By Bay Stephens EBS LOCAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – Community members and county commissioners from Madison and Gallatin counties convened in the Talus Room at Big Sky Resort on April 10 for the biannual Big Sky Chamber of Commerce-organized Eggs and Issues, and the joint county commissioner meeting to discuss water issues facing Big Sky and better facilitate shared governance of the unincorporated area between the two counties.
Madison County Commissioners Ron Nye and Jim Hart, as well as commissioners from the Gallatin side, Joe Skinner, Don Seifert and Scott MacFarlane were informed as to the challenges facing and successes underway in the Big Sky community.
For Eggs and Issues, Karen Filipovich, representing the Gallatin River Task Force, spoke on the need to reduce excess nutrients in the Gallatin River and to safeguard sufficient water supply, benefiting the waterways and residents and visitors that enjoy them. Big Sky Sewer and Water District General Manager Ron Edwards presented as well, briefing the commissioners on the $21 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade in response to Big Sky’s rapid growth and limited effluent disposal options.
Edwards also touched on the need to find more water to supply growing visitor populations, as well as other BSWSD initiatives underway, such as implementing a water metering system that would allow the district to monitor, in real time, how much water is being used where, expanding the purple pipe in collaboration with Big Sky Town Center, exploring different sewer rate options for commercial vs. residential ratepayers, and once more issuing sewer impact fees for development.
For the Madison and Gallatin Counties Joint Commission Meeting, the commissioners heard presentations from representatives of the U.S. Census Bureau; Big Sky Community Organization; Big Sky Chamber of Commerce; Visit Big Sky; Gallatin River Task Force; Logan Simson, the Colorado-based company hired by the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board; Big Sky Transportation District; Big Sky School District; and Habitat for Humanity of Gallatin County.
Jeri Bucy, the Montana U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist, shared with attendees the importance of facilitating full engagement for the 2020 census. She said $2,000 federal dollars are allocated to every Montanan counted, so that one uncounted person constitutes $20,000 in lost funding from the federal government over the course of a decade.
“The census is really all about allocating resources back to communities,” Bucy said. She added that if the count numbers are right, there’s a chance Montana gains a seat in the U.S. Congress.
Big Sky Transportation District board chair Ennion Williams added that the census is also key to determining how transportation funds are allocated. Funding is the limiting factor for what the district can offer, Ennion said, and that their ridership growth appears to have flattened because the buses are at capacity. The TIGER grant, which is slated to be signed at the end of April, will provide four more buses by January of next year, but does not ultimately pay for drivers, he said.
The Big Sky Community Organization has major trailhead upgrades in store on both sides of the county line, according to executive director Ciara Wolfe.
As soon as the snow melts, Wolfe said contractors will break ground to expand the Beehive Basin trailhead to increase available parking, and to install a pit toilet, trash receptacles and a trailhead kiosk; upgrades to the Ousel Falls trailhead will be designed this summer with construction expected to commence the following summer.
Wolfe announced that BSCO has raised $12 million of its $17 million goal for the community center in Big Sky Town Center, informing the audience that the full plan will be revealed at the end of April.
Logan Simpson’s Megan Moore, one of the consultants conducting the Strategic Visioning Strategy to ultimately guide the resort tax board in its allocation of funds, updated audience members on the process thus far.
“In all the communities we’ve worked in, I’ve never seen so much engagement,” Moore said. “The people here have a real passion for their community.”
Of the responses received at this point, Moore shared several patterns of note: while most people visited Big Sky for the outdoor and recreational amenities, with no intention of permanent residence, the community members they encountered and high quality of life swayed them to stay. An aspect many respondents deeply appreciate about Big Sky is that everyone chooses to be here.
“Already you have common values to connect over,” Moore said.
Areas of improvement in respondents’ minds had to do with developing appropriate infrastructure, safeguarding the environment, caring for families and employees, and the need for an overarching vision that ties all of Big Sky’s entities together.