Helena Valley Flooding

Hundreds of sand bags line the streets near Forestvale Avenue and the surrounding neighborhoods after the water receded from the floods in this file photo from 2011. 

Eliza Wiley, IR file photo

Lewis and Clark County Commissioners approved the creation of the Helena Valley Flood Mitigation Rural Improvement District on Tuesday, raising annual property taxes within the district by $100 per property.

In order to quell opposition from a small but outspoken group of residents, the commissioners made the use of collected monies more flexible than previously planned. Originally, the money was constrained to uses outlined in the 2013 flood mitigation master plan.

“It’s my understanding that we heard some promising alternatives to the 2013 plan at last week’s public hearing, so this flexibility will allow for exploration of those alternatives,” Commissioner Susan Good Geise said. “Our first premise will be to do no harm. We encourage residents to work with us. We have no intentions to impose anything on residents without careful consideration of those affected.”

Residents of the proposed zone were given a little over a month to protest the creation of the tax district. The proceedings would have come to a halt if 50 percent of the 1,691 property owners had signed onto the protest, but less than 12 percent of them made their opposition known. 

The district, generally located north of Helena between city limits and south of Lincoln Road, will generate roughly $158,100 per year. The money will be used to match funding required for federal grants, which will likely be used for projects including culvert clearing and expansion.

The flood mitigation district’s boundary roughly captures the area that Ten Mile Creek flooded in 1981 — an event that has a 0.2 percent chance of occurring annually — when sudden snowmelt swelled normally placid creeks.

County commissioners amended the resolution to create the tax district after public testimony voiced at recent meetings and submitted online.

Big Sky subdivision resident Roger LaVoie said he was in protest of the RID because it did not do enough to address flood prevention. He suggested dredging silt from Ten Mile Creek as a means of increasing the amount of water it can carry before flooding over.

“The silt does build up again after dredging, and would need to be cleaned out every 5 to 10 years,” LaVoie said. “A study showed it would be about $17,000 to clean it out once, which would need to be repeated every 10 years or so. Run that against the cost of $9.7 million called for to complete the proposed flood mitigation plan.”

Despite LaVoie’s seemingly more cost-effective plan to prevent flooding, Commissioner Good Geise mentioned that environmental protections on streams have become much stronger since the study was performed in the early 1990s.

“The regulatory climate of 1994 and today is like day and night. The purpose of the flexibility we added to the resolution is so that if there are other means that are legal and cost effective, those will be fully considered.”

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