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Construction to begin on Stillwater Mine Road

Don Beer
Posted at 3:41 PM, Mar 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-21 17:42:04-04

COLUMBUS - A construction bid for the repair of the Stillwater Mine Road has been accepted, and now officials are waiting for FEMA's approval before the process can begin.

Stillwater Excavating, located just outside of Columbus, was chosen as the winning bid and for the company's owner Don Beer, it's a great opportunity to help rebuild his own community.

"I myself have been on the mine site for 38 years," Beer said Monday afternoon. "I've watched that mine go just from its very beginnings to what it is today, and it's a pretty important entity for this community. Just in terms of keeping Stillwater County growing and alive."

Beer has lived in Columbus since 1985, so he knows just how important that road near the mine is.

That's why when he received the call that his team would be handling the repairs, he was thrilled.

“There’s a lot of use up that road," Beer said. "You’ve got Woodbine campground above that, and that's a high-use area for the Forest Service, the campers, the hikers and everything else. So once that’s opened back up that’ll be a pretty good feeling."

Stillwater Excavating's bid was the least expensive of the three proposals because it is choosing to use Stillwater Mine waste rock to help rebuild the banks.

According to Beer, his company has done multiple jobs for the mine, and that familiarity helped him put together his bid.

The focus of Stillwater Excavating's bid is to reroute the river to its original flow and then rebuild the road exactly as it used to be, which is why they are on a deadline to beat this spring's upcoming high-water season.

"We need to get started here in the next couple weeks, and then we've got a pretty good opportunity to get it all in before the runoff starts," Beer said. "If we wait too long, of course, then we're fighting that runoff and there will probably be more loss of properties below that."

Stillwater County Commissioner Tyrel Hamilton said he feels the same sense of urgency and knows what is at stake if the repairs aren't made in time.

"We need to get that protected and done, because our fear is if we do nothing before high water, it's going to continue to erode that and this project is going to become bigger," Hamilton said.

According to Hamilton, the major hold-up right now is approval from FEMA, which is providing 75 percent of the money. The agency has environmental concerns that come with rerouting a river.

“We are waiting until we have 100 percent confirmation until we cut our contractor loose," Hamilton said. "We don’t want to have the residents of Stillwater County on the hook because we took a step too early."

Hamilton said that he thinks construction will be able to start in the next couple weeks and that everything is scheduled to be back to normal with a new road by the end of August.

"That community was hard hit during the flood," Hamilton said. "We're trying to do everything we can to restore that access as quickly as possible."

And Beer said he is looking forward to helping those in his community return to normalcy.

"It's great to be able to get in there and try to help these guys get some of their properties back," Beer said. "We're going to try and help these folks out as much as we can while we're doing our job."