Wednesday, February 08, 2023

City council delays action on proposed Flower Creek projects

by Derrick Perkins Western News
| January 14, 2020 11:08 AM

Libby City Council held off on several proposed improvements to the Flower Creek area Jan. 6 after residents voiced concern about the effect of construction on the municipal water supply.

Councilors tabled a proposal by the Libby Outdoor Recreation Association to build a parking lot for the cross-country ski, hiking and biking trails in the Flower Creek drainage. It also declined to support the Kootenai Cross Country Ski Club in seeking grant money to pave a roughly half-mile section of trail in the area.

Both propositions came under fire from residents who argued the Flower Creek area, and the land in the watershed that feeds Libby’s water supply in particular, have seen too much development in recent years. “I support the idea of the trail system, but I think … we do need to drop back a little bit on Flower Creek reservoir,” said resident Jennifer Nelson. “There has been a lot of activity up there … and that is our public water reservoir. We have invested a great deal of money in that.”

Discussion surrounding the parking lot proposal was largely amicable. Tony Petrusha, representing the outdoor recreation association, said the lot would double the amount of parking in the area and eventually include a bus turnaround. As well as providing access to a variety of trails, the parking facility would keep equine activities separate from other activities.

Were the parking lot constructed, it would be funded with outside dollars and undertaken by a private contractor, he said.

Asked if a decision was time sensitive, Petrusha said he was just looking for a show of support before moving ahead with preliminary design work.

“We’re not going to expend a lot of engineering efforts on an endeavor that’s not authorized,” he told city councilors.

City councilors opted to table the motion while awaiting a source water delineation report, which could occur as early as April or May. Were they to give the association preliminary permission at a future date, the group still would need to return to city council before embarking on construction.

The conversation grew sharper during a subsequent discussion to pave a stretch of trail on city land in the same area for the cross-country ski club. Ben Scott, president of the organization, said the 10-foot wide trail would prove a boon to outdoor enthusiasts year round. He also touted the potential economic benefits of eventually creating a world-class facility in the Flower Creek area.

“Those are the kind of features that draw professionals to a community,” he said. “These types of amenities are crucial for our type of community as we transition from a resource-based economy to recreation-based economy.”

He was seeking city council support in order to secure between $60,000 and $70,000 in grants for the project. Scott still would have needed their approval to start work on the project had city council given him their support.

But residents claimed the ski club had ignored permitting rules in building other amenities in the drainage and often took a relaxed approach to environmental protection requirements. They asked city council to either reject the proposal or wait until a source water delineation report was completed.

“I would just encourage this council to again hold off,” Nelson said. “The ski club has received a letter form the city telling them, basically, that they are not to do any more work up there until they get their permits and other things in place that have not been taken care of. To encourage further movement down that road is not the right action for council to take. The ski club has to really get some trust back with the city.”

Scott said earlier permitting problems owed to him having a background in dentistry and not construction.

“Normally speaking, dentists don’t build facilities like this … we’re stuck with a small town so people like me either step up or step out,” he said. “I’m not trying to do anything illegal, etc. We’re just trying to help the community.”

But resident Shane Campbell rejected Scott’s defense.

“Ignorance is no excuse for violating the law,” he said. “I’ve been cited for driving on a road where the gate was open and there were no signs, but I have to follow the lines on the map. If they’re dotted, if they’re solid, if they’re blue or they’re red — it’s my job to know that.”

City councilors eventually rejected the proposal unanimously. Scott could return with the proposal after the water assessment study was completed, Mayor Brent Teske said.

City councilors did support a separate effort to secure grant funding for a vault toilet in the area, also pitched by Scott. The measure earned the endorsement of Petrusha, who noted that the toilet would serve to safeguard the environment.

“The users in that facility are going to go to the bathroom,” Petrusha said dryly. “Given it’s a watershed, I suggest we focus it into a manageable area.”

“I agree with you, sir,” Teske replied.