Keep park free of industry, residents tell city council
Citizens oppose industrial development next to Libby’s Riverfront Park along the Kootenai River
by Brent Shrum, Kootenai Valley Record
May 28, 2009
Libby’s Riverfront Park shouldn’t be spoiled by industrial development on adjacent city property, area residents told the city council last week.
Responding to a request for input on the city’s plans for the former W.R. Grace property, residents who attended last Monday’s council meeting were united in their opposition to a proposal to reserve a portion of the site for use as an industrial park.
The city has "a good start on something really good down there" with the development of Riverfront Park, said John Klag.
"But then what got me is you’re going to put in an industrial park," Klag continued. "Why would we need an industrial park when we already have a very large one at the edge of town?"
Instead of devoting some of the property to industrial development, the city should expand Riverfront Park, Klag said.
Mayor Doug Roll said development wouldn’t be strictly industrial; the city is looking into other commercial possibilities such as retail and service businesses.
The property between the railroad and the Kootenai River has been used for industrial purposes for many years, said Councilman Ron Carter. The city’s plans aren’t changing anything, he said, adding that the council would still have the final say as to what kind of industry could locate there.
"If you’ve got an asphalt plant or a hog processing plant, you don’t have to have stuff like that there," he said.
The city’s designs for the site are tentative and were drawn up to help guide the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup plans, Roll said.
"This plan is a work in progress," he said. "I want everybody to understand that."
Representing the Libby Main Street Program, Phillip Erquiaga said he’s opposed to the plan as presented. Previously discussed plans made no mention of industrial use, he said.
"The community seems to have agreed with that concept," he said.
Erquiaga said that after discussing the issue on a local radio show, he received 47 e-mails, 44 of which were opposed to industrial development next to the park.
Erquiaga asked why the city is moving with such urgency. Councilman D.C. Orr answered that the city needs to have a plan in place to present to the EPA before the agency approves a record of decision for the cleanup of the site.
"Right now, if we have a plan we have an opportunity to hook the EPA for future use, and that would include utility corridors," Orr said.
Roll stressed that the plan has not been finalized or approved by the council.
"This is a concept," he said. "It’s not written in stone."
Richard Lang told the council he’s opposed to "anything industrial in that area."
"To put any type of industry in there would absolutely spoil something that is a glorious gem," he said.
The city should reserve the site for "green space" and find another place for commercial or industrial development, Lang said.
There’s not enough room on the property for a meaningful industrial park, said Chuck Woods. He urged the city not to split development efforts and duplicate expenses.
"I think it’s best to have one well-managed industrial park," he said.
Woods said he would prefer to see Riverfront Park expanded. He suggested Libby look to Troy’s Roosevelt Park as a model.
Troy’s park is "well done, well thought out," Woods said. "And we could have the same sort of thing here."
Elvie Miller – whose family business, Meadowlark Log Homes, built the new Fred Brown Pavilion at Riverfront Park to repay a debt to the city – said he was shocked and "kind of offended, I guess, disappointed" to hear that the council was considering industrial development next to the park.
Miller said he wouldn’t be against something like a restaurant or fly shop, but using the property for heavy industry would be a waste considering that the Kootenai Business Park on the former Stimson mill site has plenty of room and the necessary amenities for that kind of development.
"I just think it would be a tragedy to put the wrong kind of business down there," he said. "You don’t want semi trucks."
Noting the property’s history as a processing facility for asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, Miller said the park should be a symbol that "we’re not doing that anymore" and should be preserved as "a place of rest and happiness."
"We need a happy place," he said.
After a half-hour of discussion, Roll asked for a show of hands to indicate how many people were opposed to industrial development on the site. Nearly all of the more than three dozen people in the audience raised their hands. When Roll asked if anyone was in favor of the proposal, no hands were raised.
"I think we get your feelings," Roll said.
Editor’s Note: See the May 26, 2009 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, now on Tuesday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail email@example.com.