by Michael Howell
The Hamilton City Council and the Ravalli County Commissioners have joined in on an application for funds to extend the city’s sewer system along a portion of Old Corvallis Road, south of the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority and in portions of the Ravalli County Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD) which includes portions of the old Stock Farm and the Ravalli County Airport. The project will connect several businesses that are currently on septic systems, some of which are at capacity, to connect to municipal wastewater.
According to Ravalli County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Julie Foster, who is facilitating the grant request, connecting to the sewer system will enable these businesses to retain and create new jobs. It also enables easy sewer connection for new businesses that will add good paying jobs and new tax base.
The proposed application will be submitted to the Montana Community Development Block Grant Program administered by the Montana Department of Commerce.
“We’ve been working on this for over 10 years,” said Foster. “It’s a huge opportunity for now on about 420 acres in the TEDD.”
“We brought a brand new pharmaceutical company to the valley on 44 acres in the TEDD,” said Foster, referring to the recent purchase of the 44 acres by Tonix Pharmaceuticals, “It couldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been promised sewer and water.”
Foster said the community had the same kind of conversations back in 2000 when GlaxoSmithKline said, “Hey, there’s no sewer and water.”
“We barely convinced Corixa [which was later bought out by GlaxoSmithKline] to stay.” But, she said, the $2.5 million investment in extending the water and sewer did pay off.
“Now GSK has made over $300 million of private investment into this community,” said Foster. “That’s how it happens. It is how our little community became the biotech stronghold in the state. Tonix Pharmaceuticals wanted to be next to RML and near to GSK and I think that kind of development will continue into the future. So these grants are really important. Not just for now. Not just for this opportunity that we are looking at. But, I want to say, for the next 30 years.”
Foster said that the 420 acres in the county slated to receive services is not currently in the city limits, but most of it eventually will be annexed into the City of Hamilton in the future. She said the reason it is not being annexed right now is that the funding is tied to the tax increment financing district, the TEDD, which is a county-based entity and must remain so for the duration of the district.
“That’s why the city and the county have an agreement that that property is going to be served with sewer until the TEDD matures,” said Foster. She said there is mutual benefit from putting in the infrastructure.
“Once installed,” she said, “it also makes it less expensive for the city to expand and annex more land in the future. And not just for commercial, but for residential development as well.”
According to Foster, there are two different grants in process. One is with the federal U.S. Department of Commerce which benefits Tonicx Pharmaceuticals. Then there is a grant from the Montana Department of Commerce which will benefit Choice Aviation at the Airport and DJ’s Electric located on Old Corvallis Road.
“They both have good paying jobs,” said Foster. “It takes skill and training, but they are trades that people can get into without a four-year degree. Just between these two companies in the next two and a half years, if we get the sewer, it should create 20 new jobs. There will be more and more goodwill come of it, but we just can’t include all of that potential or we would never get the grant submitted.”
“It’s very exciting, super, super exciting,” said Foster. “It’s been 10 years getting the tax increment financing district in place so that we could do some of this. It has taken a village for sure.”
Hamilton Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf said, “If this grant request is approved it will be good for responsible growth in Hamilton.” He said by providing sewer to the county it could alleviate the need for a lagoon as part of their wastewater treatment system.
“We can accommodate it,” said Farrenkopf, referring to the additional sewage connections, “and it will allow businesses in the area to grow without having to worry about individual septic capacity.” He said the city’s current users are protected from the impacts of the expansion because the new users will pay a 15% higher rate for their services than those residents already on city services.
“This project is going to benefit a lot of people both inside and outside the city,” said Farrenkopf. He said maintaining a strong working relationship with the county is of vital importance, not only for this project but for future projects.
Michael Howell can be contacted at: [email protected] or (406)239-4838.