Pepin Memorial Park has remained closed since October because the city needs to bring contractors to cut down some of the branches left dangling in the park and above the city's streets and walkways.

Street work has been set back a bit after the November elections. After voters rejected the mill levy proposal to fund a streets improvement, Solomon said, in 2018 the Havre City Council will have to find another solution to help begin modernizing the city streets.

Solomon said he does not know if more neighborhoods will come together to form Special Improvement Districts, or SIDS.

SIDS are created when a majority of property owners in a given neighborhood come together to form a district and are assessed additional taxes to pay on loans taken to complete projects in that area.

The Council's Streets and Sidewalks Committee, he said, will come up with ways to repair the streets.

New members on the council, he said, can maybe bring new ideas to addressing the issue.

Harlem

Harlem recently had a new sewer system installed, and Mayor Ken "Kim" Hansen said he hopes more work can be done to fix the city's streets and water lines.

"There is a lot of funding being cut from the state now and we got to deal with some of that, but there is some little stuff that needs to be done here and there," he said.

City streets also need to be redone, Hansen said.

In the late 1960s, the street pavement was taken care of, but water infrastructure was not.

"And, as they are breaking, we are just ripping up the streets to get to 'em. So it does do any good to redo much of the streets except patch them. You have to go after the source of the problem and that problem is the lines themselves.," he said.

The city is looking for funding sources working with Bear Paw Development to take advantage of money made available through grants.

Hansen said the raise in state gas tax approved by the Legislature last year should be an additional source of money for local governments to fix deteriorating streets.

Hansen said the money will likely go to bigger cities, but Harlem and other communities can apply for those funds,

"So we are going to go after some of those grants and the money funding is out there," he said.

The problem of aging infrastructure is not unique to Harlem, Hansen said.

"You can drive down the streets of Havre and their streets are probably no better then ours," he said.

However, Harlem's population is getting older and so the city wants want to keep taxes low as they can, Hansen said.

Chinook

Chinook Mayor Keith Hansen said his city is looking to upgrade some waterlines in the city's south end and east side.

"We are working on that right now," Hansen said. "We are looking to go after some government funding to get some of that done."

Between $12,000 and $16,000 in modifications will be made to city hall this spring to the sidewalks and steps of city hall to make them more handicap-accessible, he said. Employees at the city's wastewater treatment plant have contributed to the endeavor by building a ramp to go outside the building.

Hingham

For some less populated, agricultural communities, it is not improvements in the New Year, so much as it is maintaining what they have.

Hingham is a city of 118 according to 2010 U.S. Census data, and Mayor Ray Lipp said he does not have much planned ahead,

"Hingham doesn't have much going," Lipp said.

In the coming year, Lipp said, he hopes the community can keep its volunteer fire department going, despite a declining and aging population.

"That is just the battle for us, keeping the volunteer fire department active and viable," he said. "That is the same for all the little towns here."

Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation

Tribal officials are also looking for signs of progress in 2018.

The Chippewa Cree on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation began the new year relieved of a longtime debt.

Plain Green LLC, the tribe's online provider of short-term loans, settled a longstanding suit between the tribe and BEH Gaming Ltd.

The suit was caused when the tribe defaulted on a loan it had taken out more than a decade ago for construction of its Northern Winz Casino. BEH sued the tribe after it defaulted on the loan.

Baker said he is glad to have the matter settled and hopes it will allow the tribe to explore new options to develop its economy.

"This debt with BEH always hamstringed us in everything we tried to do, but now that that is gone, I think new opportunities will be able to come up and we will be able to fund bigger better things so we can provide more jobs and opportunities locally," Baker said.

The tribe hopes to open its new tribal health clinic in 2018, he said.

"We are moving in in phases, so we should be done and completely moved in, we are hoping, by March,"Baker said.

The new facility is a long-awaited project meant to replace a building that was destroyed in 2010 flooding on the reservation.

Baker said dental services, substance abuse and mental health services, ambulance services, and other medical care will be provided through the clinic.

Another top priority for the reservation is completion of the North Central Regional Water Project.

The project will treat and transport water from Tiber Reservoir, sending 35.5 million gallons of water each day to Rocky Boy and 22 other water districts in adjacent communities including Havre, Big Sandy, Box Elder, and communities west to the Rocky Mountain Front.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Federal funding for the project will provide a much-needed source of water, especially on Rocky Boy which last year was plagued by water shortages caused by drought conditions and antiquated water infrastructure.

Since the project was first authorized in 2002, the project has consistently faced delays and has received only small amounts of funding, causing the overall price tag of the project to soar from $229 million to about $337 million.

Baker, though, said if President Donald Trump and Congress can craft and pass an infrastructure bill, a big infusion of federal money can be provided and allow the project to be completed in three to five years.

 

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