We appreciate the Missoulian Editorial Board writing the “Time for Missoula County to build bridges” editorial (March 24). It exposed Commissioner Dave Strohmaier and his special-interest partner Maclay Bridge Alliance and their campaign to overturn the approved South Avenue Bridge project. It’s unfortunate Strohmaier has chosen to ignore the Missoulian’s good advice to build some bridges for a change. Instead he has continued trying to revive a failing one.
Due to his behavior, in March we filed an ethics complaint against Strohmaier charging him for his unethical behavior as a de facto if not an actual member and lobbyist for Maclay Bridge Alliance while serving as commissioner, and engaging in secretive (ex parte) communications with the Alliance that were not on the public record, all in violation of state law. In a narrow and limited finding, the county attorney recently concluded Strohmaier is not an actual member of Maclay Bridge Alliance because he is not listed as a member on their website, and on that slender basis, found he didn’t violate the law. This is despite his “strong vocal advocacy for MBA’s mission and purpose,” his well-documented extensive ex parte communications with the Alliance, and more questions the Missoulian reported about his conflict of interest and campaign promise.
Strohmaier was quoted as saying “I was committed to taking a hard look at rehabilitating Maclay Bridge. If that’s not possible, then I want to replace the bridge at the current location.” In detailed studies completed in 1994, 2013 and 2016-'17, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), previous county commissioners and HDR Inc., the engineering firm selected by Missoula County, did take several very hard looks at all alternatives, and determined that restoration or replacement in the current location were not viable options. In fact, to even approach state and federal standards, rehab at the current site would require removal of up to five homes and would likely cost more. The science and evaluation by highly qualified engineers led to the approval and federal funding of the South Avenue Bridge project. Strohmaier dismisses all of this.
Strohmaier is no expert engineer, yet he generated 14 pages of criticisms of HDR Engineering’s work, largely parroting the Alliance’s talking points. And in response to his “expert” comments, HDR told him the environmental documentation followed strict government guidelines and HDR stands firmly behind its work. Strohmaier claims “throughout all of it, I wanted to ensure a robust environmental analysis.” Yet MDT and FHWA have bluntly told him in two public meetings that based on their expertise, they believe all standards have been met, and that it is their responsibility, not the county’s, whose role is mainly symbolic. So, whom do you believe — the agencies providing close to $13 million in federal funds and responsible for the analysis, or a politically motivated commissioner?
Strohmaier’s actions are a red flag for taxpayers from Lolo to Seeley Lake and everywhere in between. If he is successful in canceling the South Avenue Bridge project or delays it any longer, all county taxpayers will have to pay back $1 million in funds spent on the project, plus any future costs (estimated at $12 million to $14 million) for restoring/maintaining the old bridge. In short, he wants you to pay for his misguided campaign promise.
This is not just a neighborhood feud; it is a county-wide tax and transportation issue. Check out the project status at HDR’s website, Southavenuebridge.com, then contact the commissioners to support construction of South Avenue Bridge: Dave Strohmaier, email@example.com, 406-529-5580; Josh Slotnick, firstname.lastname@example.org, 406-258-3202; and Nicole Rowley, email@example.com, 406-258-4877.