Missoulian: EPA grants promote development on Blackfeet, Rocky Boy Reservations and surrounding communities

by Nora Mabie

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded two $500,000 grants to corporations serving the Blackfeet Nation, Chippewa Cree Tribe and surrounding cities.

The Bear Paw Development Corporation will use funds to examine environmental contamination in Havre and Box Elder.

The Bullhook Community Health Center, a medical clinic in Havre, recently purchased vacant homes in the area to expand services. Grant funds will specifically be used to assess the presence of lead and asbestos before demolition and expansion of the center, according to a news release. The expansion is expected to create about 15 jobs.

Funds will also help the Havre Senior Center assess the presence of petroleum prior to expansion.

Women are currently unable to serve in the Havre Fire Department because the building does not have a women’s locker room or dorm. The department has wanted to convert an unused shooting range for those purposes, but investigations revealed asbestos and lead. EPA funds will be used for extensive cleanup planning.

Hill County owns an old landfill in Box Elder, and local leaders want to use the site for a solar farm to reduce energy costs for reservation residents. Grant funding will be used to examine contamination and determine if cleanup is needed.

Executive Director of Bear Paw Development Corporation Paul Tuss said these clean-up efforts will help businesses and organizations redevelop properties to meet community needs. 

“This is a big deal for our area,” he said in a statement. 

The Sweetgrass Development Corporation in north central Montana also received $500,000 to assess potential contamination areas on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Funds will go toward expanding the Coop’s Corner Conoco gas station at the junction of U.S. Highway 2 and U.S. Highway 89. Plans include expanding the store’s inventory as well as adding laundry services and a car wash. 

The Cowboy Museum sits vacant in downtown Browning. Potential developers, according to a news release, are discouraged by the potential presence of asbestos and lead-based paint. EPA funds will be used to assess the site. 

The Sunburst Car Wash, east of the reservation, is for sale, but developers are concerned about contamination, as the site was once used as a lumber yard. EPA funds will be used to assess the property. The Glacier Village Restaurant and Glacier Park Village will also be examined for asbestos and lead-based paint. 

Funding for these projects was made possible through the EPA’s Brownfields Program, which began in 1995 and has provided almost $2.7 billion for clean-up efforts. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law dramatically increased the yearly capacity of this grant. Sen. Jon Tester was the only member of Montana’s delegation to support the law. He said the recent grants will “boost economic development and improve quality of life.”

For more information, visit epa.gov/brownfields.