Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Grants changed to loans

| August 20, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

Grant requests for Turner Mountain and an asbestos research center are being revamped as loan packages following a meeting Wednesday of project proponents and the Libby Area Development Co.

Wednesday¹s discussions came a week after a joint session of the LADC and the Libby City Council to discuss the money remaining in the city¹s economic development account. Funded by an $8 million federal grant received in September 2000, around $1.3 million remains available for projects. About $4 million is due to be returned to the fund over a 15-year period through loan payments and the maturation of certificates of deposit taken out to guarantee loans.

Large grants are now out of the question, said newly elected LADC board president Bob Parker. Formerly the board¹s vice president, Parker replaces Robb MacDonald, whose resignation was accepted by the board on Wednesday.

³If we give grants, they are going to be smaller grants that bring back a huge kickback to the community,² Parker said.

More than $7.5 million has been put toward economic development and infrastructure projects, with all proposals requiring LADC approval before moving on to the city council for a final decision.

One of the first proposals approved by the LADC was a combination of a $92,000 loan and a $128,000 grant to Kootenai Winter Sports for improvements at Turner Mountain, including the replacement of a T-bar lift with a chair lift. The group is currently seeking $417,000 with the bulk of that — $302,000 — earmarked for the construction of a lodge on the ski hill with the rest funding the purchase of groomers and rental equipment.

The lodge is the top priority to make the ski area more popular with skiers from outside the local community, said KWS spokesman Bruce Zwang.

³That¹s what we need to make this project go,² he said.

Responding to a suggestion from the LADC board that the grant request be turned into a loan proposal, Zwang said the group is ³pretty well maxed out debt-wise.²

³We don¹t want to get in a situation where we have this beautiful new lodge but we can¹t pay for things,² he said.

LADC board member Mike Munro suggested that the city might agree to forgive the $116,000 remaining to be paid back on KWS¹s original loan, allowing the group to take on more debt for the lodge project. A committee of the LADC will work with the group to develop a revised proposal in preparation for an Aug. 25 formal meeting.

A similar agreement was reached with representatives of the Center for Asbestos-Related Disease who had requested a $250,000 grant to help develop a clinical research center. The funds would help set up a patient database and tissue bank to allow the center to enter into agreements with institutions across the country researching various aspects of asbestos-related disease.

CARD board representative Mike Giesey said the board has already approved changing the grant request to a loan. As of Sept. 1, the CARD will have paid off a loan from St. John¹s Lutheran Hospital, making $2,500 per month available for payments, he said.

There is a ³huge list² of private foundations that could help the center with funding in the future, Giesey said, but ³you¹ve got to go local first because that¹s one of the first things they ask you.²

A loan approved by the LADC would show community support and help with future funding, he said.

The CARD group will meet with a committee of the LADC to develop a loan proposal with a formal meeting set for Sept. 15.

The LADC tabled discussion of a proposal from U Serve Libby Inc. involving the construction of tennis courts due to time constraints. The U Serve proposal will be discussed at a meeting next Wednesday.