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Funding secured for Libby redevelopment projects

by MATT BALDWIN
Daily Inter Lake | June 7, 2022 7:00 AM

A portion of $2 million in federal funding will go toward a pair of potential redevelopment projects in Libby.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced late last month that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality will receive a portion of a Brownfields Program grant to complete environmental site assessments and spur redevelopment at dozens of properties across Montana.

A brownfield is a property eyed for redevelopment that may be affected by a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.

The Libby projects selected are at the Old Pioneer Club, which is the future home of the Libby Food Pantry, and the historic Hotel Libby. Both sites are potentially affected by non-amphibole asbestos, according to the DEQ's Brownfields Community-Wide Assessment Grant Application that was submitted to the EPA last year.

The application notes that time is of the essence for the food pantry assessment as the nonprofit is hoping to move into the facility by the end of 2022. Building material needs to be assessed prior to any remodeling or renovations taking place. The grant will allow the food pantry to use the assessment for a Community Development Block Grant.

The Historic Hotel Libby, built in 1910, was the first grand hotel of Libby, according to the application, and was listed on the National Historic Registry in 2012.

“Unfortunately, the historic Hotel Libby ceased operating in the late 1970s and like the community of Libby, has fallen on hard times,” the application states.

According to the report, the current hotel owner’s plans of restoring the building were put in jeopardy when the roof began to fail in 2020.

The site assessment would provide a DEQ-required asbestos inspection prior to performing any roof repairs or internal renovations.

The assessment will also quantify and provide a cost estimate for all hazardous building materials remaining on the interior and exterior of the hotel which is necessary to apply for historic preservation and other restoration grants.”

Restoration of the 22-room hotel and restaurant would “serve as a catalyst for Libby’s revitalization by providing jobs, increasing tourism, and reenergizing Main Street,” the application states, noting that reopening the hotel could create 15 full-time jobs.

Both projects would align with Libby’s 2019 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy by creating jobs and servicing the low-income population.

Further, Libby does not have the means to complete the assessments without funding assistance, the application contends.

Other projects to receive funding are in Anaconda and Billings.

“EPA is proud to support Montana’s efforts to invest in property assessment, cleanup and redevelopment projects in the communities that need them the most,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker in a press release. “We look forward to seeing these Brownfields funds improve community health and create new economic opportunities in places like Anaconda, Billings and Libby.” 

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., touted the bipartisan infrastructure bill as a key component in securing the Brownfields funding.

“By working across the aisle with five Republicans and four other Democrats, we were able to secure critical funding to repurpose old or abandoned properties in the Treasure State and create good paying Montana jobs in the process,” Tester said in a press release.