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City moving ahead on Cabinet Heights sewer

| April 6, 2007 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

The city of Libby is moving forward with an estimated $3 million project to bring sewer service to the newly annexed Cabinet Heights area.

City Council on Monday gave the green light to a $1.5 million loan application with U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development that, in what Mayor Tony Berget called "the worst-case scenario," could result in an increase of a little over $3 a month for sewer customers citywide.

The city has already applied for a $1.1 million grant with Rural Development but to qualify must show that it has funding for the rest of the project. That's where the loan application comes in, Berget said. The loan would only be a last resort if other grants the city is seeking aren't awarded, he said.

The city qualifies for the loan because it meets low-income guidelines based on Census data, Berget said. He said the city also had the option of conducting an income survey in the Cabinet Heights area and creating a special district for purposes of repaying the loan. That would confine rate increases stemming from the project from affecting people living outside Cabinet Heights, but the survey would cause the city to miss the current funding cycle and delay the project for a year.

The city's goal is to make every effort to complete the project at as little cost to Cabinet Heights residents as possible, Berget said.

Councilman Stu Crismore said he wouldn't support a funding plan that doesn't put a larger share of the burden on Cabinet Heights residents than on sewer customers at large.

"They're the ones who are going to gain from it," he said.

Bill Buxton of the engineering firm Morrison-Maierle, which has been assisting the city on the project, told the council that "grant applications totaling millions of dollars" have been submitted to Montana's congressional delegation. Buxton said he expects to know in September if the grants are approved.

Buxton told the council that approving the loan application with Rural Development doesn't mean the city has to borrow the money.

"At any time you can walk away from this," he said. "You're not committing the city to a loan."

Buxton cautioned the city that trying to conduct an income survey at Cabinet Heights might be difficult. An attempt to conduct such a survey in 2004 garnered little response, he said.

"If people didn't do it in 2004, they won't want to do it in 2007 or 2008 or 2009," he said.

In related business, the council scheduled interviews on April 11 with two firms that applied to provide engineering services for the project. According to city services supervisor Dan Thede, both firms - Morrison-Maierle and Apex Engineering - met advertised qualifications. A third firm applied but did not meet all the qualifications, Thede said.