HUNGRY HORSE – The small crowd gathered around the newly completed Doris Point boat launch cheered as Jimmy DeHerrera, the Hungry Horse-Glacier View district ranger, backed his boat into the Hungry Horse Reservoir, making it the first vessel to use the ramp.
“We’ve needed something like this a long time at the reservoir,” DeHerrera said, shortly before launching his boat. “This is the first of many improvements that we’re going to be making on Hungry Horse Reservoir in the future.”
At 216 feet long and 36 feet wide, the concrete ramp can accommodate large boats whose owners will no longer have to use the smaller, congested boat ramp on Lost Johnny Point. On a typical summer weekend when the water level is high, DeHerrera said, it’s not unusual to have thirty trucks and trailers lining the west reservoir road due to lack of parking. The new Doris Point facility also features a dock for loading and unloading, toilets, a picnic area and 70 long parking spaces for trucks towing trailers. A 10-unit campground is under construction and scheduled to be completed this fall.
Flathead National Forest officials were eager to showcase the project, not only as a benefit for recreation on the Hungry Horse Reservoir, but as an example of how the federal stimulus, formally called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is benefiting the forest. According to Denise Germann, spokeswoman for the Forest, the project was funded by $290,000 of ARRA dollars and $320,000 of capital investment appropriations.
“It’s all deferred maintenance and if it weren’t for Recovery (funds), we wouldn’t be getting any of this done,” Germann said. “This provided the opportunity to do that.”
Since the Doris Point boat launch was already in line for funding through the regular appropriations process, DeHerrera said the project was a perfect candidate when stimulus dollars became available, making it the first project on the Forest to receive the funding.
“It was already in the works, so it was easy to attach more money to it,” DeHerrera said. “We’ve got $16 million worth of projects that we’re working on through the Recovery Act.”
That money is going to more than 50 projects tackling everything from new bear resistant containers at some campsites to the Flathead Forest’s biggest project: the repaving of 11 miles of road along the west side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir, a $3 million job. A contractor hasn’t been selected for the repaving yet, but Germann said the roadwork is likely to close the west side reservoir road from, “the fall through next summer,” which could cut down on the number of boaters who get to enjoy the new Doris Point boat launch in the immediate future.
“All of this work has minor inconveniences,” Germann said. “We’re hoping people see the light at the end of the tunnel, that people see progress being made.”
Ureco Inc., a Columbia Falls-based construction and logging firm, built the Doris Point launch. Dave Cheff, who co-owns Ureco with his brother and father, was present at the unveiling and estimates he had 10 of his employees and six-to-nine subcontractors working on the project throughout the summer. It’s one of five stimulus-funded jobs his firm won bids for, and Cheff believes these projects, “basically kept my company afloat this summer.”
“The other opportunities I’ve had in the summer are just not there,” he added.
But while Cheff said these stimulus jobs gave a strong temporary bump to construction businesses that managed to win bids, he is unsure how he will fare once those stimulus funded projects, which must be completed by Sept. 30, 2011, are no longer there.
“I am concerned for the simple fact that I guess I haven’t seen a tremendous amount of movement in the economy,” Cheff said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s going to happen, but I am concerned looking forward, what kind of opportunities are going to be available next year.”
State Rep. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse, has long been critical of the federal stimulus and echoed Cheff’s concern,
“The stimulus money will put a few people to work for a short time, but I don’t see it as economic development in any way,” Brown said.