Following Teton County’s suit, the city of Choteau closed City Hall and the City Shop to the public beginning at 8 a.m. March 24 through midnight on April 7.

“We will have staff inside the office to help in the event you are unable to pay your bill by mail, dropping it off in the slot on our main door directly across from the Post Office or using our online bill pay option (www.choteaumt.org). Our number (466-2510) is on the sign on that door as well,” Mayor Chris Hindoien said in a news release.

“If you have other questions or concerns about events you may have scheduled at the Pavilion or other city of Choteau activities, we ask that you call City Hall at 466-2510 to handle these by phone. You may also email me at choteaumayor@3rivers.net and I will do my best to get the proper person to reach back out to you,” Hindoien said.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to meet on April 7 at 6:30 p.m. and will reevaluate the COVID-19 situation and decide whether to lift or extend the closure. “It is our hope that City Hall will be re-opened to the public at that time,” Hindoien said. “We will do our best to make sure nothing skips a beat with the doors closed.

Mayor

He said the city public works crew, under the direction of Public Works Director Mike Maples, will continue to work as scheduled. “The majority of the work done by our amazing crew is outdoors and in small groups,” Hindoien said. “Your garbage will continue to be picked up as scheduled.”

He thanked city patrons for their understanding. “While it may seem to be extreme, we do it to protect as many of our citizens as possible,” he said.

Anyone with other comments or concerns is welcome to call Hindoien at 590-3031.

The City Council, meeting March 17, worked through an agenda of regular business items even as the mayor and council members acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the face of the community daily and even hourly.

COVID-19, which causes mild symptoms in most people (fever, cough and breathing trouble) can cause more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal, in elderly people and those with other medical complications.

Hindoien at the March 17 meeting said he is receiving a round-the-clock stream of email from other mayors across Montana, plus information from the Teton County Board of Health, the Montana League of Cities and Towns and the Montana Municipal Insurance Authority, the self-insured group that provides the city’s insurance coverage.

He said the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic is fluid and changing nearly hourly and the city will respond as necessary.

On March 20, Hindoien, at the urging of the MLCT and the MMIA, issued a declaration of emergency for the city of Choteau. He said the council will take action to retroactively approve the declaration of emergency at its regular meeting on April 7.

Councilman Steve Dogiakos at the March 17 meeting thanked everyone who has stepped up in the community to cope with the impact of COVID-19. He said he was starting a game and puzzle drive to provide for families with children. Anyone wanting to donate should contact him.

Also at the March 17 council meeting, the council approved a $15,000 loan from the city’s Revolving Loan Fund to Jamie Cole Foster, who is opening “Foster’s Farmacy,” a new organic grocery and grab-and-go food deli at 714 Main Ave. N., in the original Alpine Touch building, owned by Vicki Southard of Choteau.

Hindoien said the city’s RLF Committee met with Foster and Southard and recommended approval of the loan with the stipulation that the loan will be collateralized with the building, and the city will be able to secure repayment of the loan by Southard, who is carrying the mortgage for the building.

The balance of the city’s RLF before the issuance of this loan was $66,394.65.

Foster, who lives outside of Fairfield, attended the meeting and said the $15,000 loan would be used as part of a down payment to purchase the building. She said the business will provide organic produce, preservative-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, Keto-friendly and/or Paleo-friendly items; a healthy selection of grab-and-go food; third-party verified natural supplements; organic pet food and products; Blue Truck Bread (made at Power); and locally made kombucha on tap.

The new store will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Foster has 20 years of experience as a licensed, registered pharmacist, working in retail pharmacies in small towns with independent pharmacies. She has also worked for two years with two independently owned organic markets. She has also worked at Albertsons in Livingston, IGA in Dillon and most recently the R&L Eagle Grocery in Fairfield.

She hopes to have the new store open by mid-April.

Hindoien, on another topic, said he plans to put an item on the April 7 meeting agenda to discuss installing internet service at the Choteau Pavilion. It would cost about $75 a month for 25/25 service and would allow the city to then install a flow meter on Spring Creek in front of the Pavilion that could be accessed online and would give real-time results.

In other action, at the March 17 council meeting, the council:

•Approved a hold-harmless agreement with the Montana Kiwanis Foundation for the work the foundation did to put in new playground equipment in the Choteau City Park last year.

•Approved the city’s annual request for gas-tax revenue from the state for infrastructure work. The city has to match the state funding with $1 for every $20 provided by the state. Last year, the city used this special gas tax reimbursement revenue for chip sealing city streets.

•Authorized Rich Lusky of Choteau to hold the Roadkill Car Club cruise-ins on June 10, July 8 and Aug. 12 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Choteau Visitors Center parking lot. (Note: This approval did not take into account impacts from the coronavirus spread, which may force the postponement of these events.)

•Reviewed Maples’ report. Maples said the city’s wastewater treatment plant as of March 17 was experiencing the lowest flows for March and most of February over the past three years. He said the city crew is continuing to video the collection system, looking for leaks and fixing them. In the past two weeks, the city has excavated and fixed nine mainline breaks.

The city’s water delivery system continues to leak like a sieve. The system lost 69% of all water pumped in January and February, for a combined loss of 13.6 million gallons of water. Maples said he is investigating a potential leak in the main line leaving the city’s storage tanks and has received a quote from Central Excavation to dig and repair the damaged line. He said the work could be done in the next week to two weeks, depending on weather. He said the city crew is working on two other suspect leaks.

He said the city crew also received permits or waivers from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Corps of Engineers, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Teton County/Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to clean up Spring Creek. The crew began work on Feb. 7 and cleaned the creek from south of town to the north end of Choteau. The permits do not allow any more work from March 20 to July 15, but after July 15, the crew will work again.

Editor’s note: This story was written on March 23. Changes in the present coronavirus situation may have occurred by the time this story is published and distributed on March 25.