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Grant helps fund Bigfork parking lot

| June 15, 2020 1:00 AM

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has awarded a $166,000 grant to the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts to build a much-needed parking lot in downtown Bigfork, the organization announced Monday, June 8. The lot is currently under construction and once complete, will provide 74 spaces.

The grant to Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts reflects the Murdock Trust’s continued investment in the Pacific Northwest, having donated more than $1 billion to nonprofits that serve the Pacific Northwest since 1975. Since 2009, the Murdock Trust has awarded 259 grants from 147 grantees in Montana totaling $41 million.

“We’re so grateful to the Murdock Trust for their support and recognition of our unique needs in Bigfork. It doesn’t seem like it would be a problem in a rural area, but people were avoiding coming to performances at our theater, or visiting our shops, because there was simply no place to park,” said Suzie Keenan, board member for the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts Foundation. “We realized that the most impactful project we could do would be to build a parking lot.”

The Center is a 435-seat theater venue for dance, music, film, theater, educational and civic events, and is home to the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre and the Bigfork Community Players.

The parking lot is currently under construction at 355 Grand Drive, near the intersection of Grand Drive and Electric Avenue, and is only about a one-minute walk to the Center. The heavy equipment class at Flathead Valley Community College is also contributing their skills to the project.

The gravel portion of the lot is complete, but paving is delayed due to COVID-19. However, paved or not, the lot will be open this summer.

— Bigfork Eagle

The Glacier Country Boys and Girls Club is helping out the community with food during the coronavirus crisis.

Folks in need can get free 25-pound boxes of produce or a combination box that includes a ham and chicken, as well as cheese.

The boxes of food are made available through the Farmers to Families Food Box program and feature regionally grown produce.

The club gave away 100 boxes last week and will give another 100 each Tuesday through the summer and fall, Executive Director Cindy Hooker said.

The boxes generally arrive about 1:15 p.m. at the club’s facility on Fourth Avenue West in Columbia Falls, across the street from Glacier Gateway School. Boxes are first-come, first served.

Produce boxes include fresh fruit and vegetables, including apples, onions, and oranges. The combination boxes include a fully cooked ham and a fully cooked chicken thigh as well as produce.

— Hungry Horse News

Lake County voters on June 2 gave incumbent County Commissioner Bill Barron a third term in office.

Barron edged challenger Cory Knutson in the Republican primary election, garnering 3,008 votes compared to Knutson’s 2,707. There is no Democratic challenger in the general election in November.

Barron has a 30-year career in law enforcement and previously served as Lake County sheriff for two terms before being elected county commissioner.

He said he’s still got a lot of energy to put into the job and is excited to keep working on issues facing the county.

“I think I’m making a difference,” Barron said.

A few top priorities will be two major road projects in the works and getting the economy back on track after the COVID-19-related closures.

Barron congratulated his opponent Knutson on a good, tough campaign.

“He’s a great guy and it was very clean race,” Barron said, noting that it was a different campaign with the challenges of coronavirus.

“It opened the door for the all-mail ballot,” Barron said. “That put an extra 5,000 voters in the system that [don’t usually vote].”

“Cory comes from a well-liked and successful family in the community. I figured it would be a tough election.”

— Lake County Leader

Libby school officials have identified a federal brownfield program as a way to make the sale and redevelopment of the former Asa Wood Elementary School more palatable.

Partnering with the Kootenai River Development Council, Superintendent Craig Barringer of Libby Public School District petitioned the Lincoln County commissioners on June 3 for help in securing the federal aid. If successful, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would mitigate the presence of asbestos in the building, said Tina Oliphant, executive director of the redevelopment council.

The possible solution to the presence of asbestos in the defunct school emerged as district officials seek to sell the property. A Kalispell-based developer approached the district last year with plans to buy the land and erect an assisted living facility.

School officials, who have largely relegated the facility to storage space, greeted the proposal with open arms. They agreed last year to pick up a portion of the tab for a market study and in recent months approved the necessary resolutions to prepare the land for sale.

But the district is on the hook for cleaning up asbestos for the project to move ahead. On June 1, Barringer announced that the cost of removing the hazardous material outweighed the value of the property by more than $100,000. Much of it is contained in pipes and flooring, but the building also saw asbestos collect in the exterior walls, a leftover from the vermiculite mining responsible for Libby’s present day Superfund site designation.

Through conversations with personnel at the state Department of Environmental Quality, local officials learned the site could be considered a brownfield. That is, a property where the presence of hazardous materials presents an obstacle for redevelopment.

— The Western News

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will reopen its government office on June 29 following an extended shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a tribal press release, all tribal departments will follow a return-to-work plan, as it meets the public health guidelines for work spaces.

As of June 9, Lake County had no active cases of COVID-19.

“Should that change between now and June 29, Tribal Council will meet with the Unified Command Team, analyze the situation, and adjust this schedule as necessary,” the release noted.

A total of 1,279 Lake County residents have been tested for COVID-19. Of those, 1,263 have been negative and 11 are currently pending.

Drive-thru testing for all Lake County/Flathead Reservation residents is available at the following locations from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

June 17 – Arlee Powwow Grounds

June 18 – SKC Theater

June 19 – Polson High School

June 20 – Elmo Powwow Grounds

Providence St. Joseph Medical Center dismantled its COVID-19 curbside testing site last week and is now testing inside the facility.

— Lake County Leader