In 2008, when Scott Cooney purchased 116 acres of Stimson Lumber Co.'s now shuttered Bonner site, the town's post office and 42 nearby homes, locals voiced optimism that the developer's deep pockets would grow the economically battered community into an industrial hub.
Cooney's fortune, however, is dwindling, leaving Bonner's economic future uncertain.
Cooney filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month. The filing constitutes just the latest financial challenge for the embattled developer. In 2010, Cooney's company, Blackfoot Land and Water, which restored the 42 historic homes that line the Blackfoot River in Bonner and then rented them out, went bankrupt.
On the heels of that bankruptcy filing, a trustee representing Blackfoot Land and Water creditors filed a lawsuit last month alleging Cooney mismanaged company funds, including tenant deposits, for his own personal gain. "Sometime during the years 2008 and 2010, Cooney began to use Blackfoot's account as his personal account," the suit states. "The amount withdrawn from Blackfoot's accounts for Mr. Cooney's personal use and/or that of his other business entities was a minimum of $560,898.51 and possibly substantially more than that."
Cooney was not available to comment for this story as of press time. However, Gary Matson, who serves on the Bonner Milltown Community Council, said he supports Cooney. Matson says the developer, despite his financial challenges, has been a good community steward. And Matson adds that he appreciates that Cooney is working to create a National Historic District in Bonner. Matson says the developer hasn't shied from devoting significant resources to revive the former company town. "We kind of admire him for digging in and tackling those issues," he says.
Matson is well aware that Bonner's financial future is in many ways intertwined with Cooney's. "We're a community clearly in transition," he says. "We just hope that transition turns out well."