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System will connect to Missoula's public sewer

Sewer pipes soon will service East Missoula, now that two-thirds of its residents have approved a $3.2 million bond issue to pay for the job.

A mail ballot sent to 820 registered voters in the community just past Hellgate Canyon from Missoula got 530 responses, with 357 of them in favor. The 67 percent approval - a 2-to-1 margin - was well above the 60 percent supermajority required for the bond sale to be legal. Overall turnout was 64 percent.

"The people of East Missoula seemed to think this was needed to be done," said Jack Ballas, who heads the East Missoula Sewer District, which will supervise construction. "This was strictly a volunteer type operation. Nobody was breathing down our neck. We're not under any state or county restriction to do this."

Gaining the right to sell taxpayer-financed bonds means the district also will be able to use about $2.3 million in state and federal grant money to subsidize the project. Some of that money will go to help moderate- and low-income households connect to the sewer at reduced rates.

East Missoula homes now rely on private septic tanks or cesspools to treat their wastewater. Many of those systems are substandard and threaten to pollute the Clark Fork River and the underground aquifer in the area. The area's dependence on private sewage treatment also limits new growth to one or two homes per acre. Public sewer access greatly increases the number of homes that can be built there.

The system will connect to Missoula's public sewer system by a pipe through Hellgate Canyon. Ballas said East Missoula residents have been trying since 1991 to find a solution to their wastewater concerns and turned to the bond issue after failing to get a large enough piece of property for a local ground-treatment system.

Ballas said there is concern that more than 50 homes on the far eastern edge of the district are fighting to withdraw from the district, which could complicate selling the bonds or spending the grant money. The district board hasn't formally faced those complaints yet.

If those problems can be resolved, engineers could have plans and costs worked out within six months. Assuming a light winter, construction could begin in November, and new sewer lines could be working in East Missoula by the spring or summer of 2001.

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