Yellowstone County postpones Coal Board grant request

2012-10-19T17:30:00Z 2012-12-20T15:57:11Z Yellowstone County postpones Coal Board grant requestBy CLAIR JOHNSON The Billings Gazette

Although the Montana Coal Board supported Yellowstone County’s request on Friday for almost $350,000 to repair 21 Mile Road, its pot of money available for grants fell far short of being able to fund the county’s application plus three others.

So after a quick discussion, Yellowstone County commissioners pulled their application and said they would try again next year, when the board expects to have more money from the Legislature.

The board went on to fully fund the remaining grant requests from Big Horn County, Custer County and the city of Colstrip.

The board met at the Hampton Inn in Billings to consider four grant applications totaling $552,433. But the board had only $251,738 left to award from its biannual Legislative appropriation of about $5.9 million.

Board Chairman John Williams explained the problem and asked the applicants to consider whether their projects could wait for another funding cycle.

“The timing will work for us,” said Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy.

Yellowstone County sought $349,433 from the Coal Board to repair a portion of 21 Mile Road, from Broadview east to Highway 87. The request represents 38 percent of a total $919,450 project to improve a three-mile section. The county would pay for the remaining 62 percent, or $570,017.

Extreme traffic volume and heavy loads during the 2009 construction of a rail spur line to haul coal from Signal Peak Energy’s Bull Mountain Mine in Musselshell County to Broadview damaged the road.

Yellowstone County wants Coal Board help because the damage is related to rail construction for the underground coal mine. The request would fund the second phase of the multi-phase project.

Kennedy said the county already is working on improving the first 1.5 miles of road by the spring of 2013.

While the board has denied previous Yellowstone County requests, some board members indicated they supported the road project.

“That project is right up our alley,” said Chad Fenner, a board member and Big Horn County commissioner.

Williams said Yellowstone County’s application warrants coal impact money.

Loren Acton, a board member from Bozeman, called the county’s application “well crafted to meet the enabling legislation.”

Yellowstone County also got support from Musselshell County, where the mine’s operations are located. Although the two counties are in a legal dispute over the allocation of coal proceeds taxes, there was no dispute about the road repairs.

“Musselshell County supports Yellowstone County in this project. It’s coal impacts,” said Musselshell County Commissioner Sue Olson.

Musselshell County says it should get all of the coal proceeds taxes because the mine is locate there. But Yellowstone County says it is entitled to taxes from coal mined on its side of the county line. The case is pending before the Montana Supreme Court.

In addressing the other applications, the board approved a $75,000 grant to Big Horn County to help pay for a new $154,238 public safety software system to update its emergency and dispatch services.

The board also approved a $60,000 request from Custer County to help pay for an $80,000 jail assessment and preliminary design study. Custer County already was working on a plan to update its jail when the American Civil Liberties Union recently threatened to sue if it didn’t close the jail, county officials said.

Sheriff Tony Harbaugh said the county has responded by using the jail for holding prisoners for up to 72 hours and transporting longer-term inmates to the Valley County jail in Glasgow. The jail assessment study will help the county determine how big of a jail it needs, county officials said.

The board also approved a $68,000 grant for Colstrip’s Schoolhouse History and Art Center Building. The building is owned by the city and managed by a nonprofit organization. Built in 1924, the art gallery, museum and community center needs foundation restoration and handicapped access repairs. The total project is pegged at $113,667.

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