The question of whether to pave roads in the Flathead often brings about debate between people who would like to update the area and those who would prefer to keep it as is.
Such is the debate surrounding the KM Ranch Road, a dirt road that stretches from its connection to U.S. Highway 93 north of Kalispell across the countryside until it connects with the highway again, west of Whitefish.
In mid-October, the Flathead County Commission received a letter and petition from Marshall Friedman requesting that the commission create a Rural Special Improvement District (RSID) to pay for the cost of paving KM Ranch Road.
The project proposes to pave nearly six miles of the dirt road, to the tune of more than $3.8 million. An RSID divides the cost of a project among the county and the residents of the proposed project; the KM Ranch Road project proposes that the residents of 157 affected lots in the RSID would pay $1,373,108 and the county would pay $2,491,783.
The proposal also outlined the potential cost per lot for the project, with the annual cost expected to be a maximum of $650 per lot.
Friedman included multiple reasons for paving the road in his proposal, such as health reasons related to dust; increasing property valuations with a paved road; and easier vehicle maintenance.
After a straw poll taken at a meeting with KM Road residents and votes received from landowners who were not at the meeting, the RSID proposal shows 72 votes for and 54 votes against.
Each parcel of land accounted for one vote, so for instance if a property owner has five parcels of land in the proposed RSID, they would get five votes. The proposal noted that Whitefish philanthropist Mike Goguen owns 26 parcels and is in favor of paving, while 50 votes were cast against the idea in the straw poll.
Friedman wrote in a letter to residents included in the proposal that residents are not bound by their initial votes and have the right to change their minds.
Roy Balsley, who owns three parcels in the proposed district, voted against paving the road. He said he bought the land and the cabin in 1988, and can’t afford another hike in his property taxes.
“There’s no way I can afford it. I know lots of rich people live over there but I’m not,” Balsley said. “I worked for (my money) and I don’t care about giving it to the county. Because I’m retired now and can’t afford it.”
He also said the dirt road was part of what attracted him to the area, which he visits about once a month from his home in Chester. He said his family also uses the property.
Another concern is the potential increase in traffic pavement could bring, he said.
“Nobody can look into the future and tell me that there ain’t going to be more traffic if that road is paved,” Balsley said. “I got the place out there because it was quiet and on a dirt road. That dirt don’t bother me a bit.”
The dirt does bother Dick Hirschi, who along with his wife Julie cast their vote for the project.
The Hirschis live on KM Ranch Road full time and are tired of the dusty road.
“I’m just tired of the dust, and I think it’s a health issue,” Hirschi said. “It’s just lots of traffic and during the summer and stuff with the dust, both sides of the road look like the surface of the moon.”
Hirschi said he pays each year to oil about 400 feet of the road for dust abatement, and that cost is comparable to what he would be paying for the proposed RSID.
“Absolutely it’s worth it,” he said.
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