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Skyline Drive officially opens

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POLSON — From a sidehill, Skyline Drive started as a stagecoach road before turning into the luxe two-lane road complete with a walking/biking path and guardrails that it is today. 

Saturday, Oct. 12 dawned cold and gray, but that didn’t stop the ribbon cutting for the $12 million Skyline project.

Montana’s Congressional delegation that was invited to the open house remained in Washington, D.C. grappling with the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, and federal highway officials were absent also. 

Confederated Salish and Kootenai elder Louis Adams offered a blessing and a prayer to begin the ceremony, reminding attendees of the beauty of the place, the mountains and water, of elk bugling in the mountains and a buck deer snorting outside hunting camp on a crisp fall morning.

Billie Lee, Executive Director of Lake County Community Development and Project Administrator for the Skyline Project, said she remembered when the grant first crossed her desk. She visited with Paddy Trusler, then Lake County Commissioner, and he asked her the three questions he always asks — what’s the public benefit, how do we put (the grant application) together and do we stand a chance of getting it? 

“In my mind,” Lake County Commissioner Bill Barron said, “I knew we were going to get it.”  

Lee said that the group also tried to keep as much of the money as possible local. Both the engineering firm and the contractor were from Montana, Lee said, and the project paid out more than $2.3 million in wages.   

 “We managed (the project) for three percent and the state (took) 13 percent,” she said.

Other dignitaries present at the ribbon cutting were Mitch and Mary Stelling and Scott Fanning of Stelling Engineering, Polson Mayor Pat DeVries, CSKT Councilman Lloyd Irvine, Polson Water and Sewer Superintendent Tony Porrazzo, CSKT Tribal Employment RO officer Lissa Peel, CSKT project liason Jami Hamel and Roland Godan, project assistant.

The first glimmer of the project began in February 2009 when President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, providing billions nationally to rebuild transportation infrastructure. Nationally, 51 projects were funded with two in Montana. 

Although Lake County, CSKT, the City of Polson and Lake County Development asked for $16,262,070, they were awarded $12 million for the Skyline Project. According to information provided at the ribbon cutting, the original project included road reconstruction projects beginning with the Skyline project and extending south to include several connecting roads between Back Road and Highway 93, reconstruction of Main Street in Ronan and bike/pedestrian paths connecting the communities, plus development of bike/pedestrian paths in the St. Ignatius area.

Since the project received less money, the Federal Highway Department determined the Skyline Road project and the adjacent bike/pedestrian trail were the first priority.

Mitch Stelling thanked all the landowners.

“If (the landowners) hadn’t worked with us, this project would not have been possible,” he said. 

The project was an example of cooperation, according to Trusler. “From the very beginning, it was a very focused effort.”

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