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Forest Service officials seek funds for deferred maintenance projects

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | May 18, 2021 7:00 AM

U.S. Forest Service officials are seeking between $1.8 and $2.3 million to address deferred maintenance projects in the Kootenai National Forest next year.

Chad Benson, Kootenai National Forest supervisor, said the funds would come from the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). The bill, guided through Congress last year with the help of Montana’s delegation, sets aside nearly $3 billion a year to bolster maintenance of public lands, and foster conservation and outdoor recreation.

During a May 5 meeting, Benson told Lincoln County Commissioners that Forest Service officials hoped to use the requested funds to chip seal roads and address needed repairs to trails, campgrounds, wastewater systems and boat launches in the Kootenai.

While Benson said GAOA monies could only go toward deferred maintenance work, he noted that by using the funding stream to chip away at the backlog of projects in the Kootenai, Forest Service officials could direct a greater percentage of funds from other sources toward more ambitious undertakings.

Looking ahead to 2023, Forest Service officials are angling to request around $2.3 million in GAOA funding. Benson said this ask needs to be filed by June.

This year, the Kootenai received $2.8 million through the GAOA. Due to the spike in construction costs, Forest Service officials saw setbacks on some of the projects proposed for 2021. During a meeting last month, Benson told commissioners that a plan to build a boardwalk through the Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area had stalled due to the recent bump in timber prices. As of May, the project had yet to make significant progress.