Happy 150th Helena!
Helena celebrates 150 years in 2014 and, it’s an exciting time for the future of our fine City! First, I would like to congratulate Mayor Smith, Commissioner Ellison, and Commissioner-elect Haladay on their election this fall. I thank them for their commitment to serve Helena. I look forward to working with the Commission, the many new members of the Helena Citizens Council, City staff, Helena residents who bring ideas and concerns to us directly and serve on the many boards that guide our decisions. It will be a busy year on your City Commission. There are several topics that deserve special attention as we continue our City’s prosperity for another 150 years.
Recycling: Twenty years ago, our community made recycling a priority by establishing the Transfer Station and City Solid Waste Collection utility (details at MatthewElsaesser.com). A few years ago, the City of Helena Solid Waste Utility was restructured to increase staff capacity and a renewed focus on recycling. The City of Helena Transfer Station’s recycling program has grown to include more drop-off sites throughout town, provides renters permits for recycling, and includes additional items such as electronic waste and fibers. As demand and opportunities for recycling continue to grow, City services should continue to adapt to meet this trend. 2014 is the time for a permanent, ongoing plastics collection at the facility. In January, City staff will present a program on this topic to the City Commission (S.A.V.E. is hosting a plastics drive January 10-13th to bridge the gap until a permanent program starts).
This progress should continue with the City providing more frequent electronic waste collection, more efficient curbside, establishing a point system for residential trash permits that account for special items that have additional recycling or disposal costs, and establishing community events for household hazardous waste. A comprehensive review is soon to be underway of solid waste collection and recycling by the City and the Lewis & Clark County Scratch Gravel Solid Waste District. The review process will help the City and County prepare to meet this demand for the next ten to twenty years.
Public Transit and Accessible Transportation: In 2013, the City of Helena was recognized nationally as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, and globally as an International Mountain Biking Association Ride Center destination. Both accolades acknowledged ongoing improvements to provide accessible, safe biking and walking in Helena. The recently opened bike and pedestrian tunnel extending from Broadway under the freeway compliments this trend. The City has set policy and dedicated resources to continue the expansion of more accessible, safe biking and walking next year. Our community should see the long-awaited Centennial Trail connect Centennial Park with a safe off-street trail to Spring Meadow State Park (including a bridge over Henderson Street), and East Helena.
Eventual recreation opportunities should include connections to fishing on Prickly Pear Creek in the remediated ASARCO land and Rail-to-Trails to Great Falls with the “Corps of Discovery” trail. Helena deserves, and will greatly benefit, from a complete network of safe, accessible trails. The update of the Twenty Year Greater Helena Area Transportation Plan will help layout the groundwork. Our youth will safely get to school, our community health will improve, and all residents and visitors alike will more easily get around town, recreate, and enjoy our great outdoors open spaces as we reach these milestones.
In addition to trails, a more efficient public transit system will increase access to services and engagement in the community for those with vital needs, as well as our increasingly aging and elderly population. Implementing the Helena Area Transportation Systems (HATS) 5-year plan will allow for an inclusive system that has more routes to benefit the entire community. HATS works with an operating budget equal to Bozeman’s transit system and will be able to provide safe, reliable transit for the commuting public. This needs to be done in an inclusive way that ensures the routes also meet the needs of those dependent on the current curb-to-curb services. To quote HATS superintendent Steve Larson, 2014 will be “The Year of the Bus!”
Green Infrastructure and Growth: In the New Year, the City of Helena will spend over a million dollars on water projects along Front Street. As outlined in the EPA’s 2013 Greening America Capitol’s program that featured Helena, this can include an elevated pedestrian crossing across Neill Ave. to Women’s Park. The project affords the opportunity to update our storm water infrastructure to collect more water on site, and while doing so, should look to bring a portion of Last Chance Creek to the surface –a fitting tribute to what Mayor Jim Smith has coined “Montana’s Most Historic Mile.”
There are many challenges facing Helena, from most costs of more growth going outside of City limits to protecting the Tenmile Watershed and providing high levels of emergency services to a growing population. Many of those challenges also present opportunities for an innovation-filled future. Your local elected City officials and staff will be meeting them in 2014. Stay involved by visiting HelenaMT.gov, follow meetings on HCTV, and by contacting us directly with ideas and concerns; we value your input. It is an honor to serve the citizens of Helena.
Happy Sesquicentennial Helena!
Matthew A. Elsaesser, Commissioner
City of Helena, Montana, USA
P.O. Box 321 / 59624