(Broadus) Powder River County recently applied for and received approval for programming through the 2014 Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) in the amount of $7.2 million. With support from Bureau of Land Management and Montana Department of Transportation personnel, Powder River County Road Supervisor, Ty Gee and SEMDC Grant Administrator, Julie E. Korkow, teamed up to submit an application to pave a portion of Ranch Creek Rd near Biddle, MT.  The Montana Department of Transportation also pledged matching funds of over $1 Million to the project.  The portion of Ranch Creek Road that will be improved would start at Highway 59 and travel east for 4.5 miles.  The majority of work will include minor culvert and drainage work, over excavation of soft spots, shoulder work, stabilization of subgrade, new base coarse and paving meeting specifications of a standard secondary state highway.


The legislation Congress passed that implements the Federal Lands Access Program only authorizes the program for the fiscal years 2013 and 2014.  Therefore, funds from the Access Program for this project are not guaranteed.  Funding is dependent on the availability of appropriations from Congress.


The next step in the process is for the Western Federal Lands Highway Division (WFLHD) to develop funding agreements with the state and local agency partners.  The funding agreement will indicate the year that funds may be available for the project.


According to the grant application submitted Ranch Creek Road (Route 544) needs to be reconstructed and paved due to the heavy amount of oil field traffic deteriorating the current road conditions.   Powder River County is responsible for maintenance but does not have the budget to fix this road because gravel and other materials are not readily available in this area.  Paving this route would make it an all-weather road and make it safe for all to use.  During inclement weather the surface turns to muddy slurry that is almost impossible to navigate and at dry times dust clouds the entire valley.


Ranch Creek Road (Route 544) serves the oil field at Belle Creek, local ranchers, recreationalists accessing BLM land, and traffic traveling from Biddle to Boyes, Mt. The Belle Creek oil field employs hundreds of workers and subcontractors that use this route for access.


Present road conditions restrict the ability of Denbury Resources, Inc. getting equipment, materials, and personnel to the site in wet conditions.   The dust created from the road in dry conditions creates concerns for the health and safety of local residents and area ranchers trying to prevent dust pneumonia in livestock.  Dust treatments have been applied to this area in the past with little benefit since the current quality of the road topping material does not accept the treatment to prevent dust and stabilize the road.


The past four (4) years of heavy oil field traffic has substantially increase the County’s maintenance requirements on Ranch Creek Road extracting equipment and resources from other parts of the county.


For additional information, please contact the Powder River Commissioners at 406-436-2657.