Bigfork to move ahead with trail expansion

September 25, 2018

The Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork voted Thursday to move forward with plans to expand the current Bigfork Nature Trails system following an update on the partnership between the foundation’s legal representatives and PacifiCorp, the company that owns the property where the proposed project would occur.

Foundation President Paul Mutascio said he felt confident that though PacifiCorp had not yet made any commitments to helping make the expansion happen, they would remain amenable in negotiating the terms of its creation.

“I want the board to be comfortable going forward into the unknown,” Mutascio said. “I’m confident it will occur in some form or manner, but it’s going to take money, not just to build the trail but to get to a point where we’re actually submitting and negotiating with PacifiCorp.”

According to Diane Conradi, co-owner and partner with Conradi Anderson PLLC, she and her team members took two things away from a recent meeting in Portland with the recreation and real estate specialists for PacifiCorp.

According to Conradi, the company’s representatives said PacifiCorp would be willing to consider a proposal put forth by the foundation and work with the community in order to allow the implementation of the first phase of the trail expansion project.

However, Conradi said the company would not be inclined to take on any of the costs, liabilities or other responsibilities associated with building and maintaining the trails outside of a reached agreement between the foundation and PacifiCorp.

“You’re dealing with a private land owner that made it very clear that they will do nothing that they are not required to do outside of an agreement,” Conradi said. “They will be willing to consider something as long as it works for them.”

Conradi said some of the main obstacles the foundation faces in reaching an agreement with PacifiCorp include procedural differences between building on federal lands and those located outside of federal boundaries, maintenance of the trails once they’ve been put in place, the treatment of landowners on neighboring properties and how multiple land uses will be handled.

Though other future phases of the expansion plans do reside inside areas overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a federal commission that oversees hydroelectric dams and energy production and which has its own complex procedures for approving such projects, phase one will take place outside of federal lands.

This leaves PacifiCorp, the property owner, alone for the foundation board and its legal representatives to negotiate with.

PacifiCorp representatives told Conradi and her team that this was the first project they had dealt with that came through a citizen initiative rather than through a federally licensed project, meaning fewer hoops for the company to jump through and a more amenable attitude toward working with the community, according to Conradi.

The overall expansion plan exists in five phases, costing an estimated 250,000 and 10,000 of the $23,000 budget for the project.

The board agreed unanimously to spend the remainder of the budget to continue with the project, but Mutascio said it was time to start looking at future fundraising methods.

He said the next step would be to submit a formal proposal for consideration by PacifiCorp before applying for state and federal grant funding.

Because PacifiCorp’s approval process will take five months to a year to complete, Mutascio said the foundation board hopes to get a proposal finalized and submitted within the next three to four weeks.

Though he optimistically hoped the process would lean more toward the shorter end of that timeline, Mutascio said that either way, it would not be a speedy process.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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