Two votes, a signature and five minutes were all it took for three years of painstaking delays to subside and for the creation of a trail commemorating long-time Kalispell resident and civic benefactor Louis A. “Sam” Bibler to begin.
Last Tuesday, the Flathead County Commission unanimously approved a request for an engineering proposal for a 1-mile stretch of pedestrian and bicycle trail running south of Kalispell from FFA Drive on Willow Glen Drive to Woodland Avenue.
It was a long time coming. In August 2005, the Sam Bibler Commemorative Trails Project secured a federal Community Transportation Enhancement Program (CTEP) grant. The county allocated the $216,000 to be used for the project five months later, which would be used for a 2-mile portion of an 8-mile pedestrian and bicycle trail system. But progress stalled in November 2006 when the project’s CTEP agreement form went unapproved by county commissioners. According to County Planner and CTEP Coordinator Alex Hogle, “There were easement inadequacies and right-of-way issues on the southern end of the trail and the Bibler Project did not have its local match.” The “local match” is a percentage of the total estimated construction and engineering costs paid by the sponsor group.
Meanwhile, the state adopted a new funding policy using the Indirect Cost Accounting Procedure (ICAP) to recapture indirect expenditures on federally funded programs. And last June, for the third time in as many years, the county hired a new CTEP coordinator in Hogle.
Over the course of 15 months progress halted, seemingly, every time it moved forward. First, the initial CTEP agreement failed before the county, then a file was lost containing paper work, which eventually rendered the project null and void. Finally, a new agreement was put in place, creating an entirely new project.
Originally the project had a price tag of $224,499, a number estimated in 2005 for two miles of pavement. The new amended agreement reduced the trail project to one mile. In 2007, a mile of asphalt in Evergreen cost $690,000. The county is responsible for excess expenditures. Currently, only $498,000 in CTEP funds are available. Rummaging through manila file folders full of hand-written notes left by his two predecessors, Hogle tries to laugh off what he calls a different style of organization: “I can’t account for things in the past,” he said. “I can’t really account for their style; I use letterhead.”
Groundbreaking for the Sam Bibler Bike Trail is scheduled for next spring.
“Although it has been a time-consuming process and seemingly weighed down by bureaucracy,” Hogle said, “the county is happy that it’s moving forward – I’m happy.”
Outspoken Bibler Trails Committee member Terry Welder doesn’t see it the same way. He says it’s a battle of influence and follow-through that lies partly in the low-tax base of Willow Glen.
“Other projects, other ‘squeaky wheels,’ have jumped ahead of us and actually used our money,” he said in a recent letter to other committee members urging renewed support in the trails project.
Welder said the Bibler Trail Project languished financially last year, losing a $40,000 grant from Safe Routes to Schools, another federally funded program, because the Bibler trail’s engineering bid had yet to be completed.
CTEP also mandates that trails not solely be used for recreation, but must also offer safe, efficient access for students and serve people where they live. The Sam Bibler Trail, as well as other trails within Kalispell and the county, will expand to other trail systems connecting routes from Lakeside to Glacier Park.
Still, there are more details in the dirt with the Bibler Trail. Engineering often finds unanticipated holdups, necessitating land easements, right-of-way considerations and permits, if necessary. The hill at the intersection of Willow Glen Drive and Woodland Avenue has watershed issues on both sides, but Hogle doesn’t foresee any major holdups.
In spite of opposing ideas as to why there has been a standstill with the project, the consensus among officials and citizens involved with the Bibler trail is that the county’s procedure is inefficient. Hogle, Sieler, and Welder all feel the county’s process could be streamlined for efficiency to more closely resemble what the city does. For instance, Kalispell doesn’t use a local match to fund portions of similar projects,which held up the Bibler Project at one point.
While there has been progress, Welder still sees last Tuesday’s step forward as just another piece of paper toward a trail he thinks should have been built long ago. After all, it was in the early 1990s when the city and county began discussions on a master bike and pedestrian trail system.
“I’ll believe it when I see blacktop,” Welder added.
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