Evergreen sidewalk project awaits county green light


It’s harder than you might think to build a sidewalk in Evergreen.

For years, community leaders have searched for ways to create paved footpaths along Corridor US 2, which is lined for much of the year with muddy or dusty trails, or nearly impassable mounds of snow and snow. ice cream.

This is a problem not only for business owners who would benefit from easier access to their storefronts, but also for students in Evergreen elementary and secondary schools, many of whom walk or cycle along the l four-lane highway in weekday mornings and afternoons. The Evergreen School District is too small, geographically, to qualify for public funding for bus service.

“Many students have to use the real freeway to walk or cycle to school as the shoulder or grassy areas next to the freeway are often snowy in winter,” said Laurie Barron, superintendent. of the district. “It’s just a really dangerous situation for the students who take this road to go to school.”

But neither the state nor the County of Flathead has stepped up to build sidewalks along the highway, citing a lack of funding and equipment for maintenance. And private investment alone is not enough to start laying concrete; the Montana Department of Transportation will not relinquish its right-of-way for a sidewalk unless a local government assumes responsibility for its maintenance. Evergreen is an unincorporated community and cannot levy its own taxes.

Charles Lapp, an Evergreen real estate broker who helped run the sidewalk project, called the conundrum a “chicken and egg situation.”

Now he and other community leaders have come up with a complex but promising plan that involves a grant of around $ 1 million from the Department of Transportation and the creation of two special tax districts, which would cover construction and maintenance. sidewalks in perpetuity.

The plan, dubbed “Safe Routes to Schools,” calls for paved paths along US 2 between Montana 35 and Sunset Drive, and along portions of Montana 35 and West Evergreen Drive.

The deadline to apply for a grant is June 4. And while the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce, Evergreen community partners and other groups have already done much of the work – including funding a preliminary engineering study – the Flathead County Commissioners will have the final say on whether to submit the request.

As time goes by, proponents of the project say all the pieces are ready to fall into place. But commissioners voiced a litany of concerns about funding, maintenance, snow removal and when to apply.

They are expected to decide the fate of the project soon.

EVERGREEN The Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Evergreen and Evergreen Community Partners – a non-profit organization that raises funds for hiking trails and recreational facilities in the area – donated a total of $ 13,000 to start the sidewalk project. They hired WGM Group, a planning and design company with an office in Kalispell, to help write a plan and make cost estimates.

The Montana Department of Transportation isn’t ruling out the need for better pedestrian routes in Evergreen, but says state funding for such projects is limited.

“We work, play and have school children in our local communities, so we all have a very personal interest in safety projects like this,” said Megan Redmond, a spokesperson for the department, in an e- mail. “MDT is working with many agencies and partners to improve safety throughout Montana. Right now, we have many other projects that require special attention. [than] we currently have funding to complete. “

However, the department has $ 5.5 million in federal grants under the Transportation Alternatives Program. Evergreen community leaders want to apply for around $ 1 million from this program, forcing applicants to cover 13.42% of the total cost of each project.

To cover this percentage, Flathead County would need to create a Rural Service Improvement District, which would levy property taxes to build sidewalks, as well as a Rural Maintenance District to maintain trails in the future. The county would likely use this tax revenue to hire contractors to repair and remove snow from sidewalks.

As proposed, the Service Improvement District would cover properties owned by 61 landowners in US Corridor 2. The district would be established after giving those landowners the opportunity to vote in protest.

Supporters of the project say they would still be able to raise private funds for sidewalk maintenance, reducing the amount of taxes to be collected.

“The corresponding amount would be around $ 150,000,” said Daren Engellant, an insurance salesman and car wash owner who serves as vice president of the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce. “We think we could find this.”

DURING Public meeting on April 20, Barron, Engellant and others sought to persuade the commissioners to proceed with the grant application. But Commissioner Pam Holmquist, whose district includes Evergreen, has raised concerns that the county may not be able to get the service improvement district up and running quickly enough and that such a delay could compromise the application.

“We’re running out of time now, and the logistics and schedule to do this can get a bit exhausted, and that’s been a bit of my concern from the start,” said Holmquist. “It’s not that the project isn’t worth the effort. It’s something that could possibly work. But again, timing has always been a bit of a problem.”

TJ Wendt, an insurance agent who sits on the board of directors of the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce, sought to assure commissioners that the Department of Transportation could work out details with local authorities before and after approval of the grant.

“We are aware that the deadline for the grant application is June 4,” said Wendt. “That doesn’t mean these two issues need to be resolved and locked in by June 4.”

As for the establishment of the Service Improvement District, Wendt said it could be done “within 60 to 90 days”. He said well over half of the 61 landowners who would be affected have signed a petition in favor of the tax districts, and only three have indicated that they are strongly opposed to the proposal.

But county administrator Mike Pence raised other concerns and conditions in a letter sent to Engellant the day before the meeting. Writing on behalf of the commissioners, Pence said they would not give “initial consideration” to forming a district unless 80% of landowners express support.

“We are asking for a higher level of initial support, based on the fact that this project is linked to a grant application which will require additional time and involvement from county management and staff compared to a proposal. [rural service improvement district]Says the letter.

COMMISSIONER RANDY Brodehl said he agreed with Holmquist’s concerns at last week’s meeting.

“I don’t want us to submit a grant application that is incomplete or doesn’t have enough information to get us ahead of other projects,” Brodehl said, “because there is a limited amount in this area, and we don’t want to do this halfway. “

He added that if the Department of Transportation approves the grant, “then this project now belongs to the county forever. So we have a fiduciary responsibility and a responsibility to the community to manage this very well. And if we don’t, and that’s because we haven’t done everything in advance, so we’ve been careless. “

The remarks of the commissioners gave no hope to those who support the project.

“We have set the table very well on this grant opportunity, and it would be a shame if the county did not apply,” Engellant said in an email after the meeting.

Journalist Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4439 or [email protected]

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