Each weekday, Bonner area schoolchildren board a bus, catch a ride, or walk across a bridge over the Blackfoot river to reach the Bonner School. In recent months though, some students have been forced to brave an exhaust-clouded narrow path along a construction bypass bridge with industrial trucks hauling tons of rocks rumbling right alongside them.
“Even though signs say, ‘Don’t walk across the bridge,’ people do,” says Bonner School Principal Doug Ardiana. “The kids do because they have to.”
With two alternate bridges under construction and closed until next fall, locals say the situation is unsafe and needs attention. Some people blame the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund managers—busy overseeing the Milltown dam removal—for canceling what were once regularly scheduled meetings for locals to address the issue.
The EPA says it cancelled the meetings after this February because they were no longer helpful. “Those meetings in our opinion just aren’t very useful,” says Diana Hammer, the EPA’s community affairs officer. “We just don’t have the health and public safety issues we did before.”
Some citizens beg to differ. Begun in June 2006, the health and safety meetings were a way to keep fire, school, and safety officials in the loop on safety issues. “The meetings were very helpful,” says Bonner Community Council member Ken Peers, who credits the gatherings with creating voluntary speed compliance signs, alternate trails, and reducing speed limits.
“Without the meetings, we just have to talk to the EPA office individually,” laments Peers, “and they’re only there between 12 and 3 on Tuesday. So, we’re just going to have to get used to it.”