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By Nathan Bourne
Pathfinder 

Council Rejects Speed Limit Increase and Endorses Sewer Project

Seeley Lake Community Council

 


SEELEY LAKE - The Seeley Lake Community Council considered revisiting the speed limits on Highway 83 as it passes through town and voted to endorse the proposed Seeley Lake sewer project at its July 9 meeting.

Council member Bruce Friede made a motion for the council to consider requesting the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) to reinstate the previous speed limits through Seeley Lake and instead take different measures to deal with speed and pedestrian issues. The speed limits were lowered based on the council’s recommendations in the fall of 2016.

Friede said that a petition had been passed around town to reinstate previous speed limits and had gotten 275 signatures. He said that many community members felt that there was a lack of law enforcement before and that it was unfair to lower the speed limits and then “go full bore on citing people for speed violations.” A MDT traffic study done ahead of changing the limits showed only a handful of citations were issued during a three-year period but there has not been a recent study to show how many citations have been issued since.

Council member Duane Schlabach, who chaired the committee responsible for reducing the speed limit, said that he wasn’t surprised by the results of the new petition. When the council did its survey they found that 11 percent of the people didn’t want the speed limit reduced. The council’s survey was done over the course of about two months and the petition spent about a year collecting signatures. Schlabach reasoned that the petition would have reached nearly all the residents and gained about 11 percent of their signatures.

The new petition didn’t collect signatures of people who supported the reduction. Schlabach also noted that 71 percent of those surveyed by the council wanted more extensive reductions to the speed limit than the council ultimately got.

Council Chair Klaus von Stutterheim added that the council’s recommendations to reduce the speed limits received support from several public figures and agencies including the Missoula County Commissioners, State Senator Sue Malek and the area’s representation on the Montana Traffic Commission, Commissioner Daniel Belcourt. The Traffic Commission’s decision was unanimous.

Council member Sally Johnson said she especially likes the new lower speed limit where Riverview Drive enters the highway because it makes it easier for her to pull out. She also noted that there are more than 20 kids living on Riverview that must cross the highway to access the trail that follows the highway downtown and to the school.

The council received a letter from Pyramid Mountain Lumber supporting the reduced speed limits where trucks hauling logs, lumber and chips enter the highway. The letter states that 50-60 logging trucks a day is not uncommon when the mill is building log inventory. The mill said it had not heard any complaints about the reduced speed limits from truck drivers.

Several in the audience also expressed their support of the lower speeds while others argued that the slower speeds were not necessary and make people drive more aggressively, such as using the center turn lane to pass.

Friede said the petition suggested electric speed limits signs like the ones in Bonner that flashed when people speeded and pedestrian operated crosswalk lights. The council had asked for the pedestrian operated crosswalk signs but was turned down. There was an attempt by people outside the council to bring a speed sensing sign to town but MDT told the individuals they could not put the sign along the highway.

Von Stutterheim said those options could certainly be pursued by the council separately.

The motion to reinstate the previous speed limits failed one to four.

Council member Lee Boman requested the Council encourage the Seeley Lake Sewer District board to move forward with the proposed sewer project. Boman feels that the community needs to act now to protect the ground and surface water that makes the valley the beautiful place that it is.

The current funding package is one of the largest if not the largest Rural Development has ever offered. Boman believes the price of the project will be more costly moving forward if the current funding is not used. Boman added that he would like the community to work together to come up with a solution to make sure the sewer system is affordable for everyone.

Council member Kris Martin felt that the council should not be involved in the sewer discussion or decision. That falls on the sewer board and people should take their issues to them. Martin thinks that the council would be stepping on the toes of the new sewer board members.

Others in attendance felt that the council would be potentially involved in finding financial solutions such as a resort tax or water quality district and therefore it was appropriate for the council to endorse the proposed sewer project. The council represents the whole community and the sewer district is a part of that. The council has also been involved in writing several county planning documents that all recommend a sewer to be built.

Missoula County Environmental Health Director Shannon Therriault agreed saying the council should be involved because if the sewer is not built the water quality issue will become the council’s problem. The county health department has a responsibility to deal with the problem.

“If it [the sewer project] falls apart, then we have to take some other steps to reduce the nitrate in the groundwater. It’s part of state law,” said Therriault. “I am not even sure what that would be, but the community council would be the ones that would be part of trying to figure that out.”

Most of the members of the audience that spoke agreed that the sewer project is needed. They also felt that all the information currently available on the proposed sewer was readily available and there should be no excuse to not move forward.

Not everyone was supportive. One resident questioned what would happen if the mill were to shut down while a seasonal resident said they had upgraded their lakefront septic system a couple years ago and it only cost $7,000. It worked fine and others could be upgraded to solve the problem for about a quarter of the expense of the proposed sewer.

Part of the problem is that there are not any estimates available for the third and fourth phases of the proposed sewer system. The seasonal resident also said that water testing for the sewer district shows that there is no pollution in Seeley Lake.

Therriault said that a regular septic system puts out the same amount of nitrates as a cesspool and if a system only cost $7,000, it probably was a regular system. Better systems that deal with nitrate reduction cost closer to $15,000.

Nearly everyone in the room who spoke agreed that the cost of the sewer is a large hurdle but supporters said that several organizations are “virtually lining up to provide help.”

Seeley Lake Sewer District board member Troy Spence said that at the last sewer district meeting some of the ideas to help low income people was given to the board. One of those ideas was to take donations from people outside the district. Spence asked if the council would be willing to form a committee to ask people outside the district to take out $40,000 loans on their property and deposit the funds in the bank to help low income people.

Boman, who delivered the ideas to the sewer board, said that when he wrote the idea down he was modeling it after a successful program in Flathead County where people could donate funds to help the less fortunate.

Spence said that he wants to see the funds guaranteed before the sewer project moved forward. Boman countered that the sewer board should move forward with the sewer project and then they can work on getting money secured.

Martin reiterated that she didn’t feel that the council should take a side on the sewer because they represent everyone, including those who don’t support the sewer. The issue is already dividing town without the council taking sides.

The motion to endorse the proposed Seeley Lake Sewer project was passed with Boman, Schlabach and Johnson voting in favor and Friede and Martin voting against.

The council voted to cancel its August meeting. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Sept. 10 at the Seeley Lake Historical Museum & Visitors Center. Pizza and beverages will be provided starting at 5:30 p.m.

 

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