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MDOT seeks input on Pipe Creek Road proposal

| September 30, 2006 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

When Bruce Zwang takes a snow-covered Pipe Creek Road to Turner Mountain, he rarely drives his all-wheel drive mini-van more than 35 mph.

"The road is narrow and in need of reconstruction," Zwang said.

Concerns for the road's condition is why Zwang, president of the non-profit Kootenai Winter Sports that operates Turner Mountain Ski Area, will attend a Tuesday, Oct. 17, meeting to discuss possible improvements. The Montana Department of Transportation will hold the public meeting from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Ponderosa Room at Libby City Hall.

The state hopes to determine if improvements are needed for a 14-mile section of Pipe Creek Road from Bobtail Cutoff Road near the Red Dog Saloon to Turner Mountain. MDT two years ago discussed re-paving that section.

"We are looking for comments from the public to find out what they perceive to be the problems there," said Tom Kahle, a project manager for MDT in Helena. "There will be a presentation, talk about the planning study and kind of a high-level overview. We're looking at the feasibility of making improvements to the road."

The road passes through "an environmental sensitive area," added Charity Watt Levis, spokeswoman for MDT. That section of Pipe Creek Road goes through a grizzly bear recovery area. Endangered bull trout are also in the area.

"Before we spend millions on an environmental document, we want to find out if there is a reasonable, economic project that can be done," Watt Levis said. "It's a road between a mountain and a creek, and I think there's federal lands up the road. Whenever you get into an area like this, you need to do an environmental document that can cost millions of dollars."

"We need to see what's a reasonable project for the needs of the community and balance of the environmental concerns," she continued.

Zwang noted that in 1996, public input was sought for making improvements to Turner Mountain Ski Area.

"Number one, they wanted to see a new lift; number two, they wanted to see a new lodge, and number three, they wanted to see road improvements," he said.

The first two were accomplished and now they're focusing on the road.

"It's a safety issue," Zwang said. "A lot of folks are uncomfortable driving it in the winter because of conditions."

A study would not be completed until next summer, Kahle said. It could take two to three years beyond that for any type of project to begin. Federal money would pay for the majority of it.