Black Eagle Water and Sewer District applying for state CDBG funds for improvements

Black Eagle is inching closer to upgrading its water and sewer system.

On Tuesday, Cascade County Commissioners approved a grant application from the Black Eagle Cascade County Water and Sewer District to be submitted to the Montana Department of Commerce for state Community Development Block Grant funding.

The Black Eagle water and sewer district is requesting $40,000 with a $10,000 local match to update the current preliminary engineering report so that it includes additional components to the project and a financial feasibility study.

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The district is requesting the funds and a waiver from the match requirement since more than half of Black Eagle residents fall into the low to moderate income brackets.

The district is attempting to coordinate their project with Superfund work happening in Black Eagle since dirt will already be moving, saving time, labor and money.

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A significant portion of the proposed work is located within a Superfund site as designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The site is a portion of an abandoned railroad route that runs through the south end of the Black Eagle community and is owned by BNSF Railway, Northwestern Energy and the county owns Art Higgins Memorial Park.

The coordinated work would include BNSF excavation, testing, removal and disposal of the contaminated soils followed by a Black Eagle district bid contractor for shallow excavation and installation of new sewer pipe, water pipe and associated items.

Once that’s installed, BNSF will replace the excavated soils with clean fill material and resurface the area with gravel or asphalt as appropriate, according to the CDBG application.

The entire project will include the rehabilitation or replacement of about 6,593 linear feet of sanitary sewer mains; about 1,800 linear feet of water mains; sanitary sewer manhole rehabilitation or replacement; replacement of six fire hydrants; and all necessary connections.

The Black Eagle district is considering an application for funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development but that program requires water projects to include meters if the applicant doesn’t currently have them, unless a significant economic detriment is demonstrated.

The district is asking to use some of the CDBG funds for a financial feasibility study to show that the district and residents cannot afford to add meters for all residences on the system.

Sarah Converse, director of Sweetgrass Development, told commissioners last week that the district had about 499 total users on the Black Eagle water and sewer system. Of those, about 50 are commercial properties that are already metered.

The cost to install meters on residential properties is an estimated $1,500 to $2,000 per residence, plus additional costs to upgrade their software and anything else to the water main, Converse said.

The total cost to add meters to all of the residences is an estimated $900,000, Converse said.

The district spends about $125,000 annually on water.

“The cost will never be recouped,” Converse said and to put that cost on the low to moderate income residents “is ridiculous.”