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Residents asked for feedback on future of Broadwater County

Officials with the Montana Department of Commerce and WGM Group hosted a public meeting last Thursday at the Bridger Brewing Facility in Three Forks, asking residents to provide input on their vision for the future of Broadwater County.

The Community Technical Assistance Program (CTAP) meeting is one of two this month in the county, the other planned for residents in the northern part of the county on August 31 in Townsend. According to Broadwater County Commissioner Lindsey Richtmyer, the county received a grant through the Department of Commerce, which partnered with the WGM group to facilitate the meetings and planning.

James Caniglia with the WGM Group told the audience they are trying to help residents see outcomes they would like to see and not have growth that is "willy-nilly." He added at the first meeting, they would have residents' complete surveys and, at a second meeting, come up with some ideas addressing concerns and input. At a third meeting, he said they would have a draft for what they describe as a sub-area plan.

Caniglia said a growth policy in the county would be used to help guide and create a community vision of what residents want to see; adding the sub-area plan helps create future regulatory plans.

Those in attendance were asked to fill out a survey with the first question asking residents to describe their vision for the future of Broadwater County.

The survey then asked residents to rate their level of concern for suburban sprawl, strip development, loss of prime farmland, increased traffic congestion, water quality decline, loss of sense of community, environmental degradation, and loss of dark skies.

Those participating in the survey were then asked to rate their level of support for positive trends in Broadwater County, including road improvements, planning (Open Space, Greenway, Recreation), natural resource preservation efforts, farmland preservation, regional planning efforts, transportation, planning, economic growth, and local government cooperation.

Residents were also asked to provide input and rate their priorities for site design standards, including landscaping, setbacks, building design, parking, approaches, and signs.

The survey's final question asked if there should be a unit threshold (number of units per complex) for apartments and condos to require a site design.

Maps were also displayed at the meeting, allowing residents to give feedback on conservation easements, wildlife habitat, agriculture, public lands, lot sizes, and roads. Caniglia said preserving the agricultural identity of the county is very important to many people and will play a part in where it would make sense to have future growth in Broadwater County.

The availability of water in Broadwater County was a focal point at the meeting.

Caniglia said water availability is a big topic in the southern end of Broadwater County.

Gus Byrom with the Montana Department of Commerce discussed the possibility of pursuing what he described as necessary professional engineering studies to focus on water and wastewater issues.

Byrom said whether water would be supported by a district, subdivision, or homeowners' association -- would have to be addressed with a professional study with extensive citizen involvement. He added part of his job is liking people up with public grants and loan programs for infrastructure.

Numerous county residents expressed concerns over ranchers and farmers losing their ability to irrigate crops, including one describing the water as the "lifeblood" of the area. Concerns were also expressed about water availability in the housing developments in the county's southern end. Residents also raised concerns about water pressure and people having to redrill wells.

Caniglia said the possible water studies discussed by Byrom would help everyone make an informed decision on where there would be good places for community wells to encourage growth and hopefully not affect other wells.

He added the study would be a key next step in looking at the necessary question of forming a water district or two in the county that would be eligible to receive grants or low-interest loans, which is always done to keep the monthly user cost as low as possible.

After numerous issues raised by residents about water usage, Dani Arps with the Montana Department of Commerce said she understands water is critical to Montanans and their way of life and encouraged those with concerns to tell them what they do not want to see in the county's future.

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