Whitehall, Montana

The view looking east on Legion Avenue from Whitehall Street in Whitehall is seen in this file photo. Whitehall will build a new water treatment plant starting next year.

With $1.2 million in grant money this year, Whitehall expects to build a new water treatment plant, possibly by next year.

The Department of Commerce announced this week that it is giving Whitehall a $450,000 community development block grant to put toward a water treatment plant and drilling a new well. Jason Crawford, engineer with Triple Tree Engineering, said the town expects to get $625,000 from the Department of Commerce later this year through House Bill 11 plus an additional $125,000 from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation through House Bill 6. The money will all go toward building the new plant, Crawford said.

The town of Whitehall, with a population of a little over 1,000, began exceeding standards on uranium in its drinking water a few years ago. The town hired Triple Tree Engineering to act as its consultant on the issue.

Whitehall Mayor Mary Hensleigh was not available to comment, said Summer Fellows, town clerk treasurer and clerk of court. Fellows said no one else in the town’s administrative office is authorized to speak on behalf of the city to the press.

Crawford said the problem wasn’t that there was a spike in uranium in the water, but that the standards for the radioactive element in drinking water changed and became stricter. Because of that, Whitehall was no longer in compliance.

But he said the drinking water is just over the standard. A lifetime of exposure to elevated levels of radioactive elements in drinking water can increase risk of cancer and cause kidney damage.

Uranium is naturally occurring in parts of Montana. Crawford said the Boulder Batholith, which is the type of granite that formed in the area millions of years ago, has deposits of naturally occurring uranium in it.

Crawford said his company will begin the design phase of the plant soon. He said the town anticipates having the new plant in place by the end of 2020.

Emilie Ritter Saunders, Department of Commerce director of communications and public affairs, said in writing that the project was part of a competitive grant application process. The department also awarded Jefferson County a $450,000 grant to help the tiny town of Clancy with its drinking water problems. (See related story.)

“Investing in infrastructure projects such as these is essential to supporting economic growth and community vitality,” Saunders wrote.

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