Grant Money Flows in for Bigfork Stormwater

By Beacon Staff

BIGFORK – After winning grants from the state earlier this year, members of the Bigfork Stormwater Advisory Committee are $750,000 closer to their goal of keeping pollutants out of Flathead Lake and other area waterways. There’s one major caveat though – most of the money is there only if the community can raise funds to match it.

The BSAC was recently awarded $625,000 from a Treasure State Endowment Grant as well as $125,000 from Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality for projects to improve the town’s stormwater system. The system has no installation records – best guesses put its inception around the mid-1990s – and stormwater here drains directly into the Swan River and Flathead Lake, picking up pollutants like oil and assorted chemicals along the way.

Before it can take advantage of the state monies, however, the committee must solve a difficult Catch-22 situation.

Committee President Sue Hanson said the TSEP grant requires matching funds from the community. To garner that type of money, it’s likely the town will need to create a special improvement district, a voter-approved tax. Before going to taxpayers with that request, however, the committee needs to determine more exact costs for the project through an engineer’s final design.

“There’s the catch,” Hanson said. “We wanted to use some of the grant money to get that final design.”

Now, the committee is left searching for alternative funding sources to pay the approximately $100,000 needed for the final design documents. It is also planning informational meetings with community groups and the public to gauge support for a special improvement district and educate citizens on the stormwater problem.

In order to keep the TSEP grant, the committee will have to raise its match by June 2011, meaning it would need to complete the final design and establish the tax district – or find another matching fund source – by then.

“There’s lots of work ahead,” Hanson said. “But when we started this, I never thought we’d be this far by now.”