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River Wire Blog
Craig is a fun little tourist town in the summer and closer to a ghost town in the winter. There aren't very many fly rods around when the wind turns cold. A vacuum is seemingly created. Things go back to normal; the way things used to be. The Craig Bar is the only busy place in town. It should be. There's not much else to do. Michele is worth the visit alone. If things were always like they are in the winter, a city sewer system would not be on the drawing board. Things have changed.
The popularity of the Missouri River should not be a bad thing. Drift boaters, kayakers, rafters, inner-tubers, and rubber ducks all use the river. Why not? It's a great river to float and have fun. At times, the river is simply crowded. Parking is an issue at all fishing access sites during peak season. Things aren't at a boiling point, but you can feel the pressure. The river isn't getting any less popular. The river's popularity is leading to necessary upgrades to the infrastructure that supports it.
The focal point of the river, Craig, doesn't have ample parking or an ample sewer system to support the influx of tourism. People launch and take out in Craig frequently, very frequently. It's the busiest boat ramp on one of the busiest rivers in Montana. The new bridge in Craig acts like a funnel to the river and heightens the pressure. People seem to find parking. It's comical at times. They really want to get to the river. When Missouri River recreationists put on and take off the river, they put the pressure on Craig's septic tank-laden environment. When will it explode? Something has to give.
A feasibility study was conducted in the town of Craig regarding the possibility of installing a city sewer system. The study concluded that a system is possible. By vote, The Craig Water District was created to manage the implementation of a city sewer system.
Craig is still at the drawing board - a couple of years later. The elected board of directors has publicly been accused of stonewalling the process - they are not proactive. Onlookers wonder why the town's residents would vote for the formation of a water district and subsequently vote into office a board of directors that isn't proactive. What's the point of creating a water district if the directors don't want to do anything to reach the underlying goal? Some of the board members argue that there isn’t a point in going forward with planning a city sewer system if there isn't funding to pay for it. The proverbial what comes first question applies.
Money is the main issue at hand. It's going to cost over $2 Million. Craig has about 40 households and a handful of businesses. There's only a very small tax base to draw from. Grants can be had, but won't foot the entire bill. Governmental help is needed and is available.
How about a resort tax? Why not? After all, the influx of tourism is directly related to the sewer systems’ need in the first place. Tourists seem willing to pay. Sounds like a great solution doesn't it? The tourists still come and support Craig's residents while gladly paying the tax. Problem solved.
The idea was put up for a vote to the registered voters that resided within Craig Water District's boundaries. If you lived in Craig and were a registered voter, you could vote. Of note: The resort tax voting pool is not exactly the same as the water district voting pool. One pool manages the water district, the other pool raises the money to pay for it. With a majority vote of the water district's resident registered voters, a 3% resort tax could be instated and used to pay for the sewer system's financial liabilities.
The Resort Tax Vote Outcome:
• Thirty-Eight People Could Vote
• Thirty-Six People Did Vote
• 18 Voted For the Resort Tax
• 18 Voted Against the Resort Tax
• Can you believe it? A Tie.
• Still No Money
• Still No Plan Going Forward
Two years ago, the Craig Bar was closed due to their inability to fix their failed septic system. They couldn't bring the present system up to current standards because they didn't have enough land. After considerable expense and government bureaucracy, they received a three-year reprieve from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) - a reprieve that DEQ did not want to give. If you have ever had to deal with DEQ, you likely agree that it can be a slow, educational, expensive, and often painful process. The Craig Bar made considerable and costly upgrades to their building as part of their settlement with DEQ. Outside the expensive patch-work upgrades to their building, nothing has really changed at the Bar. It's still busy. If Craig doesn't have a plan for a modern sewer system by the end of the 2010 fishing season, the Bar will have to close for good. What will there be to do in the winter?
The Trout Shop Cafe can serve up to 24 people per day all year long. It can only serve 25 or more people for up to 60 days. That's not enough elbow room to serve everyone who wants to eat. Reduced service will be required or the DEQ headache will come to the cafe. Izaak's will get even busier. Holter Lake Lodge and Restaurant is closed leaving one less place to eat and one less place to stay while visiting the area. Where do the former Holter Lake Lodge guests go to eat and stay? They’d stay in Craig, but they can’t. It’s full and decreasing in capacity.
What about the private home owners in Craig? What happens to them when their septic system fails? Most of their homes are on tiny lots that can’t be upgraded to meet existing septic codes. They're just too small (like the Craig Bar). On a good note, variances to the code are often granted to homeowners in Craig stuck in this dilemma. Variances are generally only granted to homeowners that have registered and certified septic systems. There are some really old homes in Craig. Accurate records are hard to come by. Homeowners will increasingly feel the pressure.
Proximity to the river puts Craig in the focal point of government environmental agencies. It’s not going to get any easier to ask permission or forgiveness. It wasn't easy for the Bar. DEQ is a powerful agency. They can force the issue. It's their job.
Craig is limited beyond toilet availability. Whether you're a homeowner or a business owner, getting permission to change the use of your property in many cases is directly limited by your ability to expand your septic system. It takes a long time to get permission. Progress is difficult at best.
Change is not easy to come by. Perhaps change is why 18 Craig residents voted against the Resort Tax. DEQ doesn't care about your willingness or resistance to change. They care about public health. They do their job. If DEQ isn’t invited to the party, they will come anyway. Where DEQ leaves off, the County Health Department takes over. Neither Craig homeowners nor business owners can escape the clutches of government oversight in this case. It's a health issue. Eventually the problem will get fixed regardless of your stance on change.
Meanwhile, Wolf Creek has DSL and is well ahead in the sewer game. Wolf Creek residents seem to view the sewer system as progress. So far, Craig residents do not.
Votes will be retaken for the Craig Water District’s Board of Directors in November of 2009. A new vote is possible for the Resort Tax as well. The results are certain to make the newspaper. The public is watching.
Will the Craig Bar be open after next year or will Wolf Creek move up a notch in the hub?
- Missouri River at Holter Dam
Flow (cfs): 3990Temperature (°F): 51.08
- Missouri River at Toston MT
Flow (cfs): 7640Temperature (°F): 54.14
- Little Prickly Pear Cr at Wolf Cr
Flow (cfs): 99
- Dearborn River near Craig MT
Flow (cfs): 415Temperature (°F): 46.94
110 Bridge Street
Craig, MT 59648
U.S. & Canada: 800-337-8528