Friday, June 20, 2008

Another tale of tension between old and new in the mountain West

Yesterday's NYTimes featured this story on Bonner, Montana, until recently a "company town" owned by Stimson Lumber. Bonner's just been purchased by Scott Cooney, a "multimillionaire developer" from nearby Missoula. Here's an excerpt from Pamela Podger's story:

Mr. Cooney said he planned to transform this unincorporated working-class community of several hundred residents into a modern “Mayberry R.F.D.,” with new and renovated homes, upscale shops and “green” manufacturers along the Blackfoot River, which Norman Maclean made famous in his fly-fishing novel “A River Runs Through It.”

“I’d like to take the cyclical nature of the wood-products industry out of here and give people consistent economic engines for the next 100 years,” Mr. Cooney said.

He has been working with residents to retain some of Bonner’s timber heritage, including reusing hand-hewn timbers from the dam for homes and other new buildings. He also says he wants Bonner to remain affordable, with new homes ranging from $80,000 to $250,000 and current residents given the first chance to buy the renovated mill homes.

But residents are skeptical as Cooney has raised rents on even the older mill homes. Bonner's long-time residents are generally opposed to growth, and they fear that the town will become a second-home community for the wealthy. Podger's story includes a number of quotes and vignettes that well illustrate these tensions between old timers and newcomers.

This Montana story reminds me of another recent one out of northern Idaho, which similarly depicts the increasingly common discord in the amenity-rich West between extractive industry interests, which represent one model of rural economy, and the growing demand for "rural resorts," which represent another.

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