Community members met on Saturday for a grassroots brainstorm about the future of 74 riverfront acres in Billings.

The meeting, dubbed the "Corette Charette," allowed people to float ideas for use of the former J.E. Corette power plant site, which was mostly dismantled last year. PPL Montana, the former plant owners, announced in 2012 that the plant would shut down.

Saturday's meeting was hosted by the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council and a coalition of several organizations from sustainability and conservation circles.

Jennifer Merecki, president of the Citizen Council's sustainability effort, said that the site along the Yellowstone River presents an enticing asset for its next development phase. 

"What we want is to create an attractive eastern gateway to Billings," she said.

Several dozen attendees at the meeting split into small table groups. Using poster paper, they discussed and outlined wish lists for what the Corette site could be.

Numerous suggestions envisioned the plot as a public place — recreation, wildlife and similar uses were common. 

For Jim Schilke, a Billings resident of 26 years, the idea of the eastern gateway resonated. He said that the view of the city from Interstate 90 has improved over the years, but it still presents little other than industrial sights. 

His first suggestion was a public park.

"That's pretty evident to me," he said.

There were several commercial suggestions as well, which focused largely on recreation and service industries like event venues, boating guides and breweries. 

Much of the discussion involved public use. Dale Anderson, board member of Our Montana, spoke about the opportunity to reclaim the waterfront from its initial, industrial development. One idea, brought by Billings Trailnet, was to include the Corette site in an easily accessible marathon loop around the outer edges of Billings.

Gabriel Aponte, a Rocky Mountain College student from Venezuela, said that he would like the city to be more active in creating sustainable public spaces. He said that the waterfront is the perfect opportunity.

"I would love to see it become more progressive in that sense," said Aponte, who is the president of the college's environmental club.

Some suggestions were more about what the Corette site shouldn't be. The most common views among the attendees rejected the idea of another power plant and other industrial uses.

The coal-fired energy plant operated for 47 years on the banks of the Yellowstone River. In 2012, Montana PPL announced that it wasn't cost-effective to make mercury pollution control upgrades and align with new standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In its final years, the plant produced as much as 1.05 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the EPA.

Upon shuttering in April 2015, PPL Montana spun off Corette and other assets to Talen Energy. The company has been working with potential buyers of the site.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.