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Law change casts shadow on port¹s 2 mills

| August 13, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

A review of state law is casting doubt on the likelihood of funding the Lincoln County Port Authority through a tax levy, Commissioner John Konzen told the port authority board Monday.

Konzen explained during the port authority¹s monthly meeting that a law permitting a 2-mill levy to support a port authority without a vote of the electorate was changed during the 2003 legislative session. Current law places no restrictions on the amount of a levy for a port authority but subjects the levy to the same restrictions already reining in the county¹s tax-collecting authority.

With the county¹s mill levy capped, the only way to enact a new levy for the port authority without a vote of the people would be to cut something else out of the budget, Konzen explained.

³So that¹s not a good place to be looking for a revenue stream is what you¹re saying,² said port authority board chairman Jim Mayo.

³Maybe, maybe not,² Konzen said. ³Probably it¹s a big question mark, I would say.²

In June, unaware of the change in the law, the county commissioners approved a 2-mill levy they thought would be exempt from the statutory cap. The 2 mills would raise about $50,000 per year to fund the port authority.

Basic maintenance and upkeep at the 400-acre former mill site donated to the port authority by Stimson Lumber Co. is currently funded by a $96,000 one-year grant obtained through the Libby Area Development Co.

In other business at Monday¹s meeting:

• Kootenai River Development Council director Paul Rumelhart briefed the board on the development of a site plan for the former mill property.

Representatives of CTA Architects and Engineers, the firm chosen to draw up the plan, were in Libby last week to discuss the project with local people involved with the site. Target industries — primarily wood products such as truss manufacturers, cabinet makers, manufactured homes and post and pole operations — were discussed during a meeting on Aug. 4.

At a meeting the following day, participants pored over aerial photos of the site and helped map out areas to be dedicated to different uses such as light industry, business, motorized and non-motorized recreation and potential commercial development.

CTA will incorporate input from the meetings into a draft plan to be discussed at an upcoming public forum.

• The board discussed the status of the large wood-fired boiler at the site. Port authority representatives have been talking with Stimson officials regarding the possible donation of the boiler to the port authority as a tax write-off, Mayo said. The board agreed to have an expert inspect the boiler and make a recommendation to the port authority before accepting it as a donation.

• Dave Cosgriff of Arrowhead Engineering advised the board on a permit regarding the site¹s sewer system, which expires at the end of this year. The current permit is based on the operation of a lumber mill at the site, but a renewed permit should be tailored to future uses of the site as defined by the plan under development by CTA, Cosgriff said. He advised port authority representatives to contact the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to develop a new permit.

³This is pretty new for them too, from what they told me,² he said.

• The board heard reports on two potential new tenants for the site.

Revett Silver Co., the firm looking at reviving the mothballed Troy mine formerly operated by Asarco, is interested in the possibility of using part of the old plywood plant and the adjacent rail spur for shipping concentrate from the mine, Mayo and Konzen told the board.

The company would truck the concentrate to the site for shipment by rail. Other options are trucking the concentrate to Troy and shipping by rail and simply trucking the material to its final destination instead of using the railroad, Konzen said.

Envirocon, a Missoula-based company starting work on local Superfund cleanup operations, is also interested in leasing a portion of the site, Rumelhart said. Representatives of the company are scheduled to look over the property next week, he said.