Opinion: Time to dream big about old Corette plant site


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

The site of the former Corette coal-fired power plant sits across the Yellowstone River from the Four Dances Natural Area.

A rare opportunity exists to enhance the attractiveness of Billings. The former Corette power plant has been torn down, and the land on which it stood is bounded on the north by the interstate highway, and adjoins the Yellowstone River across from Sacrifice Cliff.

How wonderful it would be if this land, or at least a significant portion of it, were available for public use?

Imagine if this were well-developed parkland that invited passers-by to stop and stay in Billings, “Montana’s Trailhead.”

Let’s face it, most of the land along I-90 is unattractive, something many of us have heard from travelers who thought twice about moving to or stopping in Billings after coming in through our east entryway.

For many years the Yellowstone River was ignored by Billings. In recent decades this omission has, to a degree, been addressed. Parks like Riverfront, Two Moon and now Dover Park are among those granting access to our special wild river, the longest undammed river in the continental United States.

As part of the Heritage Trail System and planned Marathon Loop, these and other parks could be linked by a continuous riverside trail system.

One of our parks is Coulson Park, which is adjacent to the Corette land. Because it has not been developed, it is not particularly inviting. What if Coulson and part of the Corette land were developed with some green space, picnic tables, and an outdoor amphitheater?

What about other facilities offering food, drink, and recreational opportunities? Interpretive sites could highlight the rich history of Coulson and the area’s importance to the Crow Nation. With the Four Dances land across the river, this area could—no, would—become the identity-forming feature of Billings, the area where the trailhead begins.

There are obstacles to such dreams, however. The current owner of the land, Talen Energy, has a contract with an unknown buyer. The land is zoned for heavy industry. How the land might be developed is a mystery.

Property rights must be respected, but so must the public interest in powerful landscapes. The availability of land with such unique historical meaning and special beauty is a rare event. Land for industrial development, which can be a good thing, can be found in other less significant spots.

Our city leaders understand how important it is for cities that wish to thrive to take advantage of their rivers and scenic offerings. They have traveled to Sioux Falls and Oklahoma City to see how city parks developed alongside their rivers benefit citizens and attract positive development.

Great Falls and Missoula are ahead of Billings in this regard. Boise, Idaho; Bend, Ore.; and Casper, Wyo., are other models to emulate. But none of these cities define their riverside parks as magnificently as would the Rims across the Yellowstone.

In order to capitalize on this opportunity, public support and planning are essential. A number of local individuals, organizations and businesses have formed a coalition to do such planning.

Join us for a “Corette Site Design Charrette” on Saturday, March 19, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the First Congregational Church Fellowship Hall, North 27th Street and Third Avenue North.

A charrette involves a coming together of interested parties to discuss how specific buildings or areas like the Corette property might best be designed to benefit all concerned. You are invited to participate and help us make Billings an even more healthy, inviting, and sustainable place to live.

Jennifer Merecki is chair of the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council’s Sustainability Committee. This opinion piece was also endorsed by: Our Montana: Robbie Carpenter, executive director; Rocky Mountain College Environmental Club; Sustainable SiteWorks; TrailNet: Kristi Drake, executive director; Yellowstone chapter, Montana Conservation Voters: Ken Kuhn, chapter president; Yellowstone River and Parks Association: Darryl Wilson, president; and Winpower West.

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