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Some residents oppose plan to build tram to Butte statue

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Our Lady of the Rockies

Building a tram to the Our Lady of the Rockies statue had the support of just about everyone at a meeting Tuesday in Butte.

But some residents of the neighborhood where the tram is proposed just east of Continental Drive near the Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Christian Church voiced strong opposition to a plan to have it run alongside Interstate 15.

They said putting a tourist attraction close to a residential neighborhood would invade their privacy and could ultimately lower property values.

“We’re going to fight you no matter what,” said Gregg Fortune, a resident and vocal opponent of the plan. “What does it take to get through to you — we don’t want it.”

The group working to build the tram presented its proposal to the neighborhood Tuesday and took questions. The plan calls for a 13,000-square-foot building on donated land that sits due east of the Montana Chemical Dependency Center on Continental Drive.

Members of the tram group said they worked to make the tram and the building blend in as well as possible with the neighborhood.

For example, the building would be a stone and wood structure and the parking lot would be set behind it, said Steve Hinick, architect. And it would be set 270 yards from the nearest house and not include bright lighting.

From there, the first lift would be a gondola with cars that can hold six people and run parallel to Interstate 15 roughly three quarters of a mile, said Bob Everly, an engineer with the tram group. At that point it would unload to a second small building for the second tram that would pass over Interstate 15 and up on the East Ridge about 100 yards south of the Our Lady statue.

Everly said the gondola cars would run low to the ground to be as low impact as possible.

“The goal will not be to have this stand way up and block anybody’s view, but to get it as low as possible,” he said. “It’s shifted as far from the houses as we can without going into the highway right-of-way.”

And Bob Leipheimer, a tram group board member, said the project would give Butte a needed economic boost. He, too, stressed that they’ve worked to make the project blend into the neighborhood.

But neighbors weren’t persuaded. They said the sight and intrusion of a gondola would ruin the neighborhood and was not why they bought their homes in the area.

“This project is going to be shoved into their neighborhood,” said Bob Lienemann. “This is these people’s investments.”

Jay LeProwse thinks the tram would lower his home’s value, despite claims to the contrary.

“I’m not going to live there if that’s going to be there,” he said.

Lienemann, like several others, said he supports building a tram, but called for it to go in a place where the whole community agrees.

Dave Simon, a landowner in the area, said there may be an option available. He said it’s possible through some agreements with landowners to build a road up to the area where the second tram base is on State Street. He criticized the tram group for not pursuing that option and said others are working toward the street access.

“You guys aren’t listening to us,” he said.

But that route was the subject of a lawsuit years ago that the tram group lost. And Mike Cerise, with the tram group, said there are still properties the group can’t gain access to.

The comments from opponents drew a question from Rich Dwyer, who said they’re living in an area that has been developed and could change.

“Have you people considered that the railroad might come back when you bought up there?” he said.

And Bill Markovich disputed that the tram project has caused property values to drop. He said since it received initial approval in late July, he hasn’t seen that and he stressed that developments that are well kept up and maintained usually don’t drop people’s home values.

“Rarely do quality facilities cause values to go down,” he said.

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