Plains mayor lauds 2020 accomplishments

by CHUCK BANDEL
Valley press | January 13, 2021 12:00 AM

A long time problem for the Town of Plains took a giant step toward resolution in 2020 and some major issues are in line to be tackled this year.

And of course, like most of the planet, Covid reared its ugly head right here in River City creating a separate set of challenges.

Overall, Plains Mayor Dan Rowan, in the third of a four-year term, said he is pleased with the progress that has been made or is in the works to improve long-standing infrastructure issues.

“I would say like every year I’ve been here, the highest priority has been to get the sewer plant relocated,” he said. “The most significant thing has been securing the grant funding for that effort and by doing so we’ve put the last major piece of the planning in place.”

Rowan was referring to the last piece of the approximately $5.1 million funding puzzle that he now hopes will allow ground to be broken on a new sewage treatment system and lagoon that will alleviate a long time environmental threat to the Clark Fork River.

The current lagoon sits on a site that is perilously close to the river, with the potential for a calamity if flooding were to cause a breach in the walls of the sewage pond, which would create a major spill into the Clark Fork.

“Hopefully we will break ground this spring,” he said from his office in Plains. “The new site will be on land about a mile west of the airport and significantly further away from the river than the existing facility. That has been an issue for years.”

Although acquiring the last pieces of land necessary to proceed is still a potential issue, Rowan sounded confident a solution is at hand to relocate the facility to non-flood plain land.

Rowan, who recently battled a bout with Covid along with a growing number of Sanders County and Plains residents, said another major infrastructure issue that has existed for years also got a solid start last year with a good outlook for more substantial progress in 2021.

“Another priority is roads and water projects,” Rowan said. “We completed about 1,500 feet of road paving and chip sealing last year. It was not as much as we would have liked to get done, but funding is always an issue.”

In 2020 crews paved stretches of Garber as well as other problem areas in the town, work that often coincided with the drive to replace and in some areas reshape the town’s water supply system.

“There are about 500 service lines in need of replacement or repair in the town and we still have about 400 to go,” he said. “Projects like roads and water mains are things that are basically performed on an on-going basis. We have 13 miles of roads in the town and when we get them all taken care of it will most likely be time to start over again.”

Other projects taken care of last year included a revamping of the town’s water billing system, with a new rate scale put in place that included new-look bills.

The bills, which initially caused some confusion among town residents, have been revamped to address user suggestions and complaints. The changes to the billing system, he said, resulted in a cost savings of approximately $7,000 in producing the new billing cards.

“The first card was a bit difficult to read,” he said. “We heard what people were saying and have not had much negative feedback since we made some changes.”

The new billing system was part of a revamping of the water system that resulted in long-overdue rate increases caused by increased operation and maintenance costs. As part of that effort, he said, the town now has a better method to detect underground leaks quicker, which allows for faster repair to stop expensive leaks in the system.

The town also managed to solve an outstanding problem with the public works building and fire station, which had not seen improvements or upgrades for many years.

“There were things like leaks in the roof at the firehall that we took care of without the expense of a whole new building,” he said. “A new roof for the building was $25,000 whereas a new station would have cost about $625,000. We made the decision to live with what we have and fix it up.”

The building also got a new heating system to replace an antiquated furnace, an action that along with a new energy efficient roof cut the structure’s energy bill in half and extended its life expectancy by more than a decade.

Similar improvements are planned for City Hall this year, including replacing the wiring in the building, which was built in 1939.

“It’s good to maintain and improve what you have if you can and makes sense to take care of it,” Rowan said.

Overall, Rowan said he is enjoying the challenges he faced when he was elected three years ago and that running for another term is likely.

“There were more issues and work than I thought there would be to being mayor,” he said. “I was on the town council for 12 years and thought it would be a good starting point and it was, but I found out it was much more challenging than I thought.”

“There’s a learning curve to making decisions and the legal concerns with so many matters,” he said. “But I like accomplishing things like working to fix the sewer plant situation. That was a deal where when I came into office something had to be done.”

Despite sometimes round-the-clock calls from constituents about everything from deer in the yard to barking dogs to illegal parking concerns, Rowan said he is likely to seek another four-year term in office.

“It’s exciting to get things going like the sewage treatment problem,” he said. “I like being mayor of this town.

“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or move away from Plains.”