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Bigfork Stormwater Project Slated to Go to Bid This Fall

By Beacon Staff

The Bigfork stormwater project is zeroing in on finally being able to break ground and begin construction on the village’s new system, which should significantly decrease the amount of residuals and chemicals flowing into Flathead Lake.

The project’s final design should be completed by 48 North Engineering on Aug. 11, Bigfork Stormwater Advisory Committee Chairperson Susan Hanson said. This means, pending approval from various state agencies, the project could be up for bid this fall.

Construction could begin shortly thereafter, Hanson said, if everything lines up appropriately. If something falls through, it would mean spring construction.

Tests in the past two decades determined that the Bigfork’s stormwater drains directly into Bigfork Bay, Flathead Lake and the Swan River, bringing with it toxins, oil and unhealthy amounts of fecal coliform bacteria.

The county created the BSAC to find out how the drainage system – an uncharted maze that has been in place since the mid-1950s – needs to be fixed.

The resulting project is extensive, Hanson said.

“It’s just unheard of to do as much as we want to do,” she said.

To help battle the sheer magnitude of revamping the village’s entire stormwater system, the BSAC enlisted engineers to consider the latest technology that would fit the community’s needs.

The first phase of the project focuses largely on Grand Drive, which Hanson said present the most drainage problems.

The aim is to upgrade the drainage system and install underground filtration in a three-step process. First, four Filterra units along Grand Drive will filter phosphorous, nitrogen and metals, which bind to soil. These units would be covered with trees and shrubbery to absorb these unwanted substances.

The south side of Lake Avenue will have a hydrodynamic separator, which removes sediments in stormwater runoff before passing into the larger system. This system also traps oil, which can be vacuumed out during maintenance.

The stormwater runoff then enters the Jellyfish system – a filtration system with up to 20 arms. The Jellyfish, in conjunction with the hydrodynamic separator, is expected to treat nearly all of the yearly runoff.

This system is easier to maintain because one person can pull a Jellyfish arm from the ground, whereas other systems require a full crew and a crane to maintain, Hanson said.

“We have to think ahead to maintenance,” Hanson said. “The system put in was never maintained.”

While the project on Grand Drive pushes forward, Hanson said the BSAC would also focus its attention on the next phases. One could be on Bridge Street South, where the biggest erosion and flooding problems lie, Hanson said.

Funding, however, is an ever-present challenge. The BSAC secured a Treasure State Endowment Grant originally valued at $625,000, but Hanson now thinks they won’t get that much.

The TSEP grant requires a match, which will come from the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, not Bigfork or county residents, Hanson said.

“We are so fortunate, we have not had to go to the taxpayers for this yet,” Hanson said.

The TSEP funds also come with an expiration date, Hanson noted. They must be used by June 2011, putting a deadline on the project.

Another challenge is the project’s uniqueness. There are currently no other projects like it in the state, which means learning from trial and error, Hanson said.

“It’s setting a precedent which will help other communities do the same thing,” she said.

The project has already begun to garner some statewide attention. Flathead County Commissioner Joe Brenneman said the county was recently approached with a tentative request to host the statewide stormwater conference next year.

Hanson said a statewide conference focusing on stormwater would help shine a light on issues that largely fly under the radar.

“So many people think stormwater is treated by sewer plants and it’s not,” Hanson said. “If (a conference) brings attention to the need for this, then to me that would be the thing that we really need to do.”

Brenneman commended the BSAC’s ingenuity and drive to continue with an unprecedented project, despite running in to roadblocks along the way.

“This is the most extraordinary community project that I’ve been involved with,” Brenneman said. “There’s no other reward than doing the right thing.”

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