Commissioners consider gas tax-eligible roads around county
Twin Bridges airport to receive new weather station
VIRGINIA CITY—The Madison County commissioners were busy as usual at their weekly meeting on Tuesday, March 12, covering happenings at the Twin Bridges and Ennis airports, new GIS data on the county’s roads and a livestock carcass composting site near Norris.
The commissioners met with Lance Bowser, a project manager with Helena-based civil engineering firm Robert Peccia and Associates, who outlined a proposed new addition at the Twin Bridges airport.
The airport has expressed interest in installing a certified weather station, which would serve a number of purposes. The installation would include a ceilometer, a device used to measure the height of cloud height and determine visibility. Bowser explained that when planes land, they follow a series of GPS coordinates that only extend to a certain altitude above the ground. Once they pass the final coordinate, they’re flying blind if they can’t see the ground due to cloud cover.
Having the weather system and ceilometer would allow the Twin Bridges airport to act as a relief airport if a nearby one couldn’t accept landing aircraft due to weather or other circumstances. That has happened in Ennis in past years when cloud cover was too dense in Bozeman for the airport there to accept landing aircraft, which were then diverted to Ennis instead. The Ennis Big Sky airport already has a certified weather station.
In addition to allowing Twin Bridges to act as a relief airport, the weather station would also provide reliable and accurate data to the National Weather Service. That would mean that whenever people look up the weather in Twin Bridges, the new system would be the one providing the data, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
Bowser said the project would likely cost around $285,000, and that he helped facilitate a grant applying for federal assistance in the installation. The grant requested up to $40,000 in funding, but if it is approved the federal aid would be fulfilled to cover the exact project cost.
Bowser also informed the commissioners on a couple of ongoing projects at the Ennis airport, including a tract of land that may soon be purchased by the airport. Tract 4B, a 1.21 acre plot, has been under negotiation for some time, and the commissioners approved matching the historic rate of land acquisition for similar plots near the airport as just compensation for the current landowner. That historic rate comes to a total of just under $77,000 for the tract.
GIS Update and county roads
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technical analyst Tommy Luksha showed the commissioners maps of each county district outlining an evaluation of county roads for the purposes of state fuel taxes.
The state of Montana provides each county with a given amount of revenue from fuel taxes based on the number of eligible road miles in the county, which is responsible for reporting the number of eligible miles to the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT).
Over recent weeks, Luksha said he has evaluated the number of eligible miles in Madison County, comparing it to the number of miles the county currently receives fuel tax dollars for. According to his preliminary data, there are as many as 400 miles or more that Madison County could be receiving money for that it currently isn’t. Many of those miles are publicly accessible Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roads.
The current rate of fuel tax revenue for Madison County is roughly $100 per mile, noted commissioner Jim Hart. If all the miles outlined in the data were approved, it could mean as much as $50,000 of additional revenue for the county.
However, Luksha said, MDT usually only allows a county to increase its eligible miles by 10 miles per year, as a mechanism of ensuring that counties aren’t trying to sneak large numbers of ineligible roads past regulations in order to get funds to which they aren’t entitled.
When a county applies to have a large number of miles approved, MDT often puts a “freeze” on that county’s fuel tax revenue, keeping their rate static for a year in order to evaluate and approve all those new miles. That would delay the influx of potential new funding for at least a year.
However, the commissioners reasoned, that wait may be worth it if it meant nearly half a million dollars of additional funding in future years. Luksha arranged to meet with each commissioner to evaluate data on each district to ensure the highest degree of accuracy before sending that data to MDT for evaluation.
Carcass Composting Site
Linda Owens of Madison Valley Ranchlands Group met with the commissioners to provide an update on the county’s only carcass composting site, located southwest of Norris.
The site is used for ranchers or other livestock owners to dispose of dead animals in order to avoid attracting carnivores, like grizzly bears, mountain lions and wolves, to livestock areas if the carcasses are left and begin to decompose. The Ruby Valley is still working to get an enclosed site near Sheridan or Twin Bridges, but Owens says that until that happens, the Madison site will be open to anyone who needs it.
“We have three grants that help fund it,” says Owens, “so right now we are not going to be charging.”
The commissioners asked if money from the Livestock Loss Board could be used to fund the site, which is administered to livestock owners when a kill is proven to be the result of a carnivore interaction. Owens says that money needs to remain directly with the ranchers whose livestock is lost.
“I believe the conservation groups should be willing to fund the compost site,” she says. “We want the predators to increase, so that involves putting money where our passions are.”
The Norris site, said Owens, is practically ready to go, although there is some snow to be removed. She is also waiting on the requisite permits from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) but said the requirements to attain those permits have already been met.
On a related note, the commission delayed approval of a new wolf management reimbursement fee for landowners who—legally—kill a wolf in defense of domestic livestock, provided the kill is approved by Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP). The amount of the fee has yet to be determined and would be paid out of Madison County’s Livestock Protection Committee funds.
The commissioners elected to take extra time to review the language of the proposal and deliberate on how much the fee should be. They will revisit the potential resolution at future meetings. The Madison County commissioners meet every Tuesday at the county administrative building in Virginia City.