Richland County Welcomes New Planner Rachel Laqua With Interstate Engineering

Rachel Laqua, Interstate Engineering, was recently appointed as the Richland County Planner. Richland County has not had a county employed planner since 2018 when Marcy Hamburg retired; at that time Richland County made the decision to contract the position to Joel Nelson, a certified planner in the state of Montana. Nelson resided in the western part of Montana, which was not always conducive to the quick progression of projects, and Nelson decided to step away from the position in the fall of 2022.

In January 2023 Richland County put in a request for qualifications and began the selection process required by the state.

Laqua, who served as the City of Williston, principal planner, for the last ten years, was hired as planning director with Interstate Engineering and accepted the position of Richland County Planner Feb.1, 2023.

"We've always been on the other side of the fence and felt things could've been more streamlined," said Ryan Kopp, Interstate Engineering project manager, of the surveying and planning process. "I think we can better serve the community by taking on a planning role locally."

One example of the need for a county planner would be if a person wanted to build a house out of town. They would first need to hire a surveyor to divide the land and then submit that to the county planner who would make sure the plans met subdivision regulations. The clerk and recorder's office would then know plans met regulations because of the county planner's approval.

The Richland County Planner is responsible for ensuring a number of documents are complete such as Montana Department of Environmental Quality Subdivision Review and County Sanitarian approvals. Additional responsibilities include facilitating public hearings, presenting findings to the planning board and county commissioners, and reviewing and/or revising bylaws, codes, and growth policies.

Beginning next year, a new growth policy will be put together. Growth policies are required every five years, with the last meaningful one occurring in 2015, which was then updated in 2020.

"We want to include content that Richland County residents want to see in their communities such as improving streets, walking trails, and recreation projects.

"There is grant funding available for these kinds of projects, but they have to be part of an approved planning document," Kopp explained.

Laqua will work out of Interstate Engineering's Williston office, however communication between her and the Sidney office will be coalesced. All emails to the Richland County Planning Director will go directly to Laqua; all calls will go to the Sidney office where Bonnie Sweley, administrative assistant, can take the necessary information and coordinate with Laqua, helping to facilitate the planning process.

"Having the Richland County Planner in the area, we will be better able to work with surveyors," said Kopp. "It will make the planning process easier, quicker and more cost effective."


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