Community members speak up at BUILD grant meeting


April 11, 2019

While a few people did speak at a second meeting about Hill County’s plan to apply for a $25 million infrastructure grant, Hill County Commission Chair Mark Peterson said he was disappointed more did not show up.

“Quite frankly, if people are not interested enough to come to the meeting, do we want to focus on their roads?” Peterson said. “Maybe we need to focus on areas where people are interested and want to come to the meeting and let us know what’s going on.”

He said that the county has approximately 1,800 miles of roads and with the grant the county plans to gravel approximately 300 miles of road and repair, repave and overlay a number of other roads. The main goal of these public meetings, he said, is to get community input on the roads the community believes to be top priority.

“I really feel this is important,” he said. “I don’t see any other way we are going to get our roads in shape again without having some money.”

In 2018, Montana had $150 million available and only $22 million in two grants and one planning grant were awarded, he said.

“We left $122 million on the table that we could have used for the infrastructure in Montana,” he said. “There is no question about it, there is a need for it.”

With $150 million available through the grant, Peterson said he wants to see $300 million in applications, because if the grant goes unused the federal government may cut the grant.

“I want applications for this,” he said. “I want competition.”

The federal Department of Transportation awards the money to states, which then award it to local rural governments, which in Montana includes any city with 50,000 or fewer people.

Peterson said the amount being given to states is going down. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would allow $100 million to be available to Montana next year.

“They are already cutting,” he added.

Peterson said he has communicated with several other counties across the state to speak with them about the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant. Blaine, Liberty, Cascade and Toole counties have all expressed interest in the grant, as well, he added.

Only five cities in Montana are ineligible for the grant, due to their large population, he said. The state is in desperate need of infrastructure and road repairs and grants such as the BUILD grant provide an opportunity to solve part of the issue, including Hill County.

All of the roads in Hill County were built more than 60 years ago, he said, and are in poor condition.

Community member Phil Moen said that he lives on a gravel county road, and before 2010 it was in good shape. Since then, the weather, including several floods, has played a large role in the deterioration of the road.

“As a result of that, a really good road has become a really bad road,” he said.

Community member Austin Genereux added that the gas tax money and natural gas money the county used to receive has decreased dramatically.

Moen said the county used to get approximately a million dollars from the tax, but the amount has since decreased to $50,000.

Community member Chris Walin said that he drives trucks for a living, working in 42 of the 50 states in the U.S. Part of the reason Hill County’s roads are in such bad condition, he said, is because farm equipment and trucks are unregulated, maxing out their loads and driving on roads that are unable to support the weight.

“It will ruffle some feathers,” he said, but the county needs to look into regulating the weight of the trucks which travel on these roads.

He added that counties in other states like North Dakota, already have systems in place to help preserve the roads.

Peterson said farm equipment and trucks are not the only reason the roads are deteriorating ­— the way people drive is also impacting them

People drive recklessly on the roads, he said. Gravel roads are two lanes, not one, and the speed limit is not 70 miles per hour, Peterson added.

“If we are going to make this work, we need to work together,” he said. “We need to change what we have done in the past.

Lowell Alcock said he agreed with Peterson.

“Everyone kind of thinks somebody else will take care of it, but when it directly affects them, then they want to rally the troops,” he said. “When it directly affects them and when it hits them in the pocket book.”

Peterson said he also wants to do work at Hingham, a project not previously mentioned because Hingham is an incorporated town. Peterson said he has spoken to the Hingham mayor and hopes to be able to lay some gravel in the town.

The goal for all of the roads included in the project, Peterson said, is to lay six inches of gravel, which will hopefully last a decade and give the county the opportunity to gravel additional non-priority roads. He added that he wants to have two times the amount of grave they will need so the county will have piles in different locations where it can be used.

Genereux said that if the county is also going to pursue creating its own gravel pits, it will need to keep an eye on the Legislature and the state making gravel pits more expensive to maintain.

Moen said that he has spoken to his neighbors, who were unable to attend the meeting due to work obligations on their farms and ranches, about the BUILD grant and they told him the the grant was something they all agreed the county needs to pursue.

Havreite Bob Sivertsen said the the community of Hill County looks to the commissioners for leadership. The community electing the members of the commission because they trust and believe they are competent. He encouraged Peterson, and the other commissioners, to make the hard decisions and select the high priority roads themselves according the the data available to them.

Peterson said he was happy to hear from the few community members who were at the meeting and appreciated their comments and input.

“We need more of this,” he said. “We need more of this exchange of ideas.”

The commissioners will he holding another meeting regarding the BUILD grant at Spencer’s Hi-Way Bar and Grill in Hingham Monday at 6:30 p.m.


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