Should We Keep People from Moving Here?


Should We Keep People from Moving Here?

Dear board: “More people are moving into an already crowed valley and it’s insane. This valley can’t support more people.” I get that question nearly every day, “Brad, what are you doing to stop people from moving into our valley?”

Here’s how I usually respond:

Flathead County is very dear to me. My father moved here over 100 years ago at the age of three. Later, my father had to leave Flathead for better job opportunities; but the lure of this majestic valley brought him back when I was about seven.

I spent 30 years in the timber and lumber business helping manufacture products to build homes and businesses growing throughout the valley. My friends, family and co-workers hammered the nails and moved the dirt. These were “good jobs.”

Then, we were told that the lumber business was bad for the environment and that tourism was now the solution. The mills shut down -- lack of raw product -- smoke filled our skies and thousands of acres that could no longer be logged burned in the summer. Now, we’re a major tourist attraction. The tourists will show up every summer and clog our narrow roads. Some will go home; some will make this home.

I don’t believe that limiting development will stop people from moving here. They are coming regardless. But the alternative to not building more houses will drive the cost of home ownership even higher, forcing our children and grandchildren to live somewhere further away. Or our economy will plummet, and people will have to leave to find employment. We enjoy the freedom to live where we want. People want to escape their life in the big cities, more now than ever, to our little piece of heaven.

Studies show we must add 15,000 housing units over the next ten years (1,500 per year) to keep up with projectedrowth. The majority of these must be affordable for our workforce and children who are just starting on life’s journey. We hear a lot about the lack of infrastructure, and we know we must catch up. Flathead County is working with the cities and MDOT to make necessary improvements: we have secured $25M for upgrades to West Reserve Drive; completed the bypass to highway 93; are studying traffic lights and additional safety solutions; and we’re learning ways we can expand highspeed internet across the state; well, to those who want it.

I believe if we are truly interested in saving our farmland from development, protecting our water or simply our rural way of life, responsible growth with higher densities where services are already provided must be part of the solution.