NYE — As the anniversary of last summer's historic flooding in southern Montana approaches, the road construction leading into the Stillwater Mine is nearing completion.
The road is usable for all mine vehicles, but no date has been set for opening to the public.
The washing out of the road caused the mine to shut down for nearly two months, but it also cost families in the area their property. Ted Blazina's cabin, which was about 30 feet from the road, was ripped off its foundation before floating down the river in June 2022.
"It was devastating," Blazina said Thursday afternoon while standing where his cabin used to sit. "Our initial feeling was that we lost everything, and I mean everything."
Because the river changed its course, Blazina was unsure that his family would have property on which to rebuild when MTN spoke with him in the fall. Now that construction is almost complete, it's looking like they will have a place to rebuild.
"I'm feeling a lot better about what's happened up here in terms of us getting some of our land back," Blazina said. "I never thought it would look like this after a year so we're tickled by that."
While he's happy that the reconstruction of the road has created a space for him to rebuild his cabin, Blazina said that the change in scenery is jarring. Trees used to block their view from the Stillwater mine, but that isn't the case anymore.
"Before the flood, you could not see the flood from our property, but you can sure see it now," Blazina said.
The road leading into where Blazina's cabin used to sit is driveable now, and that same road leads directly into the Stillwater Mine. Heather McDowell is the vice president of legal affairs for the mine and she said the disaster was a financial burden that really hurt operations and 1,400 workers.
"Last year was a terrific financial impact because we were shut down for seven weeks," McDowell said. "We had never been shut down for more than a few days so it was a huge financial impact."
McDowell said that the rebuilding process has been strenuous, involving multiple agencies including FEMA and the National Forest Service. She also said it's great to see the community work together and respond.
"This is what we do as a mine," McDowell said. "Our job is all about planning ahead and adapting. We couldn't live in a better community. It was a very complicated project and everybody just put their heads together and jumped in."
Blazina couldn't be more appreciative of the progress that has been made.
"They've done a fantastic job, and I can't say enough about how much the community has gotten behind everything up here and tried to help as much as they can," Blazina said.
While the section of the road won't open to the public for several months, Blazina and others are hopeful that life in this valley could soon look much like it once did and his family hopes that they will have the chance to rebuild.
"We had the cabin for 20 years, and there's a tremendous amount of memories," Blazina said. "Hopefully we'll be able to get back to doing that again."