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Ninepipe highway expansion receives study endorsement

HELENA – A section of U.S. Highway 93 located along the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area could be widened and realigned with a bike path in the future.

The right-of-way expansion project was presented at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission meeting in Helena on Feb. 10. The project would require the FWP to “convey approximately four acres of property, including some wetland habitat” to the Montana Department of Transportation, according to FWP documents.

The FWP Commission authorized the Montana Department of Transportation to proceed with an environmental analysis of the impacts that could occur to the land, although it wasn’t a green light to proceed with the expansion.

After the meeting, Gary Wolfe, district one commissioner, emphasized that the approval was only about giving the MDT the approval to begin the study. He said the MDT wanted the approval to ensure that the project was a possibility before funding the study.

The FWP plans to work with the MDT to prepare an environmental assessment for public review and comment, according to documents. It was noted that the public had the opportunity to comment on the U.S. Highway 93 expansion project during the planning process, but the impact to the Ninepipe area wasn’t evaluated in detail at that time.

According to documents, Ninepipe is a 4,000-acre wildlife management area south of Ronan. “The (Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area) is managed primarily for waterfowl and upland game but many species, including grizzly bears and migratory birds utilize the property.”

The MDT is planning to expand a one-mile section of the highway north of Ronan in 2018, according to the MDT. A section through town might be expanded in 2021, depending on funding. The section through Ninepipe would possibly be worked on after the section through town is finished.

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