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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Page One News at a Glance

City of Hamilton steps up to save ‘Silver Bridge’

Downtown Hamilton BID to be renewed

Man rescued after being injured and lost in forest

Zoning project continues without timeline

City of Hamilton steps up to save ‘Silver Bridge’

By Michael Howell

The “Silver Bridge” that has served as the gateway to Hamilton for about 60 years may get a second life, or at least a second half-life, following a decision by the Hamilton City Council on Friday, July 25.

The bridge was slated for removal as part of the Highway 93 reconstruction project which included construction of a new bridge over the Bitterroot River north of town. Sletten Construction got the contract to remove the old bridge and was geared up to remove it and sell it as scrap metal until the Bitter Root Cultural Heritage Trust (BRCHT) stepped in and promoted a plan to save at least half of it for use in a city park in the immediate area.

The organization devised a multiplicity of options for use of at least part of the structure in a public park and approached the Hamilton City Council about purchasing it, or half of it to be exact, from Sletten. Sletten’s contract with the state for removal of the bridge was already in place. It involves cutting the bridge in half and dragging each half out onto opposite banks of the river and then selling them for scrap metal. The group’s plan was to use the north half of the bridge and incorporate it into a city park on land owned by the Montana Department of Transportation.

MDT officials indicated that they would be willing to lease some land they own close to the bridge site for a park, so BRCHT members approached the City Council and asked them to participate in the project. The plan calls for the city to purchase the north half of the bridge from Sletten for the price of scrap metal, which is what the company aimed to get for the structure, amounting to about $19,000. MDT agreed to lease the city three acres of land near the river for $1 for a 10-year renewable lease.

With the bridge slated for demolition and the timeline running short, the City Council decided to hold a special meeting to consider the option. The decision was unanimous to purchase half the bridge and lease the future park land from the state. The money for the project will come from the city’s park fund. BRCHT remains committed to raising even more funds for the construction and maintenance of the park facilities.

The lease agreement with MDT and the details of the park plan still need to be finalized.

For more information or to get involved in the project or make a donation, call Kris Komar of the Bitter Root Cultural Heritage Trust at 360-7019.

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Downtown Hamilton BID to be renewed

By Michael Howell

The Hamilton City Council last month passed a resolution of intent to re-establish the Hamilton Downtown Business Improvement District (DHBID) which was set to expire.

The DHBID was created in 1998 with a sunset provision that would automatically dissolve the district in August, 2008. Over its ten-year existence the district accomplished a major sidewalk reconstruction project in the downtown. The project included new lighting, decorative lighting, planters, trees and benches. It also covered the cost of maintaining the trees and the lighting. The district also contributed $10,000 to the Second Street paving project.

Re-establishing the district took another petition with signatures from owners of over 60 percent of the square footage of buildings within the district. The aim of the district is to preserve and enhance the historical and economic values of the area. The new district’s boundaries will include all the businesses along Main Street from Highway 93 to 5th Street. The budget for the first year of the new district is projected to be about $34,000.

Following the passage of the Resolution of Intent, the City council must publish two notices of its intent to establish the district. Opponents within the district have 15 days to protest its formation. Then a public hearing will be held at which the district may be approved.

The Resolution of Intent to create the district was approved by all council members except Main Street business owner Al Mitchell, who abstained from voting. Afterwards Mitchell said that he was in favor of the district.

In other business the Council approved two re-zoning requests, adopted new council procedures, approved forming a maintenance plan for River Park, and approved putting out an RFP for design work on sidewalks planned for Fairgrounds Road and Marcus Street.

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Man rescued after being injured and lost in forest

By Michael Howell

A man identifying himself as Fred Ryan, a visitor to the area from southern California, contacted the Bitterroot Star by e-mail last weekend claiming that he had been injured while camping and then lost in the Bitterroot National Forest for three nights with nothing but a pair of pants and his underwear.

In an e-mail to the paper sent on Saturday, Ryan claimed that he had been lost in the forest for five nights, but in a telephone conversation on Monday, after being released from Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, he revised his story a bit.

He said that he had driven up to the Piquett Creek trailhead on the West Fork to camp instead of getting a motel room. After eating in the early afternoon he went to wash up in the creek. He claims that once in the creek he slipped on a rock and hit his head. When he recovered his senses he had been washed downstream, he said, and found himself without any shoes, socks, shirt, or glasses and still disoriented from his head injury.

He said that he began wandering downstream but was still disoriented and even hallucinating. He said that he kept thinking he saw people and would call out to them, but as he floundered to get to where they were he would discover no one was there. He said that he saw what he thought was a house or a cabin and climbed desperately uphill to get to it, only to find it did not exist.

He spent two full days and three nights out wandering and falling a lot with only his pants for clothing and was beat up and injured in the process. On the fourth day, he said, he stumbled upon a Forest Service road and spelled out SOS with some rocks. He said after about four hours a Forest Service employee coming down the mountain found him and took him to the hospital in Hamilton. He said that the road he was found on was located near Cripple Creek.

He said that his feet were swollen to twice their normal size, and that he had been dehydrated, exhausted, hypothermic and delirious on his journey and was bruised all over from his many falls.

He said on Monday that he was headed to Missoula to seek follow up treatment at the veteran’s assistance center since he is a recent veteran of the war in Iraq.

Officials at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital confirmed that a man by the name of Fred Ryan had been released from the hospital on Monday, but would not give out any more information. A Forest Service official in Hamilton said she was aware that a man had been found and transported to a hospital by Don Wiley of the Darby Ranger District. Wiley could not be reached for comment.

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Zoning project continues without timeline

Anti-zoning efforts intensify

By Michael Howell

Although the Ravalli County Commissioners have recently dropped the plan of adopting new zoning regulations by the time the emergency Interim Zoning expires in November 2008, work on the new zoning regulations is ongoing.

Draft B of the proposed regulations was produced by Clarion Associates, the out of state consulting company working on the zoning project, without any review by the commissioners. But it received a resounding thumbs down in public review, even by the commissioners. The commissioners then sent Clarion back to the drawing board with explicit instructions about what was to be deleted from the draft regulations. The message was to get back to basics. As a result an initial Draft C, which eliminated a large portion of Draft B, including design standards, was produced for review by the commissioners.

In their review of Draft C, the Commissioners decided to eliminate any references to building permits. They decided that setback regulations would only apply to buildings. The entire Darby School District was also removed from the draft in response to a straw poll in the district that rejected zoning. It was decided to omit the 50,000 square foot limitation on new buildings and instead it was agreed to require a conditional use permit for any structure above 60,000 square feet. Restrictions against logging were removed and replaced by a restriction on log yards.

In addition, the commissioners decided to place the burden of proof on the county or complainant to show that a claimed grandfathered use did not exist prior to adoption of the regulations. It was decided to require a permit for mining any amount of gravel over 10,000 cubic yards and to remove the mining of topsoil from the regulations. The commissioners decided to drop all dimensional standards and to strike the cluster option.

Many other changes were considered in a page-by-page review of the document.

The commissioners held meetings around the county to solicit public comment about the draft. A large contingent of anti-zoning people showed up at those meetings, not to suggest changes to the draft, but to demand that the zoning project be abandoned altogether. A petition effort was initiated to repeal the Growth Policy which would kill any attempt at zoning since a growth policy is required to initiate any zoning. The County Clerk and Recorder is currently verifying the 4,000 plus signatures on the petition, but it seems likely that the measure will be placed on the November ballot. A “Cease and Desist Order” demanding that the commissioners stop the “corrupt zoning process” with about 100 signatures was also delivered to the commissioners.

In the meantime, however, the process continues. Although Draft C has not been officially released for public review yet, the commissioners are meeting in Hamilton, Corvallis, Stevensville and Florence this week with large landowners, all of whom received invitations, and other members of the public to discuss their concerns about the zoning process.

This evening, Wednesday, August 6, a meeting has also been scheduled to examine the relationship between zoning and property values and taxes. Montana Department of Revenue Ravalli County Manager Debbie Reesman will address the Planning Board on the issue in the Hamilton City Hall at 7 p.m. She will not only address the question of effects of zoning on property values and taxes but many other questions as well such as, will zoning affect properties taxed as agricultural if they are not zoned agricultural, how will property values of non-conforming uses be affected, how has zoning affected property values in other areas of the country, and how zoning will affect property values when zoned for specific uses.

For more information about zoning or any of the scheduled meetings, contact the Ravalli County Planning Office at 375-6530 or go to the web site:

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