by karla pomeroy
Lovell resident Keith Grant concluded 16 years of service to Big Horn County Dec. 31, as his fourth term as county commissioner ended.
Grant, first elected in 1998, served from 1999-2014. He was defeated in the primary election in August 2014 by Felix Carrizales.
Grant said he first ran because, “I thought I had a lot of knowledge I could help the road and bridge. I found out it was probably running better than a lot of programs.”
During his 16 years he has seen a lot of progress and growth in the county. First, instead of the county spending $30,000 on crushed gravel that would cover just an eighth of a mile, they used the money and bought a gravel crusher and eventually bought two. Now the county crushes its own gravel and “we’ve been able to regravel almost every road in the county,” he said.
He said they were able to purchase more equipment for road and bridge and “now they are able to do just about anything we need them to do. I think our county road is in as good a shape as any.”
In the past 16 years, the county has gone from no land planning office or county engineer to having a strong land planning and engineer’s office.
“Yes we’ve grown government but with regulations from federal and state, we need information on hand, that’s easily accessible. With our land planning office we now have a very complete road file,” he said.
A GIS department was added, which has been a benefit to land planning and the county assessor’s office. “It gives the assessor’s office better ability to assess property.”
Grant added, “When I came on board, we didn’t have any type of GIS. The departments were just changing from paper to computer. We’re more in the 21st century than we were back then. It’s been a fun, learning experience for me and for everyone (departments).
“It was a time of change and the change has all been good.”
The county also became more involved in federal lands issues. He said more and more federal regulations started coming down making things more restrictive, causing local governments to be more involved. Big Horn County has been involved with management of the Medicine Wheel, Big Horn Lake, Little Mountain and as a cooperator with the Bureau of Land Management on the Resource Management Plan as well as other federal and state issues.
“You always realize there’s strength in numbers,” Grant said, noting that due to more regulations, the four Big Horn Basin counties began meeting during his tenure. “We started getting four counties together, the commissioners meeting four times a year and sharing thoughts on what’s working and what’s going on in each county.”
He said in 2004 the BLM began work on the RMP and wanted to do two plans, one for the Cody district and one for the Worland district. Through the Big Horn Basin meetings, Park and Big Horn knew that they had land in both districts. They approached the BLM to do one plan for both districts. The new plan should be finalized early this year.
Grant said what he has enjoyed most in his 16 years serving Big Horn County is “making things better; helping things to work better. Our county is leaps and bounds of where it was in 1998.”
He said grant funding has also played an important role in the past 16 years of improving life in Big Horn County, helping build a new hangar for business development at the South Big Horn County Airport, increasing the size of the Lovell Library, improving roads and more.
“It’s fun to mention the things that have made this worthwhile and rewarding. I’ve lived here all my life, raised a big family. I got out of the business and decided to be a commissioner. It’s not been as prosperous, but the success over the years more than makes up for the monetary loss,” Grant said, “It’s been a great opportunity. I’ve made mistakes. But if you don’t make mistakes you’re not doing anything.”
He said he had a great teacher his first eight years on the commission in Don Russell. “He was an inspiration.”
He added he appreciated the opportunity to work with the other elected officials, the longest with Treasurer Becky Lindsey and Clerk of Court Dori Noyes. He said Clerk Lori Smallwood “has been fantastic.”
He noted former Sheriff Dave Mattis was instrumental in getting the new jail and current Sheriff Ken Blackburn is as “dedicated to the public as anyone can be.” County Attorney Michelle Burns’s “dedication these last four years was phenomenal.”
He added, “It’s been an enjoyable time. I think Big Horn County has come a long ways and I hope and pray it will continue to prosper and move ahead.
“I appreciate the voters of Big Horn County who have allowed me to serve for 16 years. It’s been a growing process and I appreciate the opportunity to serve.”