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Mill site grant proposal clears hearing hurdle

| January 25, 2007 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

Plans for a proposed $2.5 million renovation of the former Stimson mill site are moving forward following a public hearing Tuesday night on a key component of funding for the project.

Tuesday's hearing cleared the way for Lincoln County and the city of Libby to apply for a total of $800,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds. The proposal also calls for a $1.5 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration and a $231,391 low-interest loan that would be obtained through Flathead Electric Cooperative.

The project would include improvements to the facility's rail, electrical, water, sewer and road systems. The infrastructure improvements would help retain the 363 jobs associated with the dozen companies renting space at the site and promote the creation of additional jobs, said Paul Rumelhart, director of the Kootenai River Development Council, which administers the property for the Kootenai Business Park Industrial District.

"It doesn't cost the county anything, and it doesn't cost the city anything," Rumelhart said.

The former mill site was donated to the Lincoln County Port Authority at the end of 2003. An industrial district, which under state law has more flexibility in disposing of property, was later formed to govern the site.

Rail line improvements are estimated at around $299,000. Plans call for replacement of worn ties and damaged rails, leveling the track bed, replacement of the Fifth Street crossing and switch repair.

The industrial district owns a locomotive that was donated by Stimson along with the property. Stimson leases and maintains the machine, which it uses for its finger-joint mill. A potential major user of the rail system is Mines Management, Rumelhart said. The company is looking at using the mill site as a shipping facility for its proposed Montanore Mine south of Libby.

The electrical power system at the site was designed for a single user and provides no capability of metering power used by individual tenants. Proposed improvements, estimated at $200,000, include upgrades to the distribution system along with individual meters.

Water and sewer work at the site is estimated at around $1.2 million. The project would bring city water service to a proposed commercial subdivision with Highway 2 frontage and include installation of new water lines in the interior of the park. The sewer system would be linked to the city's system, allowing the city to take it over and use the excess capacity to process residential waste. The system has the capacity to handle 500 people working at the site along with 100 homes.

The truck scales on the site, which see regular use but are located in an inconvenient area and don't meet current length requirements, would be replaced and moved to a new location at an estimated cost of $75,000.

Road work is estimated at around $740,000. That includes $220,000 for a new highway approach and paved access to subdivision lots along with $520,000 for chip-sealed interior roads.

The subdivision has been on hold pending the renovation project, Rumelhart said.

"We don't want five tenants in there arguing about where the water is and where the power is and who's got access," he said.

With Tuesday's hearing out of the way, a grant proposal can be submitted next month. A decision on whether or not the proposal is approved would be expected in April.

Industrial district board chairman Dan Larson called the $800,000 CDBG application "the key" to the project. The EDA invited the industrial district to seek $1.5 million in funding it administers and has been "one of the chief cheerleaders" for the project, Larson said.

"I think the EDA is in total support of this project," he said.