BEARMOUTH – In the 75 minutes that the meeting lasted, the assembled leaders of Granite County and their two largest communities covered everything from blocked roads to economic development to just where it all goes when we all hit the bathroom.
But clearly the crowd of some 15 people – mostly residents from along the frontage road and the canyons that use it as their primary access to Missoula – were concerned about why the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) took so long to fix the road and what the state agency might decide to do with the road long term.
MDOT Maintenance Technician Chad Pearson stated in August that his office was considering all options for the frontage road, from fully restoring it and making it safer for future travel to abandoning it altogether. But the thought of being resigned to using the wash-boarded Mullan Road with its blind curves was not acceptable to the residents or the commissioners.
“We have at least three to four people that have medical problems,” said Kat Wood, a resident of Bear Gulch, speaking of her neighbors in the area. “This one right here (referring to a neighbor) went off the county road – she cannot talk, she had a larynx removal – and there was no way to get help and thank God someone did come along to help her.
“We’ve had so much damage to our vehicles. This one right here (Wood’s daughter Michele) has SAPHO Syndrome and she has to go to see the doc a lot … By the time I get done driving that county road, my car under the dash has fallen out and her CV joint has broken due to that road. And many times you get up there (to the railroad tracks) and the train is there, and it just sits there. I can’t personally afford, like a lot of people in here can, to take my daughter all the way back to Drummond to get on the highway. … So please, please start thinking about the people up Bear Gulch.
“We pay taxes people and I want to see something done!”
Granite County Commissioner Bill Slaughter responded to Wood’s statement, assuring her that the Commissioners were not done fighting for their constituents.
“We agree with you and we’re not happy with the response we’re getting either,” Slaughter told Wood and the other residents. “We talk about this as a commission and we’re worried about public safety. We don’t think it’s unreasonable for (MDOT) to say that this road (Mullan) is a detour and then give us some damn money to maintain the thing.”
Additional discussion was had about what actions could be taken to draw more attention to the matter, including talking with House District 77 Mark Sweeney and taking a delegation to Helena. Sweeney also sits on the Montana Transportation Committee and has been following the road blockage since August, making several calls to help get the road cleared to its current condition.
Sweeney was not at meeting due to a prior commitment.
The Frontage Road became blocked April 4, 2019 when a rock slide sent boulders and debris to the surface and beyond just east of the Bearmouth Chalet, making traversing it by car impossible and unsafe. Those living along the frontage road toward were forced to choose between driving back to Drummond to access the I-90 when going to Missoula (adding 40 miles to their journey each round trip) or use Mullan Road.
Waste Not …
Slaughter led a discussion about some updates to the county’s waste billing system. Some business entities were being incorrectly charged for their waste, causing some to pay too much while others paid too little. New computer hardware and software has been purchased to correct these errors during trash pickup and drop off.
Resident Greg Cook asked what the possibilities were of not rounding weigh ins to the nearest 20 pounds and if a resident’s year-to-date total waste poundage could be added to the receipts. Slaughter took the question and promised to investigate as to whether or not the equipment could handle that request.
Drummond Clean Up …
Mayor Gail Leeper spoke about the Nuisance Abatement efforts that have been enacted in Drummond to try and clean up some of the trash and derelict vehicles Leeper indicated that a list of potential violators had been sent to the Sheriff’s Office and that a letter would be sent out.
As part of the Drummond update, Leeper introduced Kyle Carter of Montana Limestone Resources (MLR) who gave an update on the project they plan to carry out in Granite County. MLR is in the environmental assessment stage of their evaluation of the application and according to Carter, is likely just a few weeks away from completing it. That ould trigger a statewide comment opportunity on the project before it can move forward.
When questions arose about how many people will likely be employed by the MLR project, Carter indicated it would be somewhere between 25-40.
Improvements in the ‘Burg …
Philipsburg Mayor Daniel Reddish updated attendees on various civic projects that he and his town council have instigated this year. Among them are improvements to the water mains and waste water drains in the city, work on the Fred Burr Pipeline, waste water pond treatments and the library district leasing part of the town hall building, among others.
Reddish also noted that that Dan Clark will be in Philipsburg Oct. 16 to provide trai9ning for local government officials. Clark, who is Director of the MSU Local Government Center, will be holding the session at the Granite County Courthouse at 3 p.m. and it is open to the public.
The next joint session is schedule for Drummond in December.