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Commissioners must stay unified on septage facility

by Daily Inter Lake
| March 26, 2023 12:00 AM

Flathead County commissioners are finally united in support of constructing a regional septage treatment facility.

After a split vote earlier this month in rejecting a property purchase for the facility — and questioning whether the county should be involved in such a project at all — the trio of elected officials are singing a different tune, and this time in perfect harmony.

“We need to exhaust all of the options to figure out something because we need to make sure that this facility goes forward,” Commissioner Pam Holmquist said pointedly at Wednesday’s work session. It should be noted that Holmquist was the lone voice in support of the option to purchase acreage in the Lower Valley area for the facility, with commissioners Brad Abell and Randy Brodehl in opposition.

In explaining his vote denying the property purchase on Wiley Dike Road, Brodehl said he believed septage treatment was the responsibility of the private sector.

“Just because the private industry didn’t plan for this it doesn’t mean it’s not their responsibility,” Brodehl said at the time. “Their lack of planning doesn’t mean the county should step up and grow government so it takes care of the responsibilities of private industry.”

But at Wednesday’s work session, Brodehl walked back those comments, saying he now fully supports moving ahead with the county effort. Abell, too, is on board, saying Wednesday that “the government has got to step up to the plate and take this on.”

The commissions’ coalesced front is an important marker in the marathon effort to bring this much-needed project to fruition. But now, after years of hemming and hawing, the race has become a full-blown sprint.

County Administrator Pete Melnick warned that federal funding for the multi-million dollar project could go by the wayside if it’s not put to use soon, telling commissioners “we have a clock running big time.”

While commissioners might have hoped the private sector would rise to the occasion and address the need for septage treatment, it hasn’t and likely won’t to the scale and urgency that’s required of a county with a population that now exceeds 100,000.

Meanwhile, Flathead County already has about 30,000 known septic tanks, with hundreds of new septic permits issued every year. As rural property gets scooped up for new housing, less land is available to deal with septage treatment. A serious backlog is looming if action isn’t taken soon, not to mention the potentially dangerous environmental and health hazards from untreated septic tanks that can fail and overflow.

Skirting the issue and passing the buck is no longer an option. The commissioners must remain united in their promise to finally get this septage facility across the finish line.

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