Archive for April 28th, 2008

by jhwygirl

A little over a week ago I wrote about the NY Times story which exposed the who’s-up-whose-ass relationship between the Bush Administration and the media’s so-called military analysts – those retired generals that you see on every major news station telling us that the surge is working, that the troops have enough armor, that we are winning the war in Iraq.

In other words, one more shame on the Bush Administration.

At least I didn’t see the honorable General Wesley Clark on that list. At least some of the retired military still look out for the men that they previously commanded.

And boy, you should have heard the reaction from the two Army veterans of the Iraq war when I forwarded that story to them.

On Thursday, Representative Ike Skeleton (D-MO), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, had a whole hell of a lot to say about the article.

Why is it that only Democrats have come out on record as being appalled of the behavior of not only the Pentagon but the retired generals also? Not one of Montana’s conservative bloggers have expressed outrage over this either. When you think of how many Montanans are in the reserves, and serving in Iraq, or have served in Iraq, don’t you think that maybe even one of them would express some disappointment? Aren’t these guys supposed to support the troops? How is remaining silent about retired generals who were more concerned about their consulting fees than the troops they served with supporting the troops?

Principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense Robert Hastings halted the feeding of information to those military analysts after seeing the NY Times article, saying that he is concerned about allegations that the Defense Department’s relationship with the retired military analysts was improper.

Stars and Stripes has the story.

by Jamee Greer

Last weekend, several members of the student group Students for Economic and Social Justice received letters from University officials that they may be suspended for staging a sit-in in President George Dennison’s office on Wednesday, April 16th.

The group has been working with UM Administration for the last two years to make sure all GrizGear sold in the UM Bookstore is made with sweat-free labor. Both sides have had setbacks and breakthroughs, and have been at a stalemate since last Spring. In May, the Administration agreed to support the first of SESJ’s demands — alignment with the Worker Rights Consortium.

According to a press release from the group:

Several members of the group have pleaded guilty with the court. The remaining members have a May 6th deadline to enter a plea in front of Judge Louden. The University is stepping above these charges, however, in threatening to suspend the students. Initially the students received letters threatening disciplinary probation, but secondary letters followed informing students that recent evidence has elevated their possible punishment to year-long suspension.

On Tuesday, April 29, each of the students will meet with Dean Couture individually to discuss their academic punishment. One of the eight students is set to graduate in two weeks, while the others face one or more years at UM. Suspension would force some to transfer schools in order to stay on track earning their degrees.

One member of the group was recently awarded with the Outstanding Student of the Year scholarship by the University, covering an entire semester’s worth of tuition — and was awarded for a variety of reasons — including an extraordinarily high GPA, extracirricular involvements and leadership within the community.

I’m not sure the exact process of suspension at UM, but with just a week left of class, there might be the possibility that suspended students will have to repeat the semester — if their finals and end of semester projects can’t be turned in.

Ironic that a student honored by the U with a full-paid scholarship for academic and community leadership would be punished for using those skills to get more students involved.

by Pete Talbot

I enjoy the occasional beer or glass of wine. Therefore, my garbage or garage is full of bottles, plus a few pickle and mayonnaise jars.

What to do with all this glass? I wrote about the glass dilemma before and commended Bozeman for recycling the stuff. Some comments to that post had the audacity to challenge my statement about Bozeman’s recycling. So I did a little research and, lo and behold, those comments were essentially correct. Bozeman does collect and crush its glass, but then it just mixes it with dirt and uses it for cover — mostly at its landfill — which isn’t recycling at its best.

My source for the glass situation in Bozeman was Steve Johnson, supervisor of solid waste management for that city. Steve has 30 years experience in the solid waste biz, starting in Vermont, then Texas and now Montana.

He said that recycling glass in Montana was a “labor of love” and an “exercise of the heart.”

It would take a quarter-of-a-million dollars to get the commercial-grade crusher, loader and storage to have a marketable glass recycling operation.

Then there’s getting the glass to the right market. The closest place that will turn crushed glass back into bottles is Coors in Colorado. It costs $25 a ton just to ship it there and that’s after the cost of crushing. This doesn’t make economic sense. Coors can get sand down there in Colorado for a lot cheaper.

Another point that Johnson brings up is supply. If the money is spent for the high-end crusher and peripherals, and there’s an economically feasible market for the stuff, will there be enough glass in Montana to supply the crusher’s needs? Keep in mind that we’re a state with fewer than one million people spread out over 147,046 square miles.

There is a crusher in Montana run by Headwaters Cooperative Recycling. It’s located in Helena but travels around the state and grinds up glass at a few different locations. It was just in Missoula for Earth Day festivities. Unfortunately, by the time I got down to Caras Park with my load of glass, the Headwaters folks already had more glass than they could deal with and I was sent home with my Datsun still full of bottles and jars.

I’m also told that the Headwaters crusher turns out a pretty course variety of aggregate, good for landscaping and some specialized concrete products, but not much else. (My calls to Headwaters for details went unanswered. Maybe those folks can respond in the comments section if I’m missing something here.)

So, at this point in Montana, it’s kind of a depressing scenario for glass recycling. There just isn’t the political will or economic stimulus to get the job done.

Maybe someday there will be an enterprise in this state that will turn our old glass into new bottles and jars. At least, maybe, it will be feasible to turn old glass into industrial-grade sand for concrete. Or maybe we’ll eventually pass a bottle bill, so it makes it economically rewarding to return those bottles. (Montana has attempted two bottle bill initiatives that would require a deposit on all bottles. Both went down to defeat after massive anti-bottle bill advertising campaigns launched by the beverage industry.)

Until there’s a better system for dealing with our glass, I guess I’ll be buying cans and refilling growlers. It’ll be tough drinking wine out of a box, though.

by jhwygirl

NewWest recently published a piece, Understanding the Basics of Water Law in Montana, which reminded me of a few thoughts I had been mulling on that topic (for some time), and how it relates to sprawl and unregulated growth and development in Montana.

Also helping it along was a friend who contacted me a few weeks ago, asking me to look at the “adjacent property owner” notice he received from a local planning department – a notice of a proposed 45-lot subdivision. The notice brought to light 3 troubling issues – all of which several agencies all pointed to the other for blame – that subjugated his private property rights to that of the neighboring developer.

Today I mull the exemption under the Administrative Rules of Montana (ARM) for wells pumping no more than 35 gallons per minute (gpm), and how they impinge upon senior water rights holders and possibly even violate the Montana Environmental Protection Act.

Couple that with a few weeks back when I saw Tim Davis, Executive Director of the Montana Smart Growth Coalition speak. The 35 gpm well exemption was, he said, one of the bigger contributors to sprawl. To paraphrase Mr. Davis: “Developers do what they do because that is what our state and local laws tell them to do,” he said, addressing two main issues he saw as needing to be addressed the the state legislature (the other being septic tank mixing zones).

Now, Tim is an obviously smart guy. He had the room mesmerized, as if capturing everyone with an “ah-ha” moment. Many of us complain about sprawl, but the easy blame is upon the developer and the property owner that subdivides, anywhere and everywhere. But what drives that? Easy and cheap subdivision – no need for public or private community water systems and sewer. A lack of zoning doesn’t help the matter, and the 35 gpm well exemption makes it real easy. Create some lots, meet some basic conditions – more often than not in unzoned areas of the state – build some roads and file a plat. Wa-la. Instant sprawl.

As the NewWest article points out, water rights are property rights that can be leased or sold. State law guarantees water rights based on seniority of filing. Yet Montana has several closed basins – the Teton River basin, the Upper Clark Fork River basin, the Jefferson River basin, the Upper Missouri River basin and a temporary subbasin closure of the Bitterroot River subbasin. Basins were closed because the state has realized that there were significantly more water legitimate water rights claims (ajudicated and unadjudicated) than there was water available.

Let this be said clearly – there are more water rights granted than there is water available.

Now, let’s think about that for a moment: What is Montana without its rivers? Without water for its streams and wildlife? Sections of the Bitterroot often run dry – and I’ve heard many an irrigator, when asked about how much water they have a right to, explain that “we’ve got to have water to move our water,” – so is there any guarantee to the citizens of the state that there will be enough water for recreating? For our fisheries and wildlife? (Recreation, BTW, is the largest growing industry in the west.)

I suggest that they only action being taken to protect fisheries is being done by volunteers – water rights holders that voluntarily restrict water use in an attempt to maintain water in streams. The Blackfoot Challenge’s Drought & Water Conservation Committee and The Big Hole Watershed Committee are two such examples.

Even those actions are a struggle. Last summer, the remaining 4% population of the arctic grayling dwindled under record low flows of the Big Hole, and FWP struggled with users who assert their rights to water under Montana Code, for beneficial use, along with their senior rights. A fine article in NewWest, last year, details that struggle.

I contacted FWP last year upon hearing of the impending death of North America’s arctic grayling and asked the biologist “who is ensuring that people aren’t using water they shouldn’t?,” and was told that it was all voluntary. That there isn’t anyone verifying whether water rights holders are taking more water than they have claim.

Ahh, self-regulation – cheap and easy. The unfunded mandate.

Is it any wonder that senior water rights holders might have some bad feelings over being asked to voluntarily restrict water usage – usage that they rely on to make a living and to ensure that their cattle and livestock survives – when subdivisions fed by exempt 35 gpm wells crop up faster than knapweed in some areas?

Don’t fool yourself, either, to think that there is no interconnectivity of surface water and ground water. While the state had fought to keep the two from being viewed as inter-related, the Montana Supreme Court has said differently. Witness the Montana Supreme Court’s decision in the Smith River case. Still, though, the exempt 35 gpm wells continue.

While we champion open spaces and agricultural uses, think about that as you drive down the road and see the thousands of 1-acre and 5-acre lots dotting the hillside, surrounding those agricultural lands. Think about that as, this summer, you dip your ankles in the waters of the Clark’s Fork or the Bitterroot and the water is piss warm. Think about how many exempt 35 gpm wells are pumping water out of the ground, depleting both surface and ground water at the expense of our state’s wildlife and fisheries and agricultural uses.

In 2007, House Bill No. 304 was passed, authorizing an interim study of water related issues, including exempt 35 gpm wells. The Water Policy Committee now hard at work. This is a list of the committee members. Also gathering comments is

Kevin Furey, representative for Missoula’s HD-91, sponsored HB 304. While the committee members are overwhelmingly eastern staters, this whole issue of water rights is something that effects all of us, statewide.

Water rights might seem more of a hugely agricultural issue – but I hope you all realize how the 35 gpm well exemption plays upon each of our lives. How it contributes to sprawl and impinges on senior water rights holders. How it impinges upon our right to a clean and healthful environment, and how, with closed basins which acknowledge the fact that water has already been over-allocated, the largest single economic growth that this state has – the recreational economy – suffers. All of this is driven by the 1,000’s of exempt 35 gpm wells drilled each year.

One of the most powerful anti-sprawl things you could do is to contact Joe Kolman and the members of the Water Policy Committee (along with your state representatives and Rep. Kevin Furey – contact information can be found via Project Vote Smart) and let them know how you feel about protection of senior water rights. Along the way you could be protecting both the fisheries and the largest single economic growth industry in the state, along with your rights to a clean and healthful environment.

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