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Hearings set for mill site grant project

| January 4, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

A good rail line is critical for continued operations at places like the Stimson finger jointer mill in Libby.

Just as critical is getting grants for improving that rail line in Kootenai Industrial Business Park.

The first of two public hearings in an attempt to receive up to $800,000 in grants for infrastructure improvements at the business park on Highway 2 South will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 9, in the Ponderosa Room at Libby City Hall. The second will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the same location.

Support from the public and businesses is needed at these meetings in hopes of getting the Community Development Block Grant funding. The first meeting is for providing information on the federal grant program. The second will be for gathering input from residents and businesses.

Lincoln County commissioners and Libby City Council have voted to support the grant applications. Each can receive up to $400,000.

KRDC needs $2.5 million to upgrade the rail line, roads, and water, sewer and electrical systems. In addition to block grant funding, officials hope to get a separate $1.5 million federal grant and an interest-free loan through Flathead Electric Cooperative.

"We've identified approximately 700 new jobs that would benefit from the improvements in addition to 365 existing jobs," said Paul Rumelhart, executive director of Kootenai River Development Council, a non-profit agency that manages the 400-acre former Stimson mill site. "That's close to 1,000 high paying jobs which benefit the community."

Companies like Mines Management, Porter Block and Vaagen Lumber Co. are a few interested in moving to the industrial park, he said.

"This is all in support of jobs," Rumelhart said. "Funds are very limited and there are very competitive projects. We're hoping those businesses that will benefit will speak up."

Charlie Croucher, mill manager for the finger jointer, also hopes the community will support the grant effort.

"About 90 percent of our product goes out on rail and probably 50 percent of what we get in comes by rail," Croucher said.

The rail line hasn't been worked on for years.

"It's just slowly gotten run down and needs some major work," he said. "We do 40 million board feet of business a year. That's a sizable amount. You have to have a good rail line when you're doing 40 million board feet a year."

The 31 full-time employees at the Stimson finger jointer mill manufacture lumber for home construction. Products include 2 by 6s, 2 by 8s and 2 by 12s.