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Billings Coulson Park master plan moving forward for council vote

The plan will be brought back within 30 days
Coulson Park Concept  (3).jpg
Posted at 9:21 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 17:17:02-05

BILLINGS — The Billings City Council gave its okay to move forward with the master plan for Coulson Park Monday night and schedule a formal vote on the plan.

No formal decisions was made at this Council work session, but City Administrator Chris Kukulski said the plan will be brought back for a vote within the next 30 days.

Billings Parks and Recreation Director Michael Whitaker and Eric Meadows of DHM Design, the firm that drafted the plan, gave the presentation to the Council.

The master plan cost a total of $90,000 and was paid for with $45,000 in state grant money from the settlement with ExxonMobil over the 2011 Silvertip pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River near Laurel. The oil company was required to pay $12 million in fines to the state for recreation and restoration improvement along the river to mitigate damage from thousands of gallons that leaked into the river and soiled wetlands.

The other $45,000 was paid for by Big Sky Economic Development, funded by private donations from community stakeholders.

“The entire master plan hasn’t cost the city of Billings or the taxpayers a single dime," Patrick Klugman with Big Sky Economic Development told the Council.

The Billings Parks Department has its eyes on two separate state grants to fund phase one of the eight phase construction project. Phase one of the park renovation includes constructing two new vault toilets, redeveloping the current boat ramp in the park and stabilization of parts of the riverbank.

The two grants were also paid to the state part of its settlement with ExxonMobil.

The first grant is worth $110,000 and is ready for the city to use. Private donors then must put $250,000 for the second grant, which the state would then match. Big Sky Economic Development will take the lead on finding donors.

“We are committed to finding those dollars,” Klugman said.

There is an expiration date on the matching grant. Klugman said a state official told him if the master plan is approved, the deadline to use the grant will be extended to the end of 2020.

Dan Brooks with the Billings Chamber of Commerce voiced the organization's support for development of Coulson Park. He said there are people ready to give to help the project, speaking to his experience with the development of the Yellowstone Kelly Interpretative Site in Billings Swords Park.

“Donors are ready to give, but they need to see momentum," Brooks said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Coulson Park master plan concept drawings

The master plan aims to connect with the site's history as site of the former town of Coulson, which predates Billings and folded after the railroad chose not to build through town.

The plan also seeks to preserve culture, provide recreation opportunities on the Yellowstone River and preserve easement agreements with the Phillips 66, CHS and MDU, which own active pipelines that run under the park property.

The plan also gives the Parks Department some guidelines for construction, so if private donors want to construct specific features, there is a road map for development.

The plan also spaced out the park features to account for the historic flood plain. The north end of the park is the section that has the most land in the flood plain. The north part of the park includes a boat ramp, day use area and lawn games area.

Council members asked questions about the access to the park. Right now, there are only two ways to gain entry, via Charlene Street, and a dirt lot on the north side of the railroad tracks west of the Dick Johnson Bridge.

With the possibility of 250 people attending a performance or powwow at the pavilion planned for the park, Council members asked how emergency services could access the park in the event of an incident.

Whitaker said the city's park event permit system is designed to answer questions of attendance. The Parks Department considers event attendance to make sure there is adequate parking and restrooms for the event, Whitaker said.