PPL Montana puts coal plant property up for sale

Corette

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

The cliffs of Four Dances Natural Area tower over PPL Montana’s Corette plant property, which the company is selling.

A huge parcel of prime riverfront in Billings is being offered for sale, but there’s a hitch: the 74-acre property is currently occupied by PPL Montana’s coal-fired power plant.

At least one party, the city of Billings, is already interested in the land, which sits between the Public Utilities Division’s water production plant, just upstream, and city-owned Coulson Park, just downstream of the power plant on the Yellowstone River.

“We’re interested in the property but also the water rights,” said Dave Mumford, director of the Public Works Department, which includes public utilities.

On April 1, PPL Montana issued a “Notice of solicitations of expressions of interest for J.E. Corette steam electric station property in Billings, Montana.” The notice said the company “intends to dispose of all of its generation plant equipment, real estate and improvements located at the site.”

The plant opened in 1968 and ceased operations last month, in advance of the April 15 implementation of new federal mercury pollution standards. PPL Montana announced in 2012 that it would mothball the plant because of the expense of complying with the new standards, then announced in February that the plant would be permanently closed.

PPL spokesman David Hoffman said Monday that the plant will be “decommissioned” starting in August, a process that should take about two years. He said decommissioning will involve selling or removing all the equipment and improvements on the site, then remediating the land in conformance with state and federal environmental regulations.

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The notice said the property includes 74 acres of land, various easements, the boiler, a turbine/generator, voltage regulation, coal-handling equipment and rail lines. It goes on to say that the sale “may also include water rights.” The deadline for submitting expressions of interest is May 1.

Mumford and City Administrator Tina Volek met Monday afternoon with representatives of PPL Montana and Big Sky Economic Development, Yellowstone County’s economic development agency.

Mumford could not be reached after the meeting, but Steve Arveschoug, the BSED director, said the discussion was fairly general, giving everyone a chance to talk about possible future uses for the site. He said BSED is not interested in purchasing the land, but would like to see it continue as an economic center, as it has been for decades.

PPL representatives said they were interested in the “long-term beneficial use” of the property, according to Arveschoug.

Mumford said earlier in the day that the property could accommodate future growth of the water plant, at the same time protecting the watershed from which the city draws its drinking water. The utilities division owns Mystic Park, an unimproved parcel of flood plain upstream of the plant, and it’s possible the Corette site could be similarly set aside for possible use and protection of the water supply.

Darryl Wilson, president of the Yellowstone River Parks Association, which works to preserve riverfront land and build bike-pedestrian trails, said he hadn’t heard the property was for sale.

“I think it would be a great asset for the YRPA … but no, we haven’t heard anything about it,” he said. “We haven’t approached them or anything like that. But it would really work into our park system program.”