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LADC puts LRC, Turner proposals on hold

| August 6, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring & Roger Morris, Western News Reporters

The Libby Research Center and Kootenai Winter Sports will have to wait for word on whether funding will be granted by the Lincoln County Development Co. to help finance their proposals.

Center for Asbestos-Related Disease is seeking $20,000 as local seed money to establish a national center for research into tremolite asbestos-caused diseases. KWS is trying to build a day lodge, grooming equipment, and new ski rentals at Turner Mountain.

Both groups were dismayed by the decision and upset that a Wednesday meeting of the LADC was cancelled without notice. Both groups had received a letter notifying them of the ³moratorium² for granting funds.

The letter explained that LADC would postpone all decisions on pending projects until the desired allocation of funds is finalized.

³Upon review, the LADC will be taking time to ascertain what funds will be paid back into the fund and when they will become available for future requests,² wrote LADC President Robb MacDonald. ³All pending projects will not immediately be acted upon until the best use of the LADC funds is determined for the benefit of the community.²

Dr. Brad Black, director of CARD, was upset that continued discussion of the research center proposal was not ongoing when the process for seeking funds began in early July. Last week, on July 29, LADC had received 20 pages of additional, requested information prompting the board to delay a decision another week. Board Chair Robb McDonald said CARD would have an answer on Aug. 4.

Black and nearly a dozen supporters of the project showed up for a meeting on Wednesday at The Venture Inn. But LADC didn¹t.

³It¹s an ill-defined letter as to what we can expect,² Black said. ³It doesn¹t tell me not to show up for a meeting to continue discussion.²

Black called it ³poor communication as well as disrespectful² to individuals who have followed the procedures and worked with the LADC board¹s needs.

³We can¹t sit around and wait a long time, we have to move on,² Black said. He questioned the accountability of the LADC and its actions.

³We will talk about it as a board and make a decision,² Black said.

Last week, after the CARD presentation, LADC had a brief discussion of how much money remained in the $8 million economic development fund and how much money was coming in through payments of loans previously given to organizations, entities and businesses.

The LADC board was to have an informal luncheon meeting on July 29 to discuss their philosophy on how to handle the remaining funds, which City Clerk Heidi Morris said was $1.6 million as of last week, not counting future payments coming back into the fund

CARD president Mike Giesey told LADC last week that his board was moving forward whether or not they received LADC funding. But, Giesey noted that local support is the first thing granting organizations and agencies ask about.

Turner Mountain officials are no less upset about the decision. Relying almost solely on volunteers, Zwang said the work at Turner Mountain can only be carried out on weekends. Without a clear timeline from the LADC on the disbursement of funds, the lodge project will remain in limbo.

³We would like to have a timeline,² he said. ³We received the letter from them, but they¹re not telling us when these decisions are going to come to pass. We don¹t know if there¹s going to be a public comment period, if there¹s going to be a policy shift. If this falls through, we need to evaluate where we go next.²

Prior to last week¹s LADC meeting, Zwang was unaware that the group was considering postponing decisions.

³We were surprised at the meeting last week when Bob Castaneda brought up that they needed to decide what direction they were going,² he said. ³It was news to us that there was a policy shift in the works or the potential that they were looking at something different as far as grants and loans. That was the first we heard of that.²

The Turner day lodge project manager, Lonnie Hansen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be working in Iraq in the spring to supervise the construction of a hospital. Zwang said now is the optimal time to finish the lodge.

³Timing¹s of the essence for us,² he said. ³We need to move on our project. The longer we wait, the more expensive it¹s going to get. We¹re in the middle of the construction season. We do all our work with volunteers, which means we don¹t have all week to do things. Now our three-month construction season is down to 24 days.²

Turner Mountain is a valuable asset to the community, Zwang said. The ski area generates substantial money for Libby during an economically torpid season.

³I think our project is win-win for the community,² he said. ³We¹ve got everything. We¹ve got economic development for a time of year when there¹s not a lot going on in Libby. This is a good winter project. We¹ve got the data; we¹ve got the history. We can prove that we can produce these figures. The public benefits big time by getting a reasonably priced recreation opportunity, which has always been top priority for us.²

Turner Mountain supporters come from diverse professions and backgrounds. Zwang said that devotees of the co-op ski area should be given an opportunity to submit their opinions to the LADC.

Zwang said he hopes Turner Mountain supporters will be given an opportunity to submit their opinions to the LADC prior to the group rendering a final decision.

The LADC board will notify Zwang and Kootenai Winter Sports of the status of the proposal once a determination is made.