Photo by Jana Bounds

One month to contemplate

1% resort tax infrastructure vote could determine fate of the Gallatin River and canyon

The Gallatin River and a move toward infrastructure to protect it have been widely discussed in Big Sky. Soon, voters will decide.

Around 40 people recently attended a virtual meeting about the Gallatin Canyon Wastewater Study. A similar meeting took place last month at Buck’s T-4 with about the same number of people in attendance.

Two options were presented:

Scenario 1 or a “Go it alone” approach: Big Sky canyon area constructs its own water resource recovery facility that needs to be as close as possible to the 64/191 intersection on approximately two acres. Due to the location, it would need to be a nice facility and would need some storage. “This is not an easy, nice solution,” AE2S project manager Scott Buecker said.

Scenario 2 or “Co-solution” approach: Wastewater would be collected and pumped up to Big Sky County Water and Sewer District via a force main located near the Conoco. If the additional 1% Resort Tax for infrastructure is approved by voters on May 5, then Big Sky Area Resort Tax District (Resort Tax) is committed to paying for the lift station, the force main as well as a return pipe back down to the canyon for reuse or disposal of treated water. The financial commitment by Resort Tax to the project is $27 million or 60% of the cost.

“This is a great opportunity to leverage a lot of funds for the community,” longtime canyon resident Mike Scholz said, and explained that the canyon district may never see such funds again as a district minority.

Buecker, engineer Mace Mangold and Scholz all stressed that this could be one of the last best opportunities to protect the river for the foreseeable future. More development coupled with the lack of a centralized system increases the likelihood of damage to the watershed due to nutrient loading from an assortment of individual septic systems.

“I characterize it always as a net reduction, the real benefit is long term,” Mangold said, pointing out that without centralized collection nutrient loads begin to triple quickly. “Without that 1% vote, then I feel this canyon project does stall... The time is now if it’s going to happen.”

The reduction in nutrient loading is nearly identical for both scenarios, he later pointed- out.

The engineers ran through impacts, options, finances, and affordability in the nearly two hour meeting.

“It is in the realm of affordability [with full buildout]. The trick is to make it affordable in the early days,” Buecker said, and stressed this is when phases come into consideration.

Buecker said he has been fielding a lot of questions with regard to COVID-19’s impact on municipal projects.

He said they were intentionally conservative with funding projections, estimating 3-5% growth when it is historically done at 13%.

“Please don’t think Covid set the train off the tracks here,” he said. It may have for a year, but not for long. Also, he said stimulus packages can make it a good time to pursue public works projects.

“With one month before the vote, if you vote yes you are not committing to anything, you are just putting your thumb down for that $12 million and holding it in place for a couple of years,” Buecker said, referring to the time Resort Tax is giving canyon residents to create a district and establish a clear path forward.

More information can be found at www. gallatin-canyon-study

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