GREAT FALLS — After the approval of more than $13M in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, some Cascade County organizations are excited about putting their allocated funds to use.
More than 50 projects in Cascade County were recently approved for ARPA funding, and there are a few different types of projects that will be worked on.
McLaughlin Research Institute is one of the agencies that received federal funding with a purpose of building more energy efficient windows.
Brianne Laurin, the director of development at McLaughlin Research Institute, said, “We received 150k to support a complete and total exterior window and door replacement. Our windows have over time deteriorated a bit and we have some energy loss, so we requested funding to get low-e glass and it basically acts as a thermos.”
Laurin said that the research institute also applied for a grant from Northwestern Energy that they will use to install solar panels on the south side of the building. Together, this allows for those at McLaughlin to get back to doing what they love.
“The extra funding that we received for this allows us to redistribute our operating costs to the actual research that we’re doing, more importantly to focus on staff retention and bringing people back to Great Falls to perform science,” said Laurin.
The American Rescue Plan Act was originally signed into law on March 11, 2021. It was devised to combat negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Great Falls was allocated $19.5M through ARPA. This allotment was split into two deposits, the first of which was delivered in May 2021. The second deposit was delivered in June 2022.
The use of these funds must comply with regulations issued by the United States Department of Treasury, which identify four categories of eligible uses. These include:
- Responding to the Public Health and Economic Impacts of COVID-19
- Premium Pay for Eligible Employees
- Replacing Lost Public Sector Revenue
- Water, Sewer, and Broadband Infrastructure
The biggest project falls under the last category, and belongs to Black Eagle, which was approved for more than $2.3 million dollars to improve water and sewer mains.
“Black Eagle inherited the water and sewer district from the Anaconda company when they closed in 1981,” said Sarah Peck, secretary for the Black Eagle Water District. “We’ve been working since 2005 to upgrade the water mains that were installed in the 1920s and find where some of the stuff is because there weren’t records of the taps.”
Having received the most amount of funds, Peck expects they will need additional funds to complete their project.
“With inflation, we’ll probably have to apply for more grants because the cost of material has gone up so high… We would like to have it finished next year but it kind of depends on the cost of materials and gas prices,” she said.
Another organization that was approved is the Great Falls Development Authority, getting $1 million to acquire Agritech parkland in hopes of bringing more business to Great Falls.
"We have been working quite a bit on growing our manufacturing industry in the county and trying to bring costs down for existing manufacturers so that they can thrive and hopefully stay here long term and expand in the future,” said GFPD president Brett Doney. “And that's why we've been working on the Agritech Park for well over a decade."
The land is on the northeast part of town bordering Giant Springs State Park. There are already several businesses in the area but Doney hopes to bring more in to expand business in tonw.
"We always wanted to focus on using one time money for one time, things that would make the region more competitive for business investment for a long period of time.”
Doney says the process has been smooth, complementing what others have said about applying for and using ARPA funding.
He added that controlling the land will allow them to apply for federal infrastructure money when they were not able to before, due to having operated it under an option agreement.
"It was very easy. We put together a proposal and submitted it to the county. They've always been easy to communicate with. What this money from the county is enabling us to do is to strengthen the park and expand it long term. Controlling the property will allow us to have shovel-ready sites for businesses.”
Projects have until December 2026 to be completed.
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