Welcome Rocks Project getting stone walled by the county?

Thursday, February 27, 2020
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Two years after the “Welcome” rocks project was approved by Stillwater County Commissioners, progress appears to be in jeopardy.

And the Columbus City Council is not happy about it.

At last week’s Monday night city council meeting, Councilman Bob Fitzgerald reported that he had met with the commissioners and the county’s new economic development director about the project and that the news was not promising.

Fitzgerald said the county now seems to not want to spend money to help get the stones in place at all eight towns because it would rather spend those funds on something such as a new fairgrounds.

And that wasn’t all. Fitzgerald also reported that the commissioners had mentioned a concern with maintaining the welcome rocks, saying that Columbus was not even properly maintaining the Veterans Wall and one of its own parks.

This drew the attention — and the controlled ire — of the council and City Public Works Superintendent Dennis Holten.

The maintenance question also stymied Mayor Gary Woltermann.

“How hard is it to keep up a rock?” said Woltermann.

THE PROJECT

The project involves the creation of a welcome sign in each town, using rocks donated by the Sibayne-Stillwater mine. Then-County Economic Development Coordinator Marissa Hauge spent several months holding public meetings in all eight towns to gauge the support for such a project. Commissioner Tyrel Hamilton attended most of those meetings and last February, when the county approved the project, said each community showed public interest and excitement for the project. At that time, the estimated cost to the county was $30,000.

When pitched, the details of the project were as follows:

•The “Welcome Rocks” will consist of a 5-foot by 5-foot boulder face bearing metal lettering to welcome people to each of the county’s eight towns – Absarokee, Columbus, Fishtail, Molt, Nye, Park City, Rapelje, and Reed Point.

•The boulders will be set in concrete and surrounded by a landscaped area including smaller rocks, low-maintenance grasses, and solar lights.

•Each of the boulders, as well as transportation of the large rocks to the towns, is being donated by Sibanye-Stillwater. In total, it will be a donation of more than $10,000 of materials. Sibanye-Stillwater also offered to create a staging site for the boulders at the mine’s Herzler property.

•A company out of Belgrade has the capabilities to provide the mobile rock cutting services to split the boulders, and local businesses will provide the metal lettering for the boulders and the landscaping.

•For each large rock, the county will pay the costs associated with cutting. The county will also be covering the landscaping costs for each town but Columbus. The City of Columbus has already been approached and has shown support for covering the approximately $1,600 landscaping cost for its “Welcome Rock.” Major maintenance and ongoing upkeep will also be funded by the county.

The county will be paying for the project through the Economic Development tourism budget. That money comes from the Metal Mines License Tax that the county receives twice annually from Sibanye-Stillwater. As state law requires, the Metal Mines money must be used for economic development and planning. Hauge said the goal is to complete the project this upcoming summer or fall.

MAINTENANCE

Through a partnership with the local extension office, Hauge said at the time that maintenance of the welcome rocks would be provided by members of each town’s local 4-H and FFA chapters. Commissioner Chairman Mark Crago noted at the time that he liked the idea of using the 4-H kids to ensure ongoing maintenance is a possibility across the county.

Ocne the county approved the project, the next step was to get permitting from the Montana Department of Transportation.

Hauge left her position and the commission put the project on hold until a replacement could be hired.

How hard is it to keep up a rock?”

-Columbus Mayor Gary Woltermann

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