Why rural communities struggle to bring in much-needed federal grants
A new analysis suggests that over half of communities in the West lack the capacity to take advantage of infrastructure bill funding. Now what?
Bounded by the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east, Montana’s Bitterroot Valley is home to renowned fly fishing streams and soaring vistas. Its forests, however, are facing the greatest wildfire risk in the entire state, with towns like Florence, Victor, and Darby all in the nation’s 98th-plus percentile for risk. Yet houses continue to be built at a rapid clip, many of them in hazardous areas.
Theoretically, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion bill that funds improvements in transportation, water, energy, broadband, and climate resilience projects, should be able to help. The legislation, signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021, includes money to make forests more resilient to fire and defend at-risk communities. But according to a recent analysis by the Montana-based research group Headwaters Economics, over half of the communities in the West might not be able to access those funds.