Archive for August, 2007

by Montana Firefighter

Good to know my work is for naught. (Hat tip to bfunk!)

Thanks Representative Sinrud. Thanks Montana Republicans.

I’m sure the communities of Frenchtown, Arlee, Seeley Lake, Rock Creek, Darby, Billings, Plains, Livingston, etc. would love to have you come visit and present your point of view.

As for me, I’ll be supporting the good Governor Brian Schweitzer, who didn’t cover his ears and sing “la la la la la” when he presented his budget last November 2006.

That is, of course, in contrast to Montana Republicans who chose to play partisan politics with the realities of not only Montana wildfires but Montana firefighters – by trashing the good gov’s budget proposal for wildfire funding and then having the nerve to accuse him of not supporting firefighters because he didn’t support individual taxcuts for firefighters.

Lordy Lord.

by Pete Talbot

There’s no disclaimer or mention of who’s responsible for the event. And it’s the second quarter-page ad I’ve seen in the Missoulian for Commissioner Barbara Evans’ retirement party.

Someone has deep pockets. Those ads don’t come cheap nor does renting space at the Double Tree (that’s where the event is going to be, 5:30-8 p.m., Thursday, August 30, public invited).

I called some folks at the county courthouse and they’re not sure who’s behind it, although they say it isn’t the county. Missoula County is throwing a little going-away soiree, also today, after the swearing in of new County Commissioner Larry Anderson, but on a much smaller scale.

I got along reasonably well with Ms. Evans during her tenure at the commission. I would have liked to have seen more long-range county planning and more focus on growth issues from her. A better grasp of Missoula’s transportation problems would have been nice, too. (I remember her famous quote about being proud to drive her car from the county courthouse to the Bon [now Macy’s] when she wanted to go shopping.)

Evans did provide some pork for the county — much of it in the form of asphalt and concrete — so I imagine there are a few people in that industry who want to show their thanks.

Also, lately she’s been canonized on the editorial pages and by community leaders for her long service to the county. This retirement party must be an extension of that tribute.

I’ve got no problem with friends and associates wanting to throw a Barb bash, I’m just curious who’s behind it all.

by Rebecca Schmitz

There was an odd letter in the Missoulian’s Letter to the Editor column yesterday:

Why can’t anyone running for the Missoula City Council or anything else send people information about themselves or go around and talk to people instead of putting signs up all over town that are an eyesore. We hardly believe that anyone looking at a name on a sign is going to make them want to vote for that person without knowing something about them.

We planted some plants by our mailboxes that have taken several years to get as tall as they are now. Now, a Lewie Schneller sign was put on both sides of the mailboxes so they took it upon themselves to trim one of our plants 9 inches on top of one side. The signs are so big they could easily have been seen without messing with our plant. One sign on front of the mailboxes could have easily been seen from traffic going both ways. If we wanted our plants trimmed, we would have done it ourselves.

Jim and Lori Lucas, Missoula

It’s odd simply because I can’t imagine why a lowly City Council candidate would want to alienate a potential supporter and future constituent in this way. We’ve all heard of the usual campaign hijinks–last year, for instance, four Jon Tester signs disappeared from my front yard between June and November. In all fairness, one of the four vanished the day after the primary election, as did all the other signs, Democratic and Republican, on my block. I chalked up that loss to helpful volunteers cleaning up neighborhoods (if only everyone would take down their garage sale and Total Fest signs just as promptly). But a rogue gang of hedge trimmers? I don’t see Ed Childers trying to stir up trouble for his opponent Schneller like that. Perhaps someone from Schneller’s campaign, or Lewie himself, will apologize to Jim and Lori. And after that, they can swing by my house. I need someone to weed my side yard.

by Pete Talbot

Usually the folks at the WGM group can be seen at council meetings or at the Office of Planning and Grants. They’re there to mitigate regulations for subdivisions and other developments – things like siting of homes, allotment of open space, density, streets and curbs and gutters, etc. WGM is also often involved with the city and county on major road projects and other infrastructure issues.

Apparently they’re interested in bike paths, too, and have advanced a plan for city trails. I quote:

“We have a lot of folks in our office who bike to work from all parts of the valley. We have brainstormed on where Missoula’s bicycle network could be expanded and have prepared a map for discussion purposes. If you’re interested, you may view it at: http://www.wgmgroup.com/Bicycle_Network_11x17.pdf. Since the Transportation Plan is up for revisions, this is a good time for the community to think about where new bike routes could be added.
Best,
WGM Group”

It looks like lots of lanes and paths and trails, which is a good thing. There were a few comments that some of the existing paths on the map don’t really exist but most everyone responding thought it was a good starting point for the Transportation Plan update.

As mentioned before at 4&20, if you want to be a part of this conversation you need to go to: Missoulagov.org.

A little house cleaning and unrelated to the above topic:

Yesterday I was complaining about the need to call a special session of the legislature to address firefighting budget shortcomings. It seemed like an inefficient use of time and money, and an inconvenience for legislators. It has since been pointed out to me that Republicans in the regular legislative session blocked attempts to make the firefighting budget more flexible. So now all the senators and members of the house get to trek back to Helena for what looks like a one-day session. You reap what you sow.

By Rebecca Schmitz 

Despite the efforts of a vocal minority, it looks like Missoulians might get to wake up to the cackling of a small number of hens after all.  As Pete briefly mentioned below, last night City Council sent the “pro-chicken” ordinance back to committee last night for a little fine tuning–or, to extend this fowl metaphor, to sit on this egg until it hatches.

I wrote my City Council members, Jerry Ballas and Jon Wilkins, in support of the ordinance last week. I think Wilkins proposed a good compromise with those who brought up the important issue of extra funding for Animal Control, the folks who will have to deal with violations of the ordinance. With all apologies to Jay, it’s another registration fee:

The expense of enforcing the new ordinance has not been budgeted, and Councilman Jon Wilkens (sic) suggested that perhaps a chicken-licensing fee could help offset future expenses.

If you’d like to cluck at your Council members about chickens, contact information is available here. For those opposed to the ordinance, are there any specific changes at all that can be made to win your support for it?

by Pete Talbot

Some local and regional tidbits that I found interesting. Three of the four items below were gleaned from the daily Missoulian (Tuesday, August 28).

Governor Schweitzer has called a special session to deal with the extraordinary fire costs from the summer of 2007 (and it ain’t over yet). This seems like an inefficient way to deal with the state’s firefighting budget. Can’t this be done by emails or phone calls or even snail mail? Or maybe give the governor the power to shift money around in budgetary emergencies like this? (It’s not like the money isn’t there; there was $180 million left over from the last session.) Think of the wasted time and money, and the inconvenience, of getting 100 house members and 50 senators back to Helena for a day. There has to be a better way.

Urban chickens are going back to committee for some detailing. City council heard from the public last night but didn’t vote on the new ordinance to allow six hens (no roosters) within the city limits. It sounded like the pro-chicken advocates outnumbered the anti-chicken forces at Monday night’s hearing.

The Bozeman City Commission said “no” to buying any power from Electric City Power, following similar decisions from Helena and Missoula. The sticking point, again, was the proposed Highwood coal-fired generating plant. Apparently, the commission refused to even put the matter on any future agendas. (A tip o’ the hat to Noodly Appendage for bringing this to my attention.)

Finally, a small item at the bottom of a display ad for the Missoula Osprey baseball team, and I quote: “FREE Mayor John Engen Bobblehead Doll to the 1st 750 fans through the gates. Sure to be a collectible!” I had no idea these were available. If I can’t make the game, can someone tell me where I can pick one of these up? A bobblehead would sure look sweet in the back window of my car.

by Jay Stevens

To the driver of the Number Eight bus on Saturday, 5:18pm:

When you see a man with his small daughter and a large bagful of books standing at a bus stop, it is customary for you to stop for them, especially if they are both gesticulating frantically, pointing at you.

When you ask a question to them, remember, they cannot hear you if the door is shut. Even pointing vaguely in a direction does not make your question audible. And if they nod in response to your question, assume they want to get on the bus.

If you’re unsure, stop, open the door, and ask your question. Remember, you drive the last bus of the day. After you, there is no bus. And there’s no telling how far the man and his 3-year-old daughter will have to walk if you ask a question, point vaguely in a direction, then drive away after the man nods, jumps up and down, and points at you. It could be he lives clear on the other side of town.

It could also be that if you drive away, the man will exhibit some unfatherly behavior, such as jumping into the street, yelling, making hand gestures and using words his daughter will later ask him the meaning of as they trudge home across town, because of you.

Sincerely yours,

Jay Stevens

by Pete Talbot

It looks like the mayor and city council may be changing their collective minds about buying power from Electric City Power but it’s not a wrap, yet. This email went out this morning from the mayor:

Good morning, council members.

About three weeks ago, I asked you to support a letter of intent to enter into an agreement purchase electricity from Electric City Power at a discount estimated at between 10 and 15 percent.

On Monday evening, under new business, I’ll ask you to withdraw that letter.

While I still think our goals (save about $70,000 each year; support the concepts of public power, local choice and alternative energy; support the City of Great Falls) are valid, the controversy over the Highwood Generating Station and its future, questions about Electric City’s long-term financial stability, uncertainty over the implications of House Bill 25 and considerable negative public comment lead me to believe that the time isn’t right to pursue this alternative. I’ve spoken with John Lawton and Colleen Balzarini of Great Falls; they understand my concerns and have no problem with us withdrawing our letter of intent.

There are some points I’m going to continue to bring up with the folks we serve and the folks who serve us in the Legislature, including:

Energy costs for the City of Missoula, its residents and its businesses are high and unpredictable. I think the Montana Legislature is trying to help with that through regulatory mechanisms such as House Bill 25, which locks “large” customers, including the City of Missoula, into NorthWestern Energy’s customer base unless that customer opts out by October 1, 2007. Is the Legislature “reregulating” energy in Montana, and, if so, would its leaders consider spending some time with cities and other customers, large and small, to help us understand its intention?

Public utilities have a long record of success throughout the country. If the Legislature is interested in restoring a regulated monopoly electric utility in the state, would it consider supporting a public utility as much as a private, investor-owned operation?

Where and how can we purchase clean, green, affordable energy for our cities, homes and businesses? Research suggests that a majority of our electricity comes from old coal plants and some dams.

Thank you for your initial support in considering this option for Missoula. I hope you can support changing course and remaining open to other opportunities as they arise.

John Engen, Mayor

This is the right thing to do, Mayor Engen. People in Missoula, Great Falls and other Montana cities, for the most part, appreciate your re-thinking this plan. There’ll be some fallout (no pun intended) but Missoula’s energy issues shouldn’t be rushed. 4&20 will keep you posted.

Adventures in moving

by Pete Talbot

I hate U-Haul.

I usually write about weighty subjects like local and regional politics, energy and the environment, even the war in Iraq. Today, though, I’m going to use this soapbox to vent.

Is there a worse run company in America than U-Haul? I suppose that Enron and W.R. Grace and some others have done more damage to the people of this country, but for sheer levels of frustration, I think that U-Haul has affected more lives. Even the airlines have a better track record.

It seems like I deal with U-Haul every couple of years – moving kids or hauling something I can’t fit in my Nissan pick-up. Every time I’ve had problems. I guess I use U-Haul infrequently enough so I always forget about the past lousy experiences.

Here’s the latest. I’m going to West Seattle to pick up a trailer and then load it with materials for my wife’s interior design business. Everything I need to get is in West Seattle. I figure I’ve got it made. I have my reservation and confirmation number for a 6×12-foot trailer and the U-Haul outlet is right in the center of West Seattle, just blocks from the wholesalers I’ll be visiting. Load up and hit the road back to Montana.

But of course, West Seattle’s U-Haul doesn’t have my trailer. They send me up to North Seattle to get one. So I have to go many miles up north to pick up the trailer and then back down to West Seattle to get my goods.

I-5, the major north-south route through greater Seattle is under construction, making the horrendous Seattle-area traffic even worse. Ever drive a pick-up truck with a trailer through downtown Seattle during morning rush hour? My knuckles are still white from the experience.

So who do I invoice for the three hours of wasted time I spent in Seattle traffic?

And the service at the North Seattle U-Haul? They can’t be paying their employees more than minimum wage. It’s apparent in their lack of efficiency, inattention to detail and basic “screw you” attitude.

I wasn’t going to post this petty little tirade of mine except when I relay this story to family and friends they just nod their heads knowingly. Almost every one of them has a similar horror story: cancelled reservations, shoddy equipment, over-charges, etc., etc.

So post your U-Haul comments here, even any positive U-Haul stories (although I’ll bet those are few and far between).

Finally, the opinions expressed above solely reflect Pete Talbot’s viewpoint and not the 4&20 Blackbirds site, or any of the site’s contributors. Although I should remind the U-Haul mouthpieces who are licking their chops over a possible defamation suit that truth is the greatest defense in a libel case.

(For the record, though, I just dropped the trailer off at the West Broadway U-Haul outlet here in Missoula and the local folks were friendly and competent.)

by Jay Stevens

From The University of Montana’s 2007 fall orientation packet:

City law requires you to register your bicycle. The fee is only $5. Bring your bike serial number.

WTF??? That can’t be right!

From Missoula’s Public Works Department website:

Missoula City ordinance requires that all bikes ridden in the city be registered. Dealers are required to inform purchasers of this requirement. Registration (license) costs are $10.00 for individuals ($5.00 for children) or $15.00 for all the bikes in a family. Dealers may offer registration for a $5.00 fee.

Okay, my first reaction is…what? Mandatory bike registration? Are you people out of your minds?

Does anybody have a reasonable explanation of why this is mandatory? I can understand paying a fee if you want to register your bike with the city – you know, in case it’s stolen – but a mandatory fee? Don’t we want to encourage people to bike?

By the way, my bike is not registered, and I won’t be registering.

Come get me, coppers!

by Jay Stevens

Noodly asked for a fire update because of the apocalyptic smoke conditions on I-90. (And in Missoula we’ve made a lot of jokes recently about “end times,” what with the blood-red sun, a suffusing mustard-yellow light at sunset, and gusting winds under a gunmetal sky swirling smoke down the streets.)

In lieu of a fire update, I’d like to point all interested people to NewWest’s excellent forest fire coverage. It’s the best coverage of fires in the region, bar none.

And according to the coverage, the high winds pushed ahead of the cold front’s that sitting in Missoula right now stoked up some fires, but the accompanying cloud cover, low temperatures, and humidity has helped crews fight the Black Cat fire along highway 93, at least.

That said, it’s simply delightful in Missoula today. Cool temperatures, in the 60s, clear skies (yes, CLEAR SKIES), a hint of rain. In my house, we slept like babies last night, and everybody was chipper this morning. I rode as fast as I could to work, taking lungfuls of sweet, sweet air while jetting through town. Good times.

No doubt the smoke will be back, so I suggest to all you Missoula-ites to get out and hike, float, bike, run, and play as much as you can. Not that you all need much encouragment.

by Pete Talbot

I took some big hits from people on council who I respect for the piece I wrote yesterday on Missoula buying into a coal-fired generating plant.

Some of those hits were well deserved. I did not allow enough time for responses from the mayor and council before posting the story. Their comments are below.

But first some background. I received a couple of tips from folks yesterday that Missoula was considering buying some power from a controversial coal-fired generating plant being built near Great Falls. The main source was a story out of the Independent-Record newspaper in Helena. Helena had just rejected a similar offer to buy power from Great Falls, and Missoula was quoted as having signed a letter of intent (unable to link to quote but here is the story on Helena’s rejection).

And here are our city leaders’ responses. First, Mayor John Engen:

“Electric City (the Great Falls entity selling the power) will save the City of Missoula between 10 and 15 percent on our electric bill as compared to our default rate with Northwestern Energy. If the Highwood plant (the planned coal-fired generator) comes online, we can expect further savings. Electric City provides more predictability, local control and better access to decision makers than our current vendor. We are not locked into anything.”

And this from Councilwoman Heidi Kendall (Ward 1):

“It’s important for people to know that the alternative is NWE (Northwestern Energy). I’m not sure why people are defending this utility monopoly. Did you see the article today about the executive salaries/bonuses? We are customers — unless we can figure out something else — so we pay a share of those. Is that the best we can do? I don’t think so. Does it make sense to try something else, given a choice? Yes.”

I also quoted some facts from the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC); staunch opponents of the coal-fired plant. While I believe the facts to be accurate, Ward 3 Councilwoman Stacy Rye brought up an interesting point:

“MEIC did NOTHING to support the five cities’ bid on NWE. I don’t know if they opposed it actively but they did not support the bid for our largest transmission and distribution lines, which would have become publicly owned. (snip) I’m a huge supporter of public power and could give you numerous reasons why public power is a good thing. One of those reasons is the ability to negotiate. Do you think a publicly owned facility in Montana would be easier to negotiate with or a private utility when it comes to influencing getting power to be as clean as possible? We can’t negotiate that until we have a public utility and again, MEIC did NOT support Montana Public Power.”

About signing the letter of intent, Ms. Kendall added:

“We don’t have much time to decide (just until October, just to keep our options open), because of the new state law which I believe is HB25.”

Mayor Engen wrapped up his comments with this:

“For Missoula, the annual savings is estimated at $70,000. That’s a police officer, or a firefighter, or a public-health nurse, or more street trees, or more asphalt or a bit of inflation. While the City of Missoula is a powerful driver of Montana’s economic engine, we have no surplus of funds. Every dollar counts and over 10 years, we might expect a savings of $1 million or so.

Council will need to consider a contract in the near future. It may, by a majority vote, authorize me to sign such a contract, propose modifications, or reject it.”

Now for the other side. First, from Helena’s George Ochenski, in an email to me:

“There are NO real numbers attached to the Highwood Plant. They have been tossing around numbers ranging from $500-750 million, but that doesn’t include any costs for carbon capture and sequestration, which is not planned at the facility but, say the developers, can be added on later. Right, added on.

Anyhow, that (Missoula) went along with this is truly disgusting. Think of the air quality there now — so, what’s the benefit of buying into a coal-burning plant for your valley? OR how about the costs that will go up for NWE customers because the city (Missoula), Great Falls, and others will pull out of NWE’s customer base? Apparently your Mayor said the city would save $70,000, which, at least what I heard, he says ‘is enough to put another policeman on.’ Great. $70,000 to buy into a polluto-max plant that will be obsolete before it’s even built so you can hire another cop.”

And some more from MEIC:

“It’s a crazy and risky financial venture. Electric City Power’s analysis of the cost of power doesn’t include the future cost of carbon dioxide control. Right now Congress is considering carbon taxes, and cap and trade programs, that will put a price on a ton of carbon dioxide. When this happens, the cost of electricity from coal-fired power plants will increase. Their costs will finally reflect the true cost they impose on the natural environment.”

So, I hope this updated story is more “fair and balanced” as they say over at Fox News. I was too quick on the trigger in posting yesterday’s piece without allowing all sides to weigh in. For that I apologize. As one council member emailed: “I hope … that you will think a little bit before you make cheap shots.” Ouch.

Now I’m no fan of Northwestern Energy but I still think it’s a bad idea for Missoula to buy into this Great Falls coal-fired generating plant. I welcome comments from other council members and experts in the field (for I certainly am not). This will be an on going story.

by Pete Talbot

Did I miss the local media coverage of this? Apparently Missoula City Council is considering buying power from the coal-fired generating plant being planned near Great Falls.

The city of Great Falls has a 15 percent stake in the venture and is marketing the power from this 250-megawatt plant to cities throughout Montana. It is scheduled to go online in 2012.

It’s called the Highwood Generating Plant. Here are some of the stats, courtesy of the Montana Environmental Information Center:

  • It will be located on some of the most productive farmland in the state. Neighboring farmer and ranchers strongly oppose it.
  • It will put almost 3 million tons per year of global warming pollutants into the air.
  • It will put thousands of tons per year of other air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulates, mercury and more into the air.
  • It will generate over 70,000 tons of waste per year that will be dumped in an unlined landfill on site. This waste contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and other toxic metals.
  • It will be partly located within a National Historic Landmark, where Lewis & Clark spent a month portaging around the Great Falls of the Missouri River. The National Park Service has said the plant will destroy the site and likely lead to its delisting.
  • It is the subject of numerous lawsuits that make the plant’s future very uncertain.

You can get more depressing information on the plant here.

But more so, what’s the council thinking? Buying into a risky venture, adding to global warming, ignoring the alternative energy research being done in the city right now (wind-power potential comes to mind), helping to desecrate farm and ranch land and an historic site, all to save maybe $70,000 a year in city energy costs?

I have calls and emails into council members and the mayor. No word back, as of yet. More later.

(A tip ‘o the hat to George Ochenski up in Helena, who alerted me to a Larry Kline story in the Helena IR: “<http://www.helenair.com/articles/2007/08/16/helena/a070816_01.txt”>
The Helena City Commission, by the way, rejected the same offer from Great Falls officials to purchase power from the plant.)

PLEASE GO HERE FOR THE UPDATED STORY.

by Jay Stevens

Two of the Democratically endorsed candidates for Missoula City Council, have websites up and running:

Jason Wiener for Council

&

Elect Denver Henderson

Check ’em out, bookmark ’em, sign up to help them out.

by Pete Talbot

Missoula County Democrats endorsed candidates in all six wards at Tuesday night’s central committee meeting and forum.

Incumbents Stacy Rye (Ward 3) and Ed Childers (Ward 6) got the nod. Rye’s opponent, Doug Harrison, did not seek the Democrat’s endorsement and chose not to attend the forum. The two other candidates in Ward 6, Lewie Schneller and Martin Guthrie, were also no-shows.

In Ward 1, candidate Jason Wiener received the endorsement, although this will be revisited when his opponent, Justin Armintrout, returns to Missoula. Justin Armintrout was out of the country and unable to respond to a questionnaire or attend the forum, so the Missoula County Democrats will talk with Justin at a later date and decide whether to endorse him, too. (Pete incorrectly implied that the Democratic endorsements were limited to one candidate in each ward; they are not. It’s still possible that both Jason and Justin will recieve endorsements from voting members of the Missoula County Democrats. -JS)

(To which Pete adds: Thanks for the clarification, however, for further clarification visit my comments over at LiTW.)

http://www.leftinthewest.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=854#3105

Pam Walzer got the endorsement in Ward 2 over candidates Dave Huerta and the incumbent, Don Nicholson. Huerta participated in the forum but Nicholson did not.

In the five-way race in Ward 4, Denver Henderson received the endorsement over incumbent Jerry Ballas and candidates Alan Ault, Joseph Gorsh and Lyn Hellegaard. Henderson was the only candidate from the ward to seek the Democrat’s endorsement and attend the forum.

Candidate Christine Prescott (Ward 5) was at the forum and got the nod over her opponent Renee Mitchell. Mitchell did not seek the Democrats’ endorsement and did not attend.

The endorsement of candidates in nonpartisan elections is an unusual move for the local Democratic Party. According to Chairman Jim Dayton, however, “there’s been some confusion in past elections on which candidates support Democratic Party values. We wanted to let the voters know which candidates support our platform, and which candidates don’t.”

The municipal primary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 11. Mail-in ballots should begin arriving at registered voters’ homes next week.

smoke1.jpg

by Pete Talbot

How do you control Missoula’s rampant growth?

You could try strict zoning and subdivision regulations. You could limit the number of building permits. You could tie growth to the city’s carrying capacity (water, sewer, roads, etc.).

But all that gets kind of messy, with lots of meetings and controversy, and it will take many years to accomplish.

My solution? Post the above picture on the Chamber of Commerce home page. Plaster this image on the cover of slick Montana Living-type magazines. Make sure it’s the lead photo for the City of Missoula’s website. Put in on the front page of all real estate brochures. You get my drift.

Substitute all those warm, fuzzy shots of Farmers Market, Riverfront Park, UM and the like with a nice Stage 1 air alert photo.

I guaranty that home prices will drop — affordable housing will no longer be an issue. Traffic on Reserve Street and Mullan Road will become a trickle. There’ll be fewer developers, contractors and realtors. You can say goodbye to those crowds at Out-to-Lunch and Missoula’s First Friday events.

Just a thought.

This photo of Missoula was taken from Waterworks Hill on Monday afternoon, August 13, 2007. 

*cough*cough*

by Jay Stevens

Missoula’s cloaked in smoke:

Most of the smoke that’s settled in the Missoula Valley has blown in from a host of active wildfires in Central Idaho, in particular the 21,000-acre Bridge Fire in the Clearwater National Forest about 45 miles southwest of here, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula. A southwesterly flow is sending the plumes our way, meteorologist Matt Foster said, and the smoke’s getting “socked in” the valley. Click here for a NASA satellite image.

“The smoke is going to kind of stick around,” Foster said, at least until Thursday when an approaching frontal system is expected to roll in and shake things up. But the system may bring thunderstorms with lightning and high winds, the recipe for more wildfires — and more smoke.

According the Missoula County air quality website, air quality is “poor.”

But you knew that.

by Pete Talbot

A blogger could have a lot of fun with this one. The issue is urban chickens. I’ll play it straight, though.

I got this email from the Missoula Government list serve, forwarded from Councilwomen Stacy Rye, I believe:

“Missoula Neighborhoods office is doing their survey this month on chickens. A subcommittee is recommended to council that the ordinance concerning fowl be amended to allow 6 hens per house. There is a public hearing scheduled for August 27th at 7 pm in council chambers. If you’d like to take the survey, the link is here:”

http://www.missoula-neighborhoods.org/Survey.htm

My neighbor across the street has chickens. I get a kick out of them (the chickens, that is). Sometimes they escape and roost in my Ponderosa Pine. I was told this is to get away from predators. (Some skunks got in their coop one time and killed a bunch of them.)

I suppose there are bigger issues facing council these days but if you’re a chicken lover. or hater, take the survey and go to the meeting.

by Pete Talbot

What a strange dichotomy: say the Pledge and get out of Iraq.

The Iraq War resolution, for sure, will appear on the ballot this fall. Now it looks like a resolution for mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at city council meetings could be on the ballot, too.

How interesting that Aldermen Nicholson, Hendrickson, Ballas and Wilkins, the same guys who said the resolution to bring our troops home from Iraq is a waste of council time and money, are pushing to get a mandatory Pledge resolution on the ballot.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that city business should be filling potholes, funding police and firefighters, and plowing the streets – that the city shouldn’t be involved in other ethereal affairs – and then claim that the Pledge of Allegiance needs to be on the ballot.

I’ve got no problem with saying the Pledge at council meetings, if that’s what the person running the meeting wants to do. If that same person prefers starting the meeting with a reading or a poem or a song, that’s fine, too.

But the claim that it’s a waste of time and money to vote on a resolution to get the troops out of Iraq, then to try and put a mandatory Pledge of Allegiance resolution on the ballot, rings false. There has been a lot more time spent debating the Pledge at council meetings. It seems the issue gets raised every couple of years or so, usually around election time.

One word comes to mind: hypocrisy.

by jhwygirl

The darkness and ash falling in town this evening tell the story.  Jocko blew by two containment lines today as the fire continues to try and push eastward.

Fire officers are doing their best to push this fire between Seeley and Placid, but it really does want to do what it wants to do.

Re-evacuations also came.

Winds today assumably would have had the same effect on the Chippy Creek fire.  A Type I team is in-process of taking over there.

by Pete Talbot

Missoula Democrats will hold a forum for city council candidates at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at City Council Chambers, 140 W. Pine St.

Following the forum, precinct committeeman and women will vote to endorse specific candidates in a ward, all candidates in a ward or not to endorse at all.

Not every candidate will by there but all have been invited. Those not seeking the Democratic endorsement, Ward 4’s Jerry Ballas for example, probably won’t show up.

But most of the candidates should be in attendence and the public is invited, too.

This will be one of the few opportunities to hear candidates on the issues before the primary election on Tuesday, September 11.

Finally, mail-in ballots for registered voters should begin arriving at homes in Missoula on Wednesday,August, 22.

by jhwygirl

I’m told early air support (one plane, one helicopter) were key in putting out a fire called in during the late afternoon/early evening on Saturday.  I guess it was somewhere near the Bonner side.

And apparently those firefighters also quashed another fire up near Lincoln late Friday.

Amazing work those guys and gals do with the stretch resources that they have.

by jhwygirl

Specialist Donald M. Young was killed Wednesday in Baghdad, from wounds sustained when his vehicle was struck with an IED. Young was the 2nd graduate of Capital High School killed in Iraq.

Donald Young was the 5th Helena native killed in the Iraq war, and the 20th Montanan.

Tears and prayers for the family and friends of Donald Young.

Godspeed Donald Young, Godspeed.

May no soldier go unforgotten.

Killed in Iraq:

Spc. Donald M. Young, 19 – Helena
Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins, 31 – Bozeman
Cpl. Chris Dana, 23 – Helena
Staff Sgt. Shane Becker, 35 – Helena
Army Spc. Scott Dykman, 27 – Helena
Army Pfc. Shawn Murphy, 24 – Butte
Marine Lance Cpl. Nick Palmer, 19 – Great Falls
Sgt. Travis M. Arndt, 23 – Bozeman
Pfc. Andrew D. Bedard, 19 – Missoula
Staff Sgt. Aaron N. Holleyman, 26 – Glasgow
Capt. Michael J. MacKinnon, 30 – Helena
Cp. Dean P. Pratt, 22 – Stevensville
Lance Cpl. Jeremy S. Sandvick Monroe, 20 – Chinook
Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus, 28 – Wolf Creek
Lance Cpl. Nicholas William B. Bloem, 20 – Belgrade
Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles V. Komppa, 35 – Belgrade
Sgt. 1st Class Robbie D. McNary, 42 – Lewistown
1st Lt. Edward M. Saltz, 27 – Bigfork
Cpl. Raleigh C. Smith, 21 – Troy
Pfc. Owen D. Witt, 20 – Sand Springs

Killed in Afghanistan:

Pfc. Kristofor T. Stonesifer, 28 – Missoula
Joshua Michael Hyland, 31 – Missoula

3684 American forces have been killed in the Iraqi war.

Tonight, of those 3684 deaths, there are 5 families that have yet to hear that their son or daughter has been taken from them.

God Bless.

by Pete Talbot

Here are some notes on the Montana Democratic Party Convention held in Helena last weekend. I wasn’t there. This puts me in the perfect position to critique what happened.

It’s the first convention I’ve missed in a decade. Two reasons I didn’t make it: I had a paying gig elsewhere and it didn’t sound that exciting.

But here’s what I’ve gleaned from Lee Newspaper’s Chuck Johnson and a few folks I’ve talked to.

It was a love fest. The triumvirate of Schweitzer, Baucus and MacDonald heaped it on. Tester kept it up with kudos and thanks.

There were no challenges to the chair or vice-chair position, and no rock-the-boat agitators running for the executive board. Boring.

But I guess that’s what happens when you’re the party in power. No need to change the game plan when you’re winning.

I can’t blame the triumvirate for wanting to control the convention and, ultimately, the executive board. It makes things easier when there aren’t activists second guessing strategy, policy and message.

Kind of like the Republicans when they held the reins, one love-fest convention after another, on both the state and national level. Look at the mess they’re in now. That’s what happens when you get cocky. Let’s hope the Democrats learn from this.

It was more engaging when the Democrats were in the minority. And more grassroots, too. There were more debates, more questioning of leadership, more opportunities to express opinion and dissent.

Of course the tradeoff was a Republican majority that was gutting environmental law, slashing education funding, deregulating our power, attacking a woman’s right to choose, bashing gays…

It would be nice if the party in power could maintain its hold and still invite dissent. There’s that Utopian streak of mine, again.

Some bright spots were Gail Gutsche’s bid for a PSC seat against Doug Mood, the election of Margarett Campbell as vice-chair and the announcement of Jim “Flash” Fleischmann as Max Baucus’ campaign manager.

A low point: not one Missoula person on the state’s executive board. That’s the thanks we get for delivering more Democratic votes in Montana than any other county in the state.

River hazards

by Pete Talbot

This was a first.

I’m sitting on the banks of an anemic Gallatin River, taking a break from the horrendous traffic on Highway 191. I’m watching the fly-fishing folk negotiate the rocks when around the corner comes a raft.

Wham. The raft nails a fly fisherman. Knocks him on his derriere. The rafters, to their credit, are backpaddling – trying to help the fisherman but the current is too strong. Finally, the fisherman staggers back to shore.

Two thoughts: Who has the right-of-way on the river? It would seem the fisherman gets the nod, sort of like a pedestrian. On the other hand, a raft isn’t the most maneuverable, especially with a herd of flatlander tourists at the paddles. Any legal precedent here?

But more important, I’ll bet events like this are going to happen with even more frequency: on the Gallatin, Madison, Blackfoot, Clark Fork, Flathead…

You should see the Gallatin River between Big Sky and the mouth of the canyon. Bumper-to-bumper rafts, kayaks, fishermen and women, vying for what little water is left in this wild and scenic river. The same’s true on the Blackfoot, I’ve been told, but I haven’t ventured there for awhile – too crowded.

It’s happening on our trails, also: mountain bikers versus horsemen, ATV’s v. hikers (and there are people that say we already have enough wilderness).

What’s the solution? I don’t know. Maybe when our most popular places reach critical mass, they won’t be so popular anymore. I’m not sure I can wait that long.

There are just too damn many people in the world and it seems like most of them are showing up in Montana.

This just happens to segue nicely into my next post…

Overpopulation

by Pete Talbot

There are just too damn many people in the world.

This statement is accepted by most, I would think — conservatives, progressives, moderates – everyone except those that court the apocalypse.

More people equal more pollution, fewer resources to go around, more conflict. This isn’t rocket science.

Which is why I’m surprised it isn’t a bigger issue. It was once, in the late sixties and seventies – remember the zero-population growth movement?

So why isn’t everybody on board? Where’s the mandate to curb population growth? Out of pure self-interest, we should be demanding global sex education and birth control. It should be funded be any means possible.

Our failure to act could be:

Religion. Catholics, Mormons, fundamentalists of any creed (anyone else I can offend here?) have this need to procreate, to add numbers to a religion. This made sense centuries ago. Now it should be considered immoral to advocate cranking out more kids to boost your sect’s numbers.

Economics. Most economists like to see an expanding economy, markets need consumers and corporations want growth. Sustainable economics are in their infancy, unfortunately.

Apathy. We’re not at crisis mode, yet. And we haven’t tapped out the earth’s carrying capacity, yet. Planning for the future isn’t humanity’s strong suit.

A combination of all of the above is probably the reason there isn’t a strong population control movement. Too bad.

One might ask how the global overpopulation issue ends up on 4&20 Blackbirds, a local site. I’ve never subscribed to the trickle-down theory but it works in this instance – more people globally, more people nationally, more people in Montana.

I’m going to tweak a maxim here: “think locally and act globally.” It’s time to get serious about world overpopulation.

by jhwygirl

Held in the Public Works Committee, from the July 25th meeting, is the recommendation by the City Engineering department to sell two properties that were acquired as part of the right-of-way for the recently completed England Boulevard extension.

The two properties are now 100 feet long by 47 feet in depth,having lost 53 feet to the new road.

The sale of these two parcels is being held because councilman Jerry Ballas – with a concurring agreement from Ward 2’s Bob Jaffe – think that looking into the possibility of utilizing the parcels for affordable housing is worthwhile.

Bravo to both of them.

The two properties are sandwiched between the Grant Creek Town Center (the shopping centers directly across from Lowes and Costco) and Pleasantview subdivision – in an area with some county zoned parcels (commercial and rural residential – yep, rural residential III) and mobile homes.

The problem as I see it is that the R-IV zoning – which allows for residential and even multi-family residential – has setbacks that will take up most of the depth of the property – a minimum of 20 feet for the front setback and a rear yard setback of 20 feet. That leaves a 7 foot wide buildable area. That’s not going to work.

Maybe I read that wrong. Here’s what the city zoning code says for front and rear setbacks in the R-IV zone:

19.40.030 Front yard. There shall be a front yard having a depth of not less than twenty (20)
feet. However, where there are lots comprising forty (40) percent or more of the frontage developed with buildings between cross streets, having an average front yard with a variation in depth of not more than six (6) feet, no building hereafter erected or altered shall project beyond the front yard line so established; provided further, that this regulation shall not require a front yard of more than thirty (30) feet in depth.
19.40.040 Rear yard. There shall be a rear yard having a depth of not less than twenty (20) feet.

{{Yikes}}

Perhaps the solution would be to rezone the property first, to a commercial zoning, and then sell the property to a housing agency that could build something that would utilize the first floor for small commercial or professional offices, and then the top floors for residential. At 100 feet in length, it could allow for a decent size building.

Exemptions in the city zoning code allow for commercial setbacks when residential is combined with commercial uses.

Further, it might be good to dedicate a ROW right through the center of the two lots – where the side yards meet – to allow for easier parking access to the rear without more of the lot having to be eaten up for each lot to gain access to the rear? Encouraging the buildings to keep to the front street and placing the parking in the rear? Have one shared drive?

The location seems conducive to a commercial rezoning – a large corridor within a shouting distance of existing commercial and county commercial to the west.

I didn’t get to the comprehensive plan maps, but I can leave that to the professionals, no?

All of this – even holding up the sale to explore utilizing the parcels for affordable housing – takes extra time. Kudos to those who are willing to do that and try and make more affordable housing happen.




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