Missoula County drafting plans for improvements at Bonner industrial parks

KettleHouse Brewing and the new amphitheater mark the latest tenants at the Bonner Mill Site Tax Increment Financing Industrial District. The county is working on plans to prioritize improvements in the district, along with the Bonner West Log Yard Targeted Economic Development District, located across the river. (Logjam Presents photo)

Missoula County made inroads Tuesday with plans to prioritize improvements to two industrial sites near Bonner, a move that aims to entice more businesses to the area and establish a buffer with surrounding neighborhoods.

After meeting with residents, county officials also sat down with the Missoula Development Authority, all in a push to draft plans around the Bonner mill site and the Bonner West Log Yard – two growing industrial parks located on the Interstate 90 corridor east of Missoula.

Janet Cornish, a tax increment financing consultant contracted by the county, said she expects to develop a working plan for the Bonner Mill Tax Increment Financing Industrial District this summer. The Bonner West Log Yard Targeted Economic Development District would follow.

“It takes the plan we already have in place for that (mill site) district and makes it more specific, so you’ll actually have a working document you can use for annual budgeting purposes and setting priorities for the county in respect to both of these districts,” said Cornish.

Cornish and Lanette Windemaker, also a TIF consultant, helped the county create the Bonner mill district in 2012, followed by the Bonner West Log Yard in 2014.

The effort has attracted several industries to the area, though a number of lingering needs have been identified. Those include internal road building, utility upgrades, employee parking, rail service extensions and fire suppression.

A number of land-related needs have also surfaced, including restoration of the Blackfoot River corridor, river access, trail connectivity and the removal of a hazardous waste repository.

“The biggie for me is the removal of the repository of waste material,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “If we were to deal with that using a portion of cash or bond with debt service to get it out of there, what increment band width is left to do anything else? It seems like a big piece.”

That may be a balance of what it costs to remove the repository and what remains left in the district to tackle other needs. Cornish said it’s something the plan would address.

“We’ve been tasked to develop work plans that would address priorities, funding strategies, timing and constraints, and challenges,” said Cornish. “We’re hoping to get this in draft in July for review, and it would become a working document to use over time to set priories for funding various projects within these two districts.”

While the Bonner mill site has attracted its share of investment in recent years, most recently with KettleHouse Brewing and the associated amphitheater, the Bonner West Log Yard is poised for additional investment.

Eric Groenweghe, general manager of Harris Manufacturing, said the company plans to subdivide its Bonner West property to attract other related businesses. Initial needs include internal roads, and sewer and water.

Groenweghe said Harris is set to move forward with the work, though it needs additional funding through the Targeted Economic Development District to get it started.

“We’d like to move forward in a first phase of development, hopefully using some TEDD funds to build some infrastructure, including roads,” Groenweghe said. “Our industry was hit pretty hard by the economy the past couple years. We’re starting to bounce back, which is good, but we don’t have the capital to jump in right now. If we had that jump with the TEDD funds, we could jump in right away.”

Groenweghe said water improvements to the site could also be expanded to connect surrounding homes, which are currently served by individual well and septic systems. That would require the creation of a rural improvement district, however.

Plans for both districts will take a wide view of the needs and give the county priorities moving forward, Cornish said.