MISSOULA - We take a look at the latest on the City of Missoula buying Marshall Mountain and keeping it open to the public with Martin Kidston of the Missoula Current.
"There are a few hurdles to cross. I remember last year a private owner tried to buy the property and that caused a lot of outrage. Another group stepped in called "Issy Dog LLC." They purchased the mountain and gave the city a lease to continue using the base of that mountain. They also gave the city the option to buy the base of that mountain for $1.8 million,” Kidston said.
“The city wants to do that, but the first step in that process is to create a master plan that kind of looks at and figures out what they want the mountain to be, how much it will cost to run, operational maintenance, what kind of programs will be offered.”
“The city council met on that issue last week to decide if they want to enter into a professional contract with a planning firm to look into a master plan and that would cost $130,000 to complete...The council didn't take action last week, they'll meet again this week to look at it a second time,” Kidston continued. “The advocates of the mountain say they need that master plan to begin fundraising. This master plan and whether the city is going to fund it is an essential step, and whether the city is going to eventually acquire that mountain.”
A quite of bit of work remains to be done to resolve the issue.
"The $130,000 comes from a special fund they set up when the taxpayers passed the Open Space bond. That's available to fund that master plan. And the "Friends of Marshall Mountain" -- when they get moving on their fundraising -- they would reimburse that $130,000,” Kidston explained. “I think it's hard to figure out why they wouldn't at least move forward on that $130,000 and see where the acquisition goes. It doesn't mean the city would necessarily acquire the mountain; they would just have a better sense of what it would cost to operate the mountain.”
A survey was recently done to see what kind of activities people would want on Marshall Mountain but the question remains about whether the plan will come to fruition.
“I think it will. I think there are a lot of advocates for that, and I think most of the city council is in favor of the master plan. That's not to say they are in favor of acquisition. I think that will come down to how successful the "Friends of Marshall Mountain" are in their fundraising effort and whether or not the open space committees on the city and county's behalf are interested in allocating some of the open space proceeds toward the acquisition,” Kidston said.
“And of course, it comes down to what kind of revenue the mountain would create and what it would cost to operate over the long run. There's a lot of unanswered questions and that's what the master plan would answer. They can't really go forward without it.
A decision on the master plan will be discussed by a city council committee this week.
“Actually, this Wednesday they will likely vote on the master plan in committee, which would then send it to the full city council for approval. If they do approve, the mayor would go into contract with the planning group and the master plan would take place this summer.,” Kidston said.
“Later this fall or winter the open space committee would allocate funding to perhaps secure the mountain. The important thing...is that the lease with "Izzy Dog LLC" expires in July, so the clock is ticking. The mountain could go back to private ownership if the city decides they can't get their ducks in a row if they don't want it,” Kidston concluded.