County receives funding for urgent Buena Vista sewer project

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The residents of a Missoula Valley mobile home park will see their unlined sewage lagoon replaced with a modern system, thanks to a federal grant awarded this week by the Montana Department of Commerce.

The $373,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be combined with funds from Missoula County and the Montana Department of Natural Resources to pay for the $470,000 project, one that’s now several years in the making.

The news was well received by residents of Buena Vista.

“Since we’ve taken ownership of this community, we’ve made many improvements,” said Terry Huetter, president of the Buena Vista board. “Updating our wastewater system will increase that pride because we’ll know our water is safer and we’re not contaminating our community.”

It was nearly two years ago when Huetter and other Buena Vista residents led Missoula County commissioners on a tour of the 36-lot mobile home park one mile west of Missoula International Airport.

During the tour, Huetter noted the unlined lagoons collecting sewage from the small neighborhood and called them ancient technology while stressing the need to replace them.

Yet gathering the funding to connect the mobile home park to the city of Missoula’s collection system hasn’t been easy. The county applied for a Community Development Block Grant from the state twice before and was denied each time.

“The applications were rejected, not because the project wasn’t worthy or the proposals weren’t good, but because there were other more pressing and urgent needs in other parts of the state,” said Sindie Kennedy, a grant administrator with the county. “After the 2016 application was rejected, the state offered a ‘second opportunity’ to Missoula County to reapply. The second opportunity resulted in an award.”

As Huetter noted on his tour, the wastewater system at Buena Vista flows to an unlined lagoon system at the bottom of a draw that once served as a tributary to La Valle Creek. The mobile homes within the park are each connected to an 8-inch main that ends at a diverter and sends sewage into the lagoons.

Officials believe the lagoon system is now leaking wastewater into the groundwater. They also believe the effluent is flowing into the natural drainage and working its way into the Clark Fork River.

“This is a common situation where the cost of improvements is beyond the means of the affected community,” said Amy Rose with Missoula County Public Works. “The dedicated support from Buena Vista residents to address the problem was instrumental to the pursuit of funding.”

As proposed, a lift station will replace the diverter and send the effluent to a sewer line at Training Drive. The line will then carry waste to the main sewer line along Airport Road. The city has not yet agreed to annex Buena Vista.

“The city has a process that we will need to go through,” said Rose. “The city will have the final say on annexation.”

Completing the project would serve as a milestone in Buena Vista’s evolution. Once an RV park, the neighborhood transitioned to permanent housing where, in 2013, residents organized a community owned organization and purchased the land below their homes.

The latest grant application represents the collaboration of Missoula County and NeighborWorks Montana, as well as the park’s residents.

“Through resident ownership, the residents at Buena Vista gained stability in the ownership of their land and have made many improvements to their property using their own resources.” said Kaia Peterson of NeighborWorks. “The sewer will be a major and much-needed improvement.”