County declines to pay more for sidewalk project that came up short

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The Lincoln County Commission on Sept. 27 declined a request by the City of Libby to increase its contribution to a sidewalk project that came in over cost and under scope.

“Almost 5 years after the original grant application went to the state, the Balsam Street sidewalk project was finally completed,” wrote City Manager Jim Hammons in a letter to County Administrator Darren Coldwell. “This has been a long drawn out project that saw many engineering changes, increased costs and a lot of frustrations.”

The city of Libby, in conjunction with Lincoln School District No. 4 and Lincoln County, applied in the fall of 2013 for a grant to “design, plan and construct” 1,850 feet of curb and sidewalk, three crosswalks and signs on Balsam Street from Main Avenue to the drop-off area at Libby Elementary School.

“It is extremely important that the students ... have a safe route to school,” wrote then-County Commissioner Anthony Berget in a letter of support. K. W. Maki, superintendent of schools at the time, wrote, “we support any effort to enhance the safety of the traveling public ... this Balsam sidewalk project is critical.”

The grant was under the Transportation Alternative Program, a part of MAP-21, or Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. The city estimated the project would cost $224,860. To meet a required 13.42 percent match, the city would contribute $17,176, while the county and the school district each committed $6,500.

The state approved the application in the spring of 2014, after which the project ran into numerous delays and disagreements between state and city engineers.

The sidewalk was completed this summer, but only for two blocks of the original seven proposed.

The city ended up paying about $31,000 more than it anticipated, and sought an extra $2,500 from both the county and the school district to help offset the difference.

Commissioners Mark Peck and Mike Cole voted not to, while Jerry Bennett voted yes.

In an interview the Friday after the vote, City Council Member Kristin Smith, who previously has expressed frustration with the state for how it handled the project, said the city, county and school district each planned to write a letter to the state expressing disappointment.

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