Libby Chamber hosts first Community Conversations event

By Moira Blazi


The Libby Chamber of Commerce hosted an interesting, optimistic and lively community conversation on Thursday, Oct. 10 at The Dome Theater in Libby. About 50 people were in attendance

Liz Whalen of the Libby Chamber began by saying that the chamber has been busy with improvement projects like installing bike racks and that they have just received a large grant.

“We’ve seen a 30 percent increase in people coming in the chamber office asking “who, what where?” Whalen said. She then discussed the chamber farmers market. “We had 43 vendors this season, and 13 sponsorships. During the peak season, we averaged around 400 people attending the market, and over 200 during the non-peak weeks,”she said.

Kate Stevens, executive director of Cabinet Peaks Foundation and marketing director for the hospital was next to speak. She reminded the crowd that the hospital’s primary  care clinic is open for same day appointments, and about Cabinet Peaks’ new Senior Care program offering a psychiatrist, social worker, nurse on duty, and one-on-one or group therapy. “Many of our machines are identical to those in Kalispell, and many tests can be done quicker, sometimes same day,” she reminded locals.

Bryon and Chelsea Sanderson, owners of the host venue, The Dome Theater, next said a few words about how they are working towards making The Dome a true community venue, offering a variety of films and special events, like Throwback Thursdays, the recent Christian film series, and live theater with the Pitiful Players. “One idea we are looking at is  having a Lincoln County independent film festival, showcasing films and videos from folks from all over the county. We also are thinking about starting an ongoing talent night, hoping to focus on teens,” she said. She mentioned that running a movie theater presents many challenges, among them, having only one screen and peoples tendencies to “ just wait for Netflix.” She reminded the crowd that  “watching a movie here is a different experience.”

Next up was, Henry Jorden, representing Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. He reminded the crowd of the stewardship and community outreach the organization does: things like trail maintenance, educational outreach and hosted hikes and classes. He said to find them on Facebook and Instagram.

Nick Raines, representing Hecla, spoke about the company’s latest reclamation efforts at the Troy mine. He said that, with the help of the National Forest Service and various state and tribal agencies, over 200,000 seedlings were planted,  and 500,000 cubic feet of soil was restored.

Lincoln County Commissioner, Jerry Bennett, reported that the  County achieved a balanced budget this year after shaving  $1.5 million. Lincoln is one of only two Montana counties who do not levy monies for road maintenance. ”This is a difficult time,” he said. “Especially pressing is the county EMT volunteer program, with only 16 volunteers in Libby, 15 in Troy, and 15 in Eureka. “We have the expectation that when we call 911, someone will always be there, and we have now reached a critical period to ensure the availability of these services. “It costs roughly $300,000 per yr. to maintain one emergency ambulance vehicle and an attendant EMT, and the County maintains three at a cost of about  $1 million  per year.  Bennett said that they are currently conducting a countywide assessment to determine where the money will come from to ensure this vital emergency transportation services.

Jim May, representing the Kootenai Heritage council (KHC) stepped up to give a little background on the Center, which is now over 20 years old. It is also the only performing arts center in Montana that operated entirely on its own. May explained that KHC finds its amazing entertainers at the annual state performing arts Consortium in Great Falls which draws top performers from all over the world, and that, as part of their contract, while here they visit area schools, spending time with, and performing for the students. He reminded the group that the Memorial center is available for special events.

Tony Petrusha then brought us an update on the progress being made in the latest attempt to build a swimming pool and aquatic center in Libby. Representing ‘Concerned citizens for a pool,’ Petrusha told the crowd, “I think we are on pool #4.” The group has hired an architect and he  brought with him an artist’s conception of three different facility options. The group is hopeful to obtain benefactor money to build the facility and is currently looking at ways to ensure an ongoing stream of maintenance funds well into the future. They are planning a public open house on Tuesday, Oct. 22, for the public to express their ideas and opinions.

Dorey Rowland and Alicia Alkire then took the podium to announce the formation of a new count-wide program, 0 to 5, which is working to promote resiliency in kids between the ages of 0-5. They will distribute new books and school supplies, and work on empowering parents  and encouraging literacy.

Mandy Bell from the Gracious Table announced that she has moved to a new location with a space that can easily accommodate 30 diners. She began by doing “globally inspired” dinners featuring Cajun, Greek, Cuban, Thai, German, and more, and is currently offering a five course Scandinavian feast. In addition to cooking exquisitely delicious food, Bell likes to educate her guests about where the food comes from and its importance in people’s lives. Giving a shout out to the Libby farmers market, Bell said “This is a really important opportunity for Libby to see what can happen when people want a project to be successful. I pulled in as a vendor myself this season, and it was a game changer. Tonight was our last market, and I just had to hug everybody goodbye,” she said.

Ann Frost said a few words about her CBD product business, Zen Butterfly, which offers various CBD products sourced from hemp to help with pain and anxiety. Since her products are hemp sourced, they are not required to be registered with the state medical marijuana program to be legally purchased.

Amy Smart, director of the local theater ensemble, the Kootenai Karacters, told attendees that their recent Karacters Norcidfest offering, “The History of Dating” was a great success with 292 people attending performances. The group donates all monetary proceeds  to the Libby middle  high school speech and drama booster club to help aspiring performers of all kinds, as well as assisting with entertainment for various community functions.

JR Beebe added a few words about the local Libby chapter of The International Order Of Odd fellows,” an international fraternal, charitable organization which “seeks to promote the welfare of everyone.”

Some of the management team from the Texas-based company, Isotex Health took the stage to answer some questions about their new hemp-processing facility going into the old Stinger welding building in the Kootenai Business Park on the old mil property now managed by Lincoln County Port Authority. The company  interviewed over 100 people at last week’s job fair and has hired ten people so far. They hope to have 120 people working in the next 90-100 days. Cross explained that the company does large scale industrial hemp CBD extraction, leaving spend stalks and other organic byproducts that, Cross said, ”we have people lined up around the block to take away.” Other byproducts can be used to manufacture hemp boards, rope, fabric, and other building materials. The finished, concentrated CBD will be sold to a myriad of big and small manufacturers of a variety of CBD infused products all over the country. When asked how the product would leave Libby, Cross replied, “Anyway it can.” Isotex Health plans to add some Lincoln County acreage to their hemp grow next season and hopes to have this, Montana’s largest hemp processing facility, purring along by early spring 2020.

All speakers were registered in advance with the Chamber of Commerce and were given five minutes to present followed by five minutes for questions and answers.