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LADC nixes CARD grant request

| September 29, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

The Libby Area Development Co. has rejected a $250,000 grant request to fund the development of an asbestos research center but is leaving open the possibility of a loan.

At a formal meeting last Wednesday evening, the LADC board voted 3-2 to deny the request from the Center for Asbestos Related Disease. The CARD board had originally submitted its proposal as a grant request but was told last month, along with representatives of Kootenai Winter Sports seeking a grant for Turner Mountain improvements, that only loans would be considered due to the shrinking of the city¹s economic development fund. Starting with an $8 million federal grant four years ago, the fund has dwindled to a current balance of around $1.2 million.

The CARD board was told to revamp its proposal as a loan request but returned to seek a grant after the LADC approved the Turner Mountain request as a grant. The board voted to forgive an existing $110,829 debt and to grant another $200,000 for the project, noting that Kootenai Winter Sports is unable to take on any more debt. As the time of last week¹s meeting, the Turner Mountain proposal had not been formally presented to the Libby City Council, which approves or rejects recommendations by the LADC.

The $250,000 requested by the CARD would help establish a database, website, library and tissue bank to facilitate research into asbestos-related disease. The money represents about a third of that needed to complete the project but would show community support and help the CARD in its quest for additional funding, board president Mike Giesey told the LADC.

The model for the center, which was developed during two conferences held in Libby last year and funded by a $26,000 grant from the LADC, calls for the CARD to continue providing health care to patients while contracting with researchers around the country or around the world. Proposals for research projects would be reviewed by a panel made up of participants in the conferences.

About 100 people attended Wednesday¹s meeting. A number of those in attendance spoke on behalf of the project, including county commissioners Marianne Roose and Rita Windom and state legislators Aubyn Curtiss and Eileen Carney.

The CARD clinic provides nine jobs and remains committed to providing health care, Roose said. ³Time is of the essence² to fund the establishment of a research center due to the growing interest in asbestos-related disease, she said.

³Because they have made it very clear to us, if we don¹t, somebody else will,² she said.

Windom said she is ³100 percent in favor² of the proposal. The CARD already provides good, stable jobs, and the development of a research center would create additional jobs while benefiting other local health care providers via service contracts.

³From my perspective you couldn¹t ask for a better deal,² she said.

Libby is the ideal place for a research center and while the competition for research dollars is keen, Libby still has ³a leg up² for now, Curtiss said.

³Someone, somewhere is going to get the go-ahead on this,² she said.

Carney agreed that it makes sense to have the research center in Libby.

³The population is here,² she said. ³It seems like a good idea to take advantage of it.²

LADC board member Earl Messick pointed out that while the money being requested would establish a tissue bank, the actual research would be conducted elsewhere.

³I think we¹re getting led off into a direction that¹s really misleading to people when we say we¹re going to take this money and build a research center here,² he said.

Giesey said the first phase will allow research to take place but the hope is to eventually have a research center built in Libby.

³It¹s going to be a start and a minor, minute start is all it¹s going to be,² Messick said.

LADC board member Pat Pezzelle made a motion to approve the CARD¹s grant request. He said the proposal should be a health care issue, not a political issue.

³It needs to be dealt with by folks involved in that business,² he said.

Mike Munro seconded the motion, adding that he would like to see some kind of voluntary payback similar to that proposed by Kootenai Winter Sports, which will hold an annual fundraiser to collect money for the city¹s economic development money and pledged to start making regular payments if income from the ski hill reaches a certain level.

The motion failed 3-2, with Pezzelle and Munro voting in favor but Messick, Bob Castaneda and Allen Woods voting against. As board chairman, Bob Parker only votes in the event of a tie.

Immediately following the vote, Parker declared the meeting adjourned. Castaneda encouraged the CARD board to bring the LADC another proposal.

³What I heard is there is some willingness with the group to work out some details about payback,² he said.

Bob Munson, who has been working with the CARD board as a consultant on the proposal, asked if there might be a way for the LADC and CARD boards to work something out before leaving the room. Parker directed the CARD board to work something out on its own and come back to the LADC another time.

³You guys get your board together and decide what you want to do,² he said.