The City of Libby has received a $450,000 Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the construction of the new Flower Creek Dam. Gov. Steve Bullock announced the grant on July 31.
But even with the additional funds, Libby Mayor Doug Roll says the project will still be delayed because of a biological assessment of local grizzly bear, Canada lynx and bull trout populations. Roll now estimates the new dam will be completed in 2015. The mayor has been critical of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is requiring the assessments more than a year after it had initially approved the project.
The delays are putting Libby’s citizens at risk, Roll said. Built in 1946, the Flower Creek Dam holds back the reservoir that provides water to the city. Nearly seven decades after it was built, it is now considered structurally deficient. In 2010, engineers took a core sample of the arch dam and found that the concrete strength was less than 1,000 pounds per square inch. Normal strength is between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds per square inch. A September 2011 report from Morrison-Maierle stated that under normal conditions the dam would be usable for another five years. However, if a seismic event did compromise the dam, Flower Creek and Libby could be flooded.
Early this year, the city and Morrison-Maierle began work on the project, hoping to complete the new dam 85 feet downstream in 2014. The dam is expected to cost more than $8 million, most of which will be funded by a USDA Rural Development loan and grant.
But just as work was set to begin this year, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rescinded a 2012 comment that approved the project and asked for a biological assessment of the area. Tim Bodurtha, FWS’ Kalispell supervisor, said his office was simply following the rules and that the previous comment approving the project was a “miscommunication.”
Roll has criticized the federal agency for the the delays. Because of the additional assessments, which Roll says is putting the project over budget, the dam will not be completed until at least 2015.
“The state (agencies) have been doing a great job,” Roll said. “It’s the federal government that is dropping the ball.”
The $450,000 grant announced by Bullock will go toward the construction of the new dam. Roll said it would go a long way toward getting the project off the ground.
“The dam on the reservoir here is the only source of drinking water for the citizens of Libby, and it is critical that we replace it before any sort of structural damages arise” Roll said. “We really appreciate the help that the grant will provide for us.”
Bullock echoed those concerns in a press release, adding it will also help the local economy.
“The grant will go directly to creating good-paying construction jobs for (replacing) the dam in Libby,” Bullock said. “To have a healthy community, we need to ensure that folks have access to clean, healthy water.”
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