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Panoramic View dust up enters 11th year

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | May 4, 2021 7:00 AM

Dust coming off of Panoramic View Drive began coating the Elletsons’ property in 2010. Eleven years, countless meetings and a public health abatement order later, the Elletsons, and other residents who live beneath the road, are still seeking a permanent solution.

“It seems like every year we have to keep starting over,” said Arlene Elletson of the long fight.

In addition to blanketing exterior surfaces, the dust has also found its way into the Elletsons’ home and garage. Rod Elletson, who is on oxygen for asbestos, has found the grit clogging up his filtration machine.

Martin Dunbar, who lives beneath Panoramic View Estates, the subdivision that the road services, said dust clouds wafting down from the drive at times reduce visibility to within 10 yards. Residents have even mistaken the plumes for forest fire smoke.

Dunbar said the developers of Panoramic View Estates had refused to mitigate the dust for years. He and the Elletsons were also disappointed by the lack of action they saw from Lincoln County commissioners.

During an April 28 meeting, commissioners Jerry Bennett (D-2) and Mark Peck (D-1) acknowledged the residents’ long fight and said they were open to finding a permanent solution. Bennett said the county was planning to chip seal its section of the road, a 0.7-mile portion of the drive leading into the subdivision. In the meantime, officials would support more temporary measures to mitigate the dust.

“It should have all been completed years ago,” said Bennett.

In May of 2019, county health department officials issued an abatement that branded the dust coming off of the road a health hazard. While the order would have required subdivision owners to address the issue, the matter got tangled up in court and ultimately has not resulted in lasting change.

As developers finished selling off lots, the responsibility of maintaining the section of the drive within Panoramic View Estates shifted to subdivision residents. Last June, Dunbar and his neighbors received a temporary respite from the dust when the county and Panoramic View homeowners oiled the road.

Jim Cornwall, a resident of the subdivision, said homeowners hadn’t met again this year to decide how they would maintain the road but said the group had enough funds to oil the drive again this year.

Arlene Elletson said the oil helped but stressed that the county needed to find an enduring fix.

“They need to do something permanently because, every year if we wouldn’t go down there, they would forget it,” she said. “I’m sure they’re sick of us coming and we’re sick of going.”

In addition to raising concerns about the harmful effects of breathing in the dirt kicked up from the road, Arlene Elletson worried that the dust might contain asbestos. Residents pointed to a Montana Department of Natural Resources study that found fibers of the toxic mineral in trees in the nearby Upper Flower Creek timber site.

Peck, who was serving as a DNRC manager at the time of the study, said sampling found below trace amounts of asbestos in the bark and duff of the trees. The levels were low enough that DNRC was able to log the area without performing any major mitigation. The DNRC study did not find any soil contaminated with asbestos.