Archive for the ‘DEQ’ Category

by jhwygirl

This is a public service announcement. Northern Plains Resource Council is sponsoring a panel in Helena tomorrow night. If ya’all are so inclined, it’s a worth discussion with some well-informed panelists.

Democratizing the Grid with Clean Energy
Thursday, February 6
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Helena College Lecture Hall, Room 125

Join Sleeping Giant Citizens Council for a panel discussion on renewable energy.

· Learn about available rebates, tax incentives, and how you can save money AND start producing clean energy.

· Discuss policy changes to increase Montana’s renewable energy portfolio and ongoing advocacy efforts (and how to push back against fossil fuel interests).

· Hear success stories from homeowners who have installed small scale renewable energy projects.

Panelists will include representatives from Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Montana Environmental Information Center, Sage Mountain Center, and local homeowners with renewable energy installations.

This event is free, but donations will be accepted.

Questions? Contact Page at
page@northernplains.org

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by Pete Talbot

I’m convinced that the only reason I haven’t been appointed to a cabinet post is my wife’s unseemly past.

Take the case of Tracy Stone-Manning.  She’s been nominated by Gov. Bullock to head Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality.  Her husband, Dick Manning, wrote a book nearly a decade ago that apparently criticized certain modern agricultural practices.

Forget her qualifications for the job, her husband wrote something that offended some legislators (although I doubt they actually read the book).

I love this new litmus test being a part of the Bullock administration: let’s hold folks accountable for their spouses’ actions.  Debbie Barrett (R-Dillon) certainly thinks it’s a good idea.

Maybe the husband/wife has a little problem with booze or pills: boot the nominee. Or maybe said spouse opened their kisser at the wrong time or penned a nasty letter to the editor.  That’s certainly grounds for not getting appointed.  I think we should do background checks on the spouses of everyone who holds public office.

For a Republican Senator, a resume isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.  Again, take Pat Williams’ nomination to the board of regents as a case in point.  No, it’s all political now.  Or in some cases, the politics of a spouse.

It can’t get much more petty than that.

(By the way, my wife has a pretty impeccable background.  I, on the other hand … )

By JC

Missoula’s Stone-Manning named state DEQ chief. (Just hit your browser’s “stop loading” button as soon as you see text to avoid the paywall).

If there’s one thing Tracy Stone-Manning knows about, it’s “opportunity!”

“Stone-Manning has been Tester’s policy director based in Missoula since 2007…

While on Tester’s staff, Stone-Manning worked on details and negotiations for the senator’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which combined new wilderness and recreation designations with extensive logging and forest remediation projects. She also was involved in Tester’s legislation transferring gray wolves from federal Endangered Species Act protection to state management.”

This does not bode well for wilderness or wildlife. We’ll see where else her opportunism takes its toll.

by jhwygirl

Odd, no?

Great Falls Tribune reported yesterday on a ruling by District Judge Laurie McKinnon which found that private corporations do not have the power of eminent domain.

You’d think freedom-loving pro-property right’s Montanans would be out banging pots and clanging lids but instead? Thud.

You’d think the Chamber of Commerce and every other Ayn Rand freak would be out decrying the ruling, but instead? Crickets.

The Montana-Alberta Tie Line – this thing is probably in its 6th year of running at high gear – was told that they didn’t have the right to condemn Shirley Salois’ property:

In July, a Montana subsidiary of Tonbridge Power Inc. of Toronto filed a complaint to condemn their land in Glacier County District Court after Salois argued the proposed route should be adjusted across his property farther from tepee rings and a wetland.

Lund argued Tonbridge could not exercise the right of eminent domain because it is not an agent of the state that has been given express legislative authority to acquire private property.

So this is a pretty big deal. What’s Tonbridge to do? Do they appeal? Do they open the book for a state-wide ruling that’ll become precedent for every other jurisdiction in the state? Or do they move these lines?

This ruling can have major impact Northwestern Energy’s Mountain State Intertie (MSTI) too. A 500kv line being built across Montana and Idaho in an effort to move electricity to California and Colorado, it has run into plenty of trouble. Proponents tout that it is for wind energy, but the reality is that virtually all of it is to move coal-produced electricity. There has been considerable public outcry against this project too – with Jefferson County officials going so far as suing DEQ, successfully, to halt the process.

MSTI will be – or perhaps they won’t be – relying on condemnation powers to construct this line. So ouch on those plans.

Who else? Well, that Otter Creek coal was relying on a railroad through, in part, some candy-heir ranch owner’s land out east. You can bet they were going to try and pull our Montana’s eminent domain laws there too.

A while back I called the PSC – I think I might have mentioned this in some comments at Left in the West – to ask some questions about both of these lines. Mainly, what I wanted to understand was why could they condemn private property when the lines weren’t for public use – they weren’t regulated by the PSC, and they weren’t available to any public project that might want to access it.

In other words – not only were they going to condemn property, they were causing an increase cost for infrastructure for power because of the monopoly-like nature of their use. Brad Molner explained to me that the lines weren’t common carriers and they fell under some federal interstate clause that didn’t allow them to be regulated by the PSC. I lamented to him the inability of the state to regulate them because of our lack of infrastructure which was inhibiting wind energy development.

It’s an interesting mix of situations here – does Tonbridge appeal? Can they apply for common-carrier status? Does this become some sort of federal-state showdown? Might this be a turning point for energy development in Montana?

I’ll be watching this case closely, as I’ve often pondered how Montana’s eminent domain laws can be used by private entities when – despite they provide services to anyone who purchases them – are private for-profit not government entities. Remember the outcry about the Kelo v. City of New London Supreme Court ruling?

I mean – look at the list of things that private entities could – and have – condemn private property for – it’s crazy, really, and all listed under Public Uses enumerated.

Parking lots….urban renewal projects…roads..for the benefit of..the inhabitants of a county, city or town…

Interesting stuff, no?

It’ll be interesting to see how the new legislature being sworn in January 3rd is going to want to – perhaps – fix what I’m sure a whole bunch of them are going to try and twist as some egregious miscarriage of justice to the public good.

by jhwygirl

In a 3 – 2 vote (Schweitzer, McCulloch and Lindeen voting yes), the Land Board voted to lower the minimum bid price on the Otter Creek tracts from .25/ton to .15/ton.

I’ve yet to stomach a viewing of the entire hearing – but thanks to my DVR (and since the Land Board doesn’t archive its audio and video like the legislature has been able to do for quite a number of years), I’ll be watching it tonight.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and Attorney General Steve Bullock both voted against the project. For that, I am deeply grateful.

I hope to transcribe the testimony and comments of at least two individuals from today’s hearing. AG Bullock spoke to the corporate welfare that he saw about to be dispensed. Another opponent spoke to the corporate money of Arch Coal – where they put it and the return they would get if the leases were approved.

Those words – like Juneau’s “no” vote in December – need to be out there so that people can be reminded of precisely what was at stake when Otter Creek becomes the disaster that will be.

And make no mistake, those that voted yes were keenly aware of that impending disaster. Lee reporter Mike Dennison captured that awareness by referencing Governor Schweitzer’s promises to Montana’s water resources prior to the yes vote by he and Lindeen and McCulloch. I’ve gone ahead and transcribed them word for word. Read them and ponder why the taxpayers must forego $5 million in coal revenues to the general fund or to the school trust (he didn’t say where he planned to take that $5 million) to protect Montana’s water resources.

I’m going to instruct my budget director, to put in my budget that we take to the legislature, $5 million so that every high school in Montana will either have solar panels or a wind turbine at their school and in order for them to receive this money – which is approximately $32,000 per school – they’ll have to sign a contract with the Department of Commerce that they will spend a minimum of 5 hours teaching time in each of those classrooms with every high school student in Montana explaining to them how this alternative energy works and how it is the energy of the future. I’m also going to instruct the budget director to put $5 million in the budget to protect those that live in Otter Creek and their water. I don’t know who the director of DEQ will be 8 years, 12 years, 20 years from now. I’ve no idea who will be seated on this land board…who will be responsible at the DNRC. We can’t control that – the people of Montana will elect those positions, and the rest of ’em will be appointed. So that’s why whether the DEQ or the DNRC has the fortitude to make sure that the mining companies are protecting the water assets of the people that live there and farm there and ranch there and raise children will not be in doubt – because there will be $5 million put aside. And those monies – $5 million and $5 million – would come from this bonus bid.

While the “people that live there and farm there and ranch there and raise children” can’t take that $5 million to the bank – only the legislature can appropriate – what they can take to the bank is proof, given to us today by the 3 yes votes, that corporate coal money reigns supreme over their water, their lives, their farms, their ranches and their children.

by jhwygirl

Please consider this an open thread….

Welcome Yellowstone County Democratic Party to the blogosphere…

I’m a birder, so here’s a Summer tanager alert:Male and Female Summer tanagers

Here’s an interesting NYTimes story on blogs and bloggers, titled Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest,

The latest news out of the dam removal at Milltown: Volunteer vegetation has sprouted in excavated cells in pre-reservoir soils. These seeds may have been lying dormant under the reservoir sediments for over a century. Another interesting factoid from Diana Hammer, who is the face for the EPA on the project: 2.5 million tons (about 1.9 million cubic yards) of contaminated sediments removed/loaded/disposed. Usually she tells us how much that is in railroad cars, which I find interesting…

The Montana legislature wasted very little time getting to interim session – they were getting at committee assignments and such with in a week of the drop of the gavel. Its newsletter – The Interim is out, with a rundown of the what is going to be discussed and who is going to be leading those discussion. Wanna keep in the loop? Be sure to read it and then sign up for email alerts.

On that note: DEQ is facing a budget crunch. Lovely, huh? Democrats like JP Pomnichowski and Mary Caferro tried heroically this last session to update regulations and get this Department sufficient resources to address things like unregulated dumps and the huge backlog of meth contaminated properties and the inefficiencies and complete failure of the DEQ to address open-cut mining issues and existing regulations. You-know-who voted against or amended to worthlessness the bills these legislators proposed to help correct these issues.

Well – there’s a start. What do YOU have?

by jhwygirl

Well, fear and loathing for me, at least…ya’all know how I am about water issues.

One of the biggest disappointments for me last week was Monday’s tabling of Senator David Wanzenried’s proposal brought forward out of his work with the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) – SB4, which would create a standing water policy subcommittee of the EQC. Also on the agenda in Monday’s hearing was Senator Terry Murphy’s proposed SB22, which would have – as originally proposed – created a permanent water policy committee.

I blogged about SB4 last week.

The interim Water Policy Committee was created in the 2007 legislative session as a subcommittee of the Environmental Quality Council to address, specifically, water quality and policy issues. It was created out of a recognition that water issues are both important and complex – and a special committee was needed to focus on those issues. The interim committee was also tasked with determining whether a permanent subcommittee to the EQC had any advantages for addressing the water policy issues that are important to the citizens of Montana. In other words, was there really a need in addressing water quality, quantity and policy issues that wasn’t been adequately addressed in the EQC?

A brief explanation is needed. The interim water policy committee was a subcommittee of the EQC because the EQC has the statutory responsibility and authority over water quality issues. It is established under Title 5, Chapter 16 of the Montana Code. In other words – it’s pretty important that any committee dealing with water fall under the EQC because only the EQC has authority to perform the administrative rule review, draft legislation review, program evaluation, and monitoring functions of an interim committee for the DEQ, FWP and DNRC. See clause 10.

SB4 was tabled on a party-line vote. SB22 moved forward, despite its deficiencies which, notably, was its proposal to create an autonomous water policy committee. That was a party-line vote also. SB22 does not allow for the direction and oversight of the EQC.

Testimony given on Monday relayed this important deficiency in SB22 – that there were statutory obligations that needed to be met, and creating an autonomous committee only created more dysfunction and ensured further delay in legislation related to water quality issues.

In the infinite wisdom of what is now clearly becoming a political battle, rather than an issue-oriented meeting of the minds, Republicans voted to table SB4, and start tweaking the already weak SB22.

Now we have a bill that is moving to alter Title 5 and the Montana Code regulating the EQC. This is where things always start to get dicey. The advantage to SB4 was that it kept the current state law as it has been. It didn’t go tweaking with a whole bunch of other laws. It had undergone extensive review during the interim committee sessions this past year.

These changes are being done under the enormous work load and ticking time clock that we call Montana Legislative Session 2009. This is how disasters happen – how ineffective legislation is created, and how good intentions turn into monsters for the citizens of Montana.

It’s this boring stuff, people, that you all need to give some attention. The repercussions are enormous and costly.

Now we have a bill proposing to create an autonomous interim committee for water policy. It would set its own agenda despite the fact that EQC oversees legislation for DEQ, FWP and DNRC (the regulatory water agencies).

Any law that removes the word “shall” and changes it to “may” is a disaster waiting to happen. Note that change in SB22.

Another important aspect of SB4 is its elimination of restrictions on terms in the EQC. This is sorely needed as water becomes more and more an upfront issue needing action. Water issues are complex, and should not be politicized. They need expertise, which can only be gained through time. Look at it this way – as Montana grows, there’s less water to go around. I want – Montanans deserve – expertise on the legislature regarding water issues. Eliminating terms is one way to get ’em.

Wanzenried isn’t exactly a screaming crazed liberal (sorry Dave). He’s a legislator’s legislator who looks at the issues, absent of partisan politics, and seeks to mediate and get the job done. Tabling a bill that had oversight and review of both the interim committee and the Natural Resources Committee is foolhardy.

I call on the Natural Resources Committee to leave politics out of water issues. It isn’t about who proposed the darn piece of legislation, yet alone what the party affiliation was for who proposed it. It’s about good legislation. Quit messing with other laws that have been working just to fix a weak SB22. Untable SB4, and work together to make SB4 the best water legislation to come out of the Montana Legislature, ever.

~~~~

SB22 is being heard in the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Monday, at 8:30 a.m. Here is a list of the members:
Gebhardt, Kelly (Ch)
Barrett, Debby (V Ch)
Curtiss, Aubyn
Hansen, Ken
Kaufmann, Christine
Keane, Jim
Perry, Gary
Peterson, Jim
Steinbeisser, Donald
Tropila, Mitch
Wanzenried, David

You can submit pubic comment by emailing staffer Sonja Nowakowski and requesting distribution to committee members. I’ve also provided all the committee members email addresses above. Sonja’s email is snowakowski@mt.gov.

by jhwygirl

Bob Gentry over at Left in the West has a great breakdown of the failures of DEQ in permitting the Rock Creek silver mine which has been proposed for the Cabinet Mountains.

Montana Supreme Court threw out DEQ’s permit – remanding it back to the district court that had ruled in its favor – saying that failure to do a comprehensive nondegradation review of water quality and relying on a water treatment facility was a violation of state law. The court went on further to question DEQ’s reliance on a treatment facility that would essentially be needed forever, while failing to recognize that perpetual need. The court continued and even further, criticizing DEQ for placing an arbitrary bonding amount on said treatment facility without factoring in maintenance and the companies ability to maintain responsibility over the treatment facility which was key to DEQ’s original decision to waive off the water quality degradation review.

Aye yi yi…as I’ve said before: It makes me wonder what we don’t hear about.

Meanwhile, a blowout of the Big Dick Mine near Garrison – which happened sometime around Thanksgiving – has officials tasked with a problem to which they really haven’t even been able to grasp since it’s discovery just over two weeks ago.

The Big Dick Mine produced gold, silver, lead and other metals from 1905 until the ’40’s..and may have been opened up again in the ’70’s and ’80’s. In closing the mine, DEQ required that an earthen core be used to close the mine (according to the permit.) It is that earthen core that blew out once pressure built as water built up internally.

The mine is #68 on the state’s Abandoned Mine Priority List. There are over 300 mines on the list.

Check out the thumbnail pictures on the right – the second one from the top shows the force with which the mine blew.

At the first inspection, the force of he mine had destroyed a nearby road, knocked over some nearby buildings, and had contaminated 3 miles of the Little Blackfoot River. A waist-deep channel has been carved into the mountain, and the bright orange crap continues to flow at a rate of 5 to 20 gallons per minute.

Lovely.

The Little Blackfoot is that lovely little river that most people are familiar with as it snakes it way along Highway 12 on the way from Garrison to Helena. Fabulous for fishing, I saw 4 bald eagles fishing its waters this week. There is also a tremendous amount of agricultural activity along the river, with cattle ranchers relying on its waters for their agricultural operations.

Then again, I’ve told ya’all before – don’t kid yourself into thinking that Montana is an agricentric state anymore. We’ve got priorities, and they don’t include water for ag producers.

The blow out of this mine should raise concerns for water quality aficionados from Mineral, Missoula, Granite, Powell, Lewis & Clark and Lincoln counties, just to name a few. How many mines were filled with earthen cores without inspection to see whether subsurface water sources had been disturbed?

As precious metals rise in value, mining has increased in the area. How many of you all know that? How much scrutiny and monitoring is given to these mines? Does DEQ even have sufficient personnel to monitor this stuff?

What is a mine operators responsibility over these issues – and do they have any responsibility, given that the recent Montana Supreme Court decision shed light on DEQ’s arbitrary bonding amount requirements, and even worse, DEQ’s failure to require comprehensive degradation reviews.

It seems to me that ongoing monitoring is needed when someone (i.e., a mine operator) goes drilling into the earth. Water sources can be directly or indirectly disturbed, and without ongoing monitoring – and comprehensive inspection prior to closing – bad things can happen.

by jhwygirl

Groundwater sampling by the Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA), from Lolo to Darby, found acceptable levels for both human and aquatic standards of pesticides, along with unacceptable levels of nitrates in one monitoring well.

You all know what nitrates are, right?

Some of you might remember me writing about how filthy the Clark Fork is – so filthy that I won’t allow my dog to swim in it – and anyone who is hitting the Bitterroot in late summer can tell you that the release of this recent MDA test isn’t really new information. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that Montana’s streams and rivers and waterbodies are in trouble.

Oddly enough, a few days after writing the above post about the Clark Fork being too filthy for my dog, there were a notable number of calls to the County Health Department inquiring whether the Clark Fork was clean enough for caller’s pets. And regardless of what Peter Nielsen has to say, I’ll err on the safe side and keep it to Lolo Creek and the Blackfoot especially when it comes to late summer.

This recent revelation by the Ravalli Republic and MDA does have me wondering – How many groundwater monitoring wells do we have here in Missoula? Who is monitoring them? How often are they monitored? What are the recent results? I mean – when Peter Nielsen declared, in September (late summer, folks) that the Clark Fork was “safe” for pets – was he just referring to arsenic levels (which are – to remind you – at question, regardless of what DEQ, EPA and County officials are telling us)?

In other words – who is monitoring nitrate and pesticide and all that other “stuff” we’re hearing about that is in our water? Stuff like prescription drugs like anti-depressants and other mind-altering drugs?

This is where I wish I were a journalist, folks – because not only am I asking for these specific tests from DEQ, MDA EPA, etc., this is the kind of stuff that I’m looking at find some lab students at the university and/or some independent water lab to test some water samples to tell me how the data compares.

Water quality isn’t something we should be screwing around with or delaying or assuming is fine. Do remember, too, that in a recent audit, the EPA is questioning MT DEQ’s ability to protect water quality.

So – with THANKS to the Ravalli Republic for printing a story that was not to be found in any of the other state’s papers today – I ask: What is Montana Without Clean Water?

Someone, please, make me a bumpersticker!

by jhwygirl

Found in a comment buried in spam since this past Saturday, Pronghorn asks the question of whether crushed glass could be the answer to eliminating our need for gravel from open pit mines.

Not a bad question – and at the very least, isn’t it worth doing some cost analysis? While I realize that there will always be a need for gravel, how many new gravel pits could be eliminated by using crushed glass as a component of roads and roadbed construction?

Again – consider the closed industrial Stimson Mill, with the railroad that runs through it? Located right off of I-90? Isn’t railway transportation supposedly cheapest?

DEQ has its traveling crusher – and they’ve got this webpage with glass crushing information and other links, like one titled Market Development Work.

Imagine if that industrial wasteland and DEQ cleanup site could be turned into a regional recycling center, capitalizing on its location and optimum access to railway infrastructure?

Hell – I bet there’s even grants for stuff like that. Montana could probably use a regional recycling facility and processing plant. I mean, consider that Butte recently got a $10 million dollar (or some huge amount) silicone recycling plant, supported with some state economic grant, along with tax incentives.

Thanks Pronghorn.

by jhwygirl

That’s the question on Colstrip rancher Charles Kulver’s mind.

Mine too.

Charles has always been a bit wary of the multiple companies that are strip mining around Colstrip – and recently he came across an unauthorized dump on his property – part of what is apparently a ‘reclamation project’ of Western Energy.

When Kulver reported the 500 foot long, 20 foot wide, 12 foot deep mass of scrap wood, metal, plastics and reddish-brown soil – which also included a boiler and a barrel, from what could be seen, he was told by DEQ that, yes, the state does permit dumping of ‘inert’ ingredients into reclamations.

Lovely, right?

Unregulated, uninspected dumps of stuff.

Wasn’t it just the other day that I was pondering the cleanup sites that have yet to be found, and here we come, not even two weeks later with reports that reclamation sites go about, unregulated and uninspected, using ‘inert’ stuff as fill.

Let me make this clear – and a recent audit of DEQ exposes the inefficiencies – that not only is a lack of enforcement the problem, but the lack of staffing to do the enforcing.

So as this legislature begins to contemplate the next legislative session, perhaps a few of our elected officials – new or old – might consider that Montana’s citizen’s safety and Montana’s water quality and Montana’s citizen’s health depends upon having enough staffing to adequately inspect and oversee the permits which it issues for things like mines and reclamation projects?

Pretty please?

by jhwygirl

A landmark decision brings hope that Montana’s last surviving prehistoric fish, cut off by the receding of the glaciers, may survive. A most excellent piece of journalism from the Flathead Beacon. Make sure to check out that picture.

The Missoula Humane Society is sponsoring its first annual “Missoula Dog Style” show beginning at 11 a.m. this morning at Jacob’s Island Park. Contests like “most adorable dog,” “best sweater,” and “cutest puppy,” will raise some cash as part of a school project for 9 UM students. Footloose Montana and Dog Spaw will be there too – and Go Fetch! donated all the prizes.

one more animal story….

Who couldn’t love a face like this?pygmy-hippo

A rare pygmy hippo was born in Australia last month. Not much larger than a puppy, staff had to feed it with a dropper – and its herculean effort seems to have paid off. There’s video and a photo gallery.

I want one.

While Australian press must of missed CNN’s admission that it ‘faked’ the election night holograms– even though the faked versions were quite an effort – the story linked to above mentions two actual holograms that have been created.

Anyone watch the show “Bones”? They use a hologram on there, or a fake hologram – but either way, it’s pretty neat.

More DEQ woes – caught by Cesar Hernandez and Missoula Independent journalist Patrick Klemz. When will state elected official – executives and legislatures – stand up and take notice and DO SOMETHING?

DEQ is a mess. It’s due in large part to a terrible lack in staffing. And a reliance on self-reporting (as if!). People point to Wyoming as an industrial wasteland? Hell – take a look around – just the mere fact that Montana has not only the largest but the most EPA cleanup sites is a hint to that which hasn’t even been found. Peruse the DEQ website to get a sense of what we’ve got. The drop-down menu on the right is a good place to start.

When you have the EPA telling you that you aren’t protecting Montanan’s water, you know you’ve got problems, right?

Speaking of water….

Looks like Ravalli and Missoula aren’t the only counties with problems getting to streamside setback regulations. Flathead County is warming up to a showdown of sorts on the issue.

I mean – look at Ravalli County – they just elected a county commissioner (Iman) that sits on the Conservation District Board who campaigned on a theme of killing streamside setbacks. Tell me people aren’t whack about this issue?

I close by repeating: What is Montana without its water..its streams and rivers…its lakes?

Someone make me a bumpersticker, please!

by jhwygirl

My disdain for the negative reaction thrust upon those seeking public input on issues before the Board of County Commissioners, by the Board of County Commissioners, is something readers of this blog know well. It’s not something new, and goes back, even, to a post I wrote back nearly 2 years ago over at Left in the West.

More recently, the open pit mining issue facing the Lolo area once again raised my ire. The very real possibility of gravel pits being located in residential areas – unzoned as they may be – and the very real possibility of having multiple pits in your neighborhood (or in your backyard, front yard, side yard) has existed now for more than 2 years, and our County Commissioners have failed to act.

When one was proposed in the Lolo community, our Board of County Commissioners once again failed to act until they were backed into a corner. For months they ignored crowded public meetings and stacks of papers submitted by the neighbors, instead saying that they could rely on DEQ to do its job. Or perhaps I should say that the BCC failed to its job, granted to them through the zoning powers of the Montana Constitution, that allowed them to protect the health safety and welfare of its citizens.

One Lolo resident at the forefront was Michele Landquist, a 35 year resident of Missoula County, advocating for both her and her neighbors, but more importantly, the air and water quality of the neighborhood.

Much of Michele’s campaigning has been out in the rural areas of the county – not just Lolo, but Evaro, Clinton-Bonner, Miller Creek, Orchard Homes, Big Flat, Target Range, Grass Valley, Seeley and Frenchtown. She tells me that she has been well received.

Landquist has been a supporter of trying to find solutions through the Board of County Commissioners to create opportunities for more jobs in Missoula – which is one reason why the Indy’s endorsement of Larry Anderson has perplexed me. Saying we need to have a voice for business on the BCC (as if one doesn’t exist with both Jean Curtiss and Bill Carey.) Please!

Read between the lines there, and the suggestion by the Indy is that Curtiss and Carey are not voice for the business community. Does anyone who read this think that is true? That Jean Curtiss and Bill Carey are anti-business?

In Michele’s own words, she is running because:

I am running to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and everyone is treated with the respect they and their issues deserve. People bring problems to the BCC to solved. I want to work harder and think outside the normal box to find more win-win solutions for ALL the people.

Maybe Landquist isn’t the seasoned poltico that Anderson is, but everyone has to jump into the water somewhere to take that swim. Michele has been on the Lolo Watershed Committee (or whatever that is called), and any landowner with water rights knows that those committees aren’t exactly the most docile things going – Michele will give a fresh face to a good ole’ boys-and-gals club that has been the BCC for wayyyy too long.

I did, in fact, ask Landquist about the reasoning in the Indy, that she wasn’t experienced enough. Here’s what she said:

I would very much like the opportunity to swim. Living out in the county, how many choices/opportunities do I have to get involved politically? The future is now, this is a six year term and it will effect our future. The H20 work I did was with both the Watershed Education Network (WEN) as a Field Coordinator and with the Lolo Watershed Group (LWG) where I served with in a number a capacities the last title was Interim Executive Director. I worked myself through to that position by first being Co-coordinator, Coordinator, Project Manger and finally Interim Executive Director.

That’s not small potatoes in terms of experience now, is it?

County Commissioners are elected to office for 6 years. Ask yourself – do you want more of the same? Have you been happy with what has occurred over, say, the last 5 years? Did Anderson do anything different since he’s been on the BCC for more than a year now?

Do you want to be stuck with more of the same for the next 6 years?

Do you want to know that your voice will be heard when you want to speak?

2008 is looking to be the year of big change. Let’s make 2008 the year that the citizens and communities and neighborhoods of Missoula County get a true voice – and an open ear – on county issues.

Vote Michele Landquist for County Commissioner.

by jhwygirl

Boeing CEO’s are staring down a likely strike of its largest union – its mechanics. UPDATE: Looks like they did just that this morning.

I stand in support of the IAMAW.

The American Prospect ponders how conservative ideology and the religious right and teenage pregnancy all converge together in blissful celebration.

Teen birth rate statistics. Food for thought:

In 2000, teenage birthrates were highest in Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas and New Mexico. The states with the lowest teenage birthrates were New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Maine.

Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas and New Mexico vote how?

This probably makes conservatives shudder. Lord knows why, since they were championing Palin’s husband’s membership in a union out there on the convention floor on Wednesday night…but why is it only democrats take up the cause of the middle class?

On that note – check out SEIU. They are in the forefront – by miles – of working for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Some on city council have been advocating for an energy coordinator. If Fayetteville, Arkansas (pop. 68,700) can have one, maybe it’s not a bad idea? Fayetteville’s “sustainability coordinator” pays for himself in savings – and then there are the additional benefits reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Missoula’s population, BTW, is 67,200.

If city hall is anything like my office, people need to have someone running around turning off unattended computers, turning off lights, and paying attention to things like the air conditioning v. having some windows open.

Interesting article on Montana DEQ estimates for clean-up costs of the old Berg Lumber Mill outside of Helena. The 31 acre site is contaminated with petroleum, dioxins and penta. Clean-up for residential is estimated to be anywhere between $440,000 to more than $21 million, while clean-up for industrial use is estimated between $210,000 to more than $6 million. Northside residents here in Missoula are fighting for a full residential class cleanup of White Pine Slash’s site of the same toxins.

by jhwygirl

I ask that a lot lately, with all my writings on water rights and gravel pits.

So I came across an article on a joint effort of the Georgetown Lake Homeowners’ Association, the Granite Conservation District, Granite Headwaters Watershed Group and the Upper Clark Fork River Basin Steering Committee, which all joined together for a $109,000 grant from the Natural Resource Damage Program. The grant, coupled with $40,000 in matching funds from the DEQ, will allow a comprehensive study of water quality at Georgetown Lake.

In the article, it mentioned the state’s 303(d) list, officially named Montana’s List of Impaired Waters.

Never heard of that…so then I get to looking for the list, and through the information – the information doesn’t seem to be presented in a “list” form, so much as a database that you can search.

Depressing.

Seems here in Missoula, the rivers are doing a great job of supporting agriculture and industry, and not so much of a great job – or any job at all, in the case of the upper Clark Fork (and keep in mind the last data was 2006) – of supporting aquatic life, cold water fisheries, or, get this drinking water.

Some are partially supporting those things, and a whole bunch of others simply haven’t been assessed.

I won’t let my dog swim in the Clark Fork downtown. It’s filthy. I find it hard to believe that from Deerlodge to Missoula the Clark Fork is crap and from Missoula to the St.Regis it is in better shape. Or is it broken right there in Missoula so they can average out all the greater length with the 2 or 4 miles or so that weave through town? The part that is effectively a free-flowing nitrate river?

Remember the algae blooms of last year?

I wonder what the logic is that breaks up the stretches of rivers? Wouldn’t you think that the land uses, when they drastically change, play into it? As it is now, one section of the assessed Clark Fork runs from Deerlodge to the confluence of the Blackfoot and the Clark Fork. Then another from there to, basically, the Madison Street bridge. That makes sense (to me, at least). But then they take it from that point to about 3 river miles east of Tarkio. Huh? All the way through the City of Missoula, all the way through the zoned and well-developed area of the county – all the way past Smurfit Stone – and that is all one assessed area.

Does that make sense to you? Anyone?

I’m real curious what the water on paper water quality is of that stretch of the river from town to, oh, let’s say, Frenchtown. Shouldn’t that be something that it clearly makes sense to assess?

But then again – that might mean that Missoula would be forced to consider a far wider implementation of sewer for development, in the interest of protecting the state’s waterways. Instead of the overly-generous defacto rules currently in place that allow for one septic system per one acre of land.

Then again, there’s also that other overly-generous rule that exempts 35 gallon per minute wells from environmental review – one big SCREW YOU to senior water rights holders everywhere.

Wouldn’t want to impact developers, would we now?

I guess as long as you don’t have open sewage running off into the river, it all looks good. Now, seepage? That’s a whole other thing, but we can’t see that…

In all honestly – I find myself wondering what the 303(d) list does. Does it just make us aware? In a very unaware way? It is supposed to make us (don’t know who that “us” is, BTW) feel good? That we’ve “assessed” the rivers? Are we (the State of Montana) just doing that and walking away?

I mean – the State of Montana has been assessing waterways since 1996. Is that all we’ve been doing since 1996? It’s not like I’ve heard of any concerted efforts to remedy the issues.

Or is this one of those legislative feel-good things where some law was passed to assess the rivers, but no follow-up was done to see what we do once the assessments have identified issues?

Time’s a wastin’ on this stuff people. Consider asking your legislative candidate – whomever they may be – where they stand on water quality issues. Ask them specifics – ask them how they feel about exemptions for 35 gallon per minute wells. Ask them how they feel about septic seepage zones that lie outside of the lots which they serve. Ask them how they feel about having individual septic systems and 35 gpm wells exempted from environmental review.

Then vote accordingly.

by jhwygirl

Posting has been light for me – apologies. Housesitting in the Bitterroots put my priorities elsewhere, and once I got back into town, I had to begin the preparations for a week at the DNC.

Shakespeare & Co.’s Emily posts her thoughts and recent experiences with healthcare – and along the way, recommends a good book. Check it out.

Montana DEQ has hired 12 new people, although, apparently not for the open pit mining division, which has been having such a horrible time.

Sigh.

Spelling fanatics have been correcting vandalizing historic signs. They’ve gotten busted and have plead guilty. And example of what made them do it:

After correcting a misplaced apostrophe and comma, Deck reported, he was aghast to discover what he described as a made-up word: “emense.”

“I was reluctant to disfigure the sign any further, so we had to let the other typo stand. Still, I think I shall be haunted by that perversity.”

Come on – that is TOO funny, isn’t it?

The Big Foot thing I posted about last week is a hoax.

Oh, well….

Speaking of last week, I also commented on how young those Chinese gymnasts looked. Apparently, evidence has surfaced that one of them is only 14 – the one that took gold from Nastia Luikin. The IOC is investigating, and experts say taht it could be years before we find the truth. Or never.

The United State’s Terror Watch List has hit 1,000,000 people.

One Million? Seriously? This Bush Administration is making Nixon and Stalin, and, come to think of it, Putin, all look like a pansies.

And that’s the world from my margarita’d perspective. Enjoy.

by jhwygirl

I noticed KPAX covered DEQ’s – or should I say Montana’s – woes in last night’s 10 o’clock news coverage. Good for them. ‘Bout time some local media start taking notice over these environmental issues. KPAX is underrated, I think. They do the very best fire coverage, and they catch some stuff that you won’t see on KECI.

If you missed my last post on DEQ, DEQ in Disgrace, you need to go back and read it. Like the title above says, there is only so much I can fit into one post.

With that being said, here are two items I missed:

Four conservation groups are suing DEQ to stop the Rock Creek Mine, a silver-and-copper mine proposed for the Cabinet Wilderness. DEQ is saying that no water quality permit needs to be issued, and the groups are saying that it endangers sensitive bull trout. DEQ attorney John North declined to comment, while Revett Minerals Inc. Vice-President Carson Rife says that the suit is “baseless.” This apparently isn’t the first lawsuit to stop the mine – according to the Billings Gazette, “lawsuits are piling up.”

Two other environmental groups filed suit against the DEQ earlier this month (gee, isn’t it only the 14th!?), charging that and air quality permit issued for a coal-fired plant in Great Falls isn’t limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The plant is being developed by Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission. Pete did a previous post on this very plant here.

That’s a tough one, folks. I hate coal – I think we should be moving far away from carbon-based fuels, and, besides that, isn’t there a whole bunch of wind up there in Great Falls? The plant, though, will be owned and operated right here in Montana. The electricity it generates will be used here. BUT, DEQ does have a job to do. Air and water, guys – DO YOUR JOB. GET IT RIGHT. If you had, you wouldn’t be getting sued. At the very least, you’d of involved the public enough that you wouldn’t be sitting in this situation.

Beyond that, isn’t Great Falls going to get a coal gasification plant up there by the air base? That would be exempt from any state rules – and hell, it might even be exempt under federal regulatory authority. Coal plants are bad ju-ju for the lungs, folks. It’s no wonder people in Great Falls are speaking out.

Speaking of speaking out: Electric City Weblog, BTW, has been doing some excellent stuff on this issue, right out of ground central, the City of Great Falls.

That’s the short of it…I’m going to have to go back and retag all my old posts on water quality and septic permits and gravel pits with “DEQ” – 4&20 is turning into a DEQ clearinghouse.

by jhwygirl

Jay’s got a piece up at Left in the West calling on the Governor to show MT DEQ Director Opper the door….and having read the newest story from the Great Falls Tribune on the mistrials of Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality, I have to wonder whether anything less would suffice.

The Missoula Independent’s George Ochenski is saying it too: Out with Opper: Disarray, dysfunction plague state’s DEQ “

Let me just say this %&#* pains me. For multiple reasons.

In its latest trials and tribulations, a recently released legislative audit memo of the water protection bureau of the DEQ gives us the gory details:

90 of 172 Montana Discharge Elimination Elimination System permits expired

27 of 70 Montana Ground Water Pollution Control System permits expired

171 of 1,155 general permits for storm water and concentrated animal feed operations expired

Yikes, right?

Both the DEQ and the DNRC have gotten into trouble, recently, for not issuing permits within legislatively mandated timelines. DEQ has been forced, via court order, to issue open pit mining permits despite the lack of adequate review – and it isn’t as simple as blaming it on the courts – and the DNRC was told to issue a community well permit, after it was denied, for a subdivision in Gallatin County.

In that case, Judge Brown wrote in his decision: “The DNRC must act expeditiously, within the time required by law, and failure to do so results in the approval, as a matter of law, of the requested action.”

So much for senior water rights holders, I guess.

DEQ’s woes are troublesome. They are required with the federal Clean Water Act. The department’s 2003 agreement with EPA called for the backlog of permits to be reduced to less than 10% by July 2004. As of September 2007, EPA statistics show that the bureau has only issued 36% of its major permits, 47% of its minor permits, and 31% of its general permits. The legislative memo states “The bureau does not appear to have the processes in place to effectively manage its workload.

It gets worse.

The EPA has raised concerns about the ability of DEQ to protect water quality.

What?!

According to Julie DalSoglio, deputy director of the EPA Region 8 Montana office, the Water Quality Bureau has caused the agency “major concern” for at least five years.

Failure to meet EPA permit backlog reduction goals could result in loss of both federal funding and the state’s delegated authority. In February 2008, the EPA issued a strongly worded letter to the department expressing concern with the department’s commitment to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issuance. The letter stated the department’s permit issuance goals were insufficient to eliminate the permit backlog. The letter also stated the next Performance Partnership Agreement would not be approved without an acceptable plan to resolve permit backlogs, which is to include a multiyear backlog reduction plan with real milestones. It is unknown what effect continued discharges under expired MPDES and MGWPCS permit standards have on the quality of state waters.

I’ll repeat myself here: What is Montana without its rivers and streams?

It can get worse: In a smoke-and-mirrors move, DEQ has reduced its commitment goals to the EPA for the number of permits the agency planned to issue in 2008, in an attempt to create the short-term appearance of success. This is evidenced by a February 20th letter obtained by the Great Fall Tribune’s Capitol Bureau on July 7th. In it EPA assistant regional administrator Stephen Tuber harshly criticized DEQ Director Richard Opper’s agency’s handling of the water quality permitting process. In the letter, Tuber accused the DEQ of reducing the commitment goals for the number of permits the agency planned issue in 2008 in order to create a short-term appearance of success.

Have I said that the Great Falls Tribune rocks? Cause they do. They’re the only paper, it seems covering these issues. Very thoroughly, I might add.

The water protection bureau is divided into two sections – permitting and compliance/technical support. As of February – according to the memo – the permitting staff (a measly 15 people, statewide) was vacant by 3 people (1/5th). The compliance/technical staff – a whopping 10 full-time people, statewide, had 5 assigned to compliance. That leaves 5 technical specialists to support the permitting AND compliance staff.

So not only do they not have enough staff to comply with legislatively mandated deadlines, they don’t seem to be doing anything to deal with the issue. In a May 12th meeting before the legislative Environmental Quality Council, both staff and Director Opper were asked about staffing and whether there were any steps being taken to request additional staffing and funding for the next legislative session.

The staffer stammered a non-answer and referred it to Opper, who stumbled out a statement saying that they were in a “belt-tightening session” and “working closely with the governor’s staff” on the upcoming budget.

Listen to the minutes of that meeting. There’s some eye-opening statements in there on some of our Republican legislature’s view of the role of environmental regulation. Senator Jim Shockley (R-Victor) is downright gleeful over gravel permits being issued without review.

All of this raises some serious concerns over staffing levels for some of the most important departments which regulate some of the most basic elements of Montana’s citizen’s needs: water and water quality.

We have department directors and bureau chiefs who apparently won’t (or can’t) do their job – inadequate staffing and budget quite apparently some of the greatest instigators – and an executive office which is pushing them towards “belt-tightening” when courts are shredding our Title IX Montana Constitutional rights and our Title 75 Montana Code Annotated laws.

We need leadership, not smoke-and-mirrors and dancing around the elephant that is stomping on our water rights and water qualities.

Take notice, Governor Schweitzer. Stand up, show us that Brand New Day you promised us 4 years ago.

by jhwygirl

Prompted by a Great Falls Tribune article titled Audit digs up problems with gravel pit program, written, incidentally, by former Missoula Independent write and newspaper reporter extraordinaire John S. Adams, I went searching for the legislative audit referred to in the article.

Boy, if you were pissed off about DPHSS employees playing solitaire on their computers, get this: Even though DEQ has a backlog of open cut mining (gravel pit) permits and courts are issuing these things within 30 days, irregardless of review, DEQ employees are drafting the applications for the mine operators.

Lovely.

More? How about this: A key tax, which is supposed to be collected by the Department of Revenue, isn’t being collected, mainly due to the lack of notification of the issuance of these open cut mining/gravel pit permits by DEQ.

Now, 92% of the funding for the open cut mining/gravel permit program come from the Resource Indemnity and Groundwater Assessment Tax (RIGWAT), yet 94% (94%?!) of the operators were not paying the tax.

There’s plenty more, but let me just point out one more tidbit: While these permits can have enormous impact on a community, and more specifically, a neighborhood and surrounding private property values, health and air quality, and rights, there is no legally explicit requirement for public notification. MEPA requirements result in some notification during scoping, but selection as to whom is notified is informal, and varies depending on a variety of factors. Further, considering the permits-must-be-issued-in-60-days rule that is currently the rage in state district courts, lack of laws and process for public notification may be effectively neutralized.

Ahh, the sad state of DEQ and the Montana Environmental Protection Act.

Someone needs get our legislators an attorney or two, and tell them that they actually have to listen to them. Whoever put the word “shall” into the 60-day permitting requirement should be strung up by his toes and dipped in Lake McDonald. In mid-January.

A summary of the legislative audit is here. The full report, here.

~~~~~~~~
In another aside, Helena Sand & Gravel, which was issued a gravel permit under court order due to the passing of the 60-day deadline, promptly violated its permit by utilizing a residential road for access. Neighbors complained, Sand & Gravel was told by DEQ to halt, and yet they continued to roll through the neighborhood. DEQ Director Opper is “frustrated” and says that the firm may be penalized for violating its permit.

How about shall be penalized, Director Opper? What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.

by jhwygirl

On the heels of recent District Court rulings from Judge Jeffrey Sherlock and Judge Dorothy McCarter, which require DEQ to issue open-cut mining (i.e., gravel pit) permits without the constitutionally required environmental (MEPA) review, Missoula County Commissioners – sounding somewhat reluctant – emergency zoned an area south of Lolo for only residential uses.

For example, regarding my “reluctant” assessment of their vote, there was this lovely quote from Bill Carey, one of our County Commissioners:

“It’s unfortunate that JTL has had to go through this,” said Commissioner Bill Carey. “It is a vital product and they’re good corporate citizen and they have a legitimate grievance.”

At the same time, Carey went on to say that, “we have to protect the public’s health, welfare and safety.”

Good corporate citizens Bill? What about those other regular ole’ citizens living next door? What are they? Chicken feed?

Then there was a quote from Commissioner Jean Curtiss, saying that Friday’s action “puts us in a bad position.” The Missoulian goes on further with that citation, saying that commissioners said they felt they had to act quickly, because Knife River is going to court Monday to seek permission to force the state Department of Environmental Quality to issue a permit for the plant.

And – just who’s role is it to protect Missoula County’s health, welfare and safety? That, Missoula County Commissioners, is delegated from the state to local government. Just so you know

Now I find myself digressing to a lecture on our local government’s role in protecting our rights, and my disgust with our local government in passing-the-buck to the State which results, frankly, in bigger government for everyone in the state when our problems should be kept here in Missoula.

While DEQ, yes, should be doing its MEPA reviews and DEQ, yes, should be staffed and funded adequately – it’s Missoula County’s tendency to play the victim (Plum Creek Timber? Oh, I forgot, that’s the USFS’ fault. Exempt wells and well seepage zones? Oh, I forgot, that’s DEQ’s fault.) that drives me nuts.

Are Missoulians supposed to wait around for the state to solve our health, safety and welfare problems? Apparently, according to our county commissioners.

Does the state have a role here, too, to protect our rights? Absolutely. But – a big BUT, I guess – given the circus that is our state legislature, and the competing politics and the role that lobbyists play in our laws, Missoula can’t afford to sit around and wait for the eons it will take to get legislation to the legislature, yet along put into action. If other areas of the state want to sit around and wait – and this, apparently, isn’t what Lewis & Clark and Gallatin counties are doing – then by all means, go ahead. Missoulians, I suggest, demand action now.

Just one more, before I walk away from this for now, lest I regress further – A short comment on a statement made yesterday by David Zinke, vice president and general manager of Knife River Corp., the subsidiary of JTL Group Inc. Zinke is bringing his call to the courts this upcoming Monday to force DEQ to issue his open cut mining permit ASAP, on the heels of those recent court ruling (story linked to above).

Zinke lamented yesterday “It’s sad for business and land-use rights.”

No, Mr. Zinke, it’s a triumph for citizens and private property rights.

{addendum: There’s been a ton of posts in this blog regarding this issue, and the broader issue of zoning. Too many to link to in this post, but if you have time, I suggest using our nifty search engine there on the upper right and entering either ‘zoning’ or ‘gravel’ or ‘lolo’ or ‘DEQ’ and you’ll come up with a bunch of older posts on the subject of zoning and/or gravel pits and/or DEQ.}

by jhwygirl

It could be if you live in an unzoned area of Missoula County – as Greenough and Lolo residents know. It’s also a potential if you live anywhere else in Montana that is unzoned – which is, ah, like most of the state.

Look – this stuff isn’t hysterics here, folks – even though I’ve blogged about this One, Two, Three, Four times here – and even once at Left in the West. It’s reality. The potential of multiple gravel pits surrounding your house, in fact, is a very real possibility.

Just ask Kathy Brekke, of Gallatin County, about the possibility of gravel pits surrounding your home.

And playing the Missoula County Poor Poor Pitiful Me thing after the fact – much like our local officials are doing right now over the whole Plum Creek/USFS fiasco (all an excuse to not zone, if you ask me) isn’t going to work.

Especially here in Missoula, where our county commissioners, supported by County Attorney Mike Sehested, have stood by and done nothing when other counties – Gallatin and Lewis & Clark come to mine – have at least attempted to stop the gravel pit lunacy.

Someone please explain to me how our county attorneys (here and here) can have such a starkly different opinion as to whether citizen-initiated emergency zoning is so impossible due to state regulation of gravel pits when other county attorneys quite apparently think differently?

Once a gravel pit is proposed, it’s already too late. Same with those subdivisions and their exempted 35 gpm wells and their 100-foot well isolations zones that can be on your property and their septic tank seepage zones that can be on your property. State blames county, county blames state – guess who’s left holding the bucket?

Put your boots on folks, ’cause that bucket’s getting mighty full.

With regards to gravel pits, it is already too late thanks to recent court rulings that have directed MT DEQ to issue gravel permits after 30 days irregardless of MEPA review – that is, in the absence of MEPA review.

How our state courts can do this – with utter disregard for our Montana Constitution, Article IX, which requires that “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations,” is mystifying.

Frankly, it illustrates quite well the ineptitude of our legislature, at times – because approving a law that requires permits to be issued in 30 days, without addressing potential (potential? who’d of seen that one here, huh?) constitutional conflicts seems pretty inept. And cutting back or not increasing the amount of staff to meet those constitutional obligations also shows ineptitude.

I mean, how do they do this stuff? “Yep, 30 days, sounds good to me – I know I wouldn’t want to have to wait for a permit for a 20 year operation of a gravel pit for more than 30 days – sure, I’ll vote for that,” – is that how they do it? Do these guys even realize the work load of the current staff and that public scoping is, at minimum, typically 2 weeks?

It’s also showing ineptitude on DEQ’s part too – Has DEQ asked for any funding or personnel on their latest wish lists? Nope. That bureaucratic ineptitude, folks, in the face of Judge Sherlock’s recent ruling where he did not fault the DEQ for the agency’s inability to complete the environmental analysis, writing that the department has “insufficient personnel and resources” to do so.

Look Missoula – you have three great-at-playing-the-victim commissioners – Larry Anderson, Bill Carey and Jean Curtiss all standing by and doing nothing. You have a Governor who is also taking a laissez-faire attitude, and a Department of Environmental Quality that is taking a (dare I say) criminally negligent approach to environmental review.

George Ochenski of the The Missoula Independent, writes of the situation – and closes by calling on the Good Governor with this statement:

This is no way to run a state—especially Montana. The “new day” we were promised by Gov. Schweitzer appears to be dawning in the din and dust of unregulated mines. Schweitzer could call a special legislative session to change the law immediately. The question is: Will he?

So here’s my closing statement: Governor Schweitzer – our rights to a clean environment are being ignored by your administration and by our state courts. Open pit mining should not go unregulated or unscrutinized, nor should it be rubber-stamped. The DEQ is showing some serious signs of not only ineptitude, but lack of funding and staffing. DO SOMETHING.

And to my Missoula County Commissioners – QUIT PLAYING THE VICTIM, even though you do it so well, AND DO SOMETHING TOO.

by jhwygirl

This is a good Friday-afternoon-at-the-office project.

The Missoula Water Quality District, MT DEQ and others are sponsoring a free electronics recycling Saturday at the Missoula Fairgrounds, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

A lot of that e-waste is pretty toxic – and this is a great opportunity to keep it out of landfills.

First 5 items are free, additional items are $1. All cell phones, rechargeable batteries and computer peripherals are free. If you have 10 items or more, call 800-433-8773 to register.

For additional information, contact Sandra Boggs at MT DEQ, 406-841-5217.

by jhwygirl

corrected: I had the day wrong. The meeting is tonight, not Wednesday as I had originally posted. Thanks JG! The Staff report for Linda Vista is now online, too. Thanks Roger!

There are actually two scary applications before the Consolidated Planning Board tonight. One is an up-zoning in Linda Vista. It is a request to put 293 units on 93.6 acres (that’s 3.1 units per acre). The current zoning is 1 unit per 5. I’m sure it’s all in the name of “affordable housing” – but since the staff report and none of the supporting documentation is online, and since the staff recommendation is who-in-the-world-knows-what, I’ll move on to the even scarier rezoning.

Here is a link to the Linda Vista staff report. Staff is recommending a string of denials.

Lord knows a rezoning request like Linda Vista is enough to pack the halls of City Council to standing room only crowd. Gotta wonder what the White Pine Sash rezoning will do, with the Northside neighborhood within walking distance.

Even scary is the rezoning request for the former White Pine Sash site by Scott Street Partners. The current zoning is D (Industrial), and the request is to up-zone to I-1 (Industrial). D-zoning is a lighter industrial zoning designation because it allows for the same uses as I-1, but notably, D-zoning allows for residential uses. This is key to the whole story: residential uses.

The White Pine Sash site has been designated by the State as a Superfund Cleanup Site. The historic use of pentachlorophenol at this site has contaminated the site’s surface soils with pentachlorophenol (penta) and dioxin. Penta and dioxins were used on the site (from the 19330’s to 1987), in the form of a dipping tank, to soak window sashes and doors as a way of reducing the potential for mold and fungi infestations.

When White Pine Sash closed in 1996, it was owned by Huttig Building Products, a subsidiary of Crane Company – a multi-national business that has been the a principal in a number of other, much higher profile, environmental cleanup cases. It is no stranger to how superfund processes work. (I found one in New Jersey, and another in Phoenix.)

In 1989 DEQ discovered penta soaked soils while overseeing the removal of underground storage tanks. Removal of which was funded, BTW, with $450,000 from the Montana Petroleum Release and Compensation Fund. That fund gets its money from a state fuel tax.

In 1993, groundwater was sampled and found to contain contamination from petroleum products, penta and dioxins. Hutting, and by extension, Crane Co., has been named the responsible party and is liable, under the Montana’s Superfund Law, for testing and remediation costs.

But here’s the kicker: In 1999 Hutting sold the property in two parcels – one to Zip Beverages (12 acres) and 30 acres to Scott Street Partners. In 2000, the combined Zip and Scott Street Development group sold sold a combined 15.5 acres site to the City of Missoula for $1.5 million, and for all purposes recovered their original investment.

The City – in typical “build first, ask for forgiveness later” developer mode (or “do as I say, not as I do”) – rezoned its parcel and built its vehicle office and maintenance site, absent of the required DEQ remediation plan. Ultimately, they did submit a cleanup plan to residential standards for a playing field that they and the combined Zip Beverages/Scott Street Partners donated, and a commercial standard cleanup for the vehicle maintenance site.

And here we come to another key element: DEQ regulations for cleanup standards differ when the potential for residential development exists. This is why Scott Street Partners is requesting a rezoning to I-1 – they want to eliminate the potential for residential developement, thereby reducing the level of cleanup required by DEQ.

Let me be clear: This rezoning, if it happens, will leave penta, petroleum and dioxins – all known carcinogens – in the soils, mere inches above the Missoula aquifer.

Now, DEQ has been relatively mealy-mouthed on this – and their letter of comment, in and of its own, makes no specific mention of the ramifications to the citizens of Missoula should this rezoning occur. Shame on DEQ.

Here’s a red flag: When a bureaucrat starts using words like “policy” and “rules” and “regulation”, that usually means that they are bastardizing the law. Not all the time (I’m not that cynical), but usually. In this case, if you clicked on the link above, DEQ is bastardizing the same law at least twice: Once when they refer to policy which won’t let them comment on a city-action (but it let them declare the site a Superfund Site), which shirks their lawful responsibility to provide us with a “clean and healthful environment”, which is guaranteed to us by our Montana Constitution; and secondly when they, being DEQ, creates a rule that says that the clean and healthful environment guarantee to our aquifer (in this case) discerns itself between the zoning and whether residential uses are possible at the location. How the aquifer can do that is beyond me.

That being said, Missoulians and the MT DEQ (despite their less-than-honorable behavior thus far) should expect nothing less than a complete clean up of an aquifer being polluted with carcinogenics. In fact, I suggest an email not only to city council and the planning board, but also to DEQ, telling them to support the Missoula Office of Planning & Grants in its recommendation of denial to the rezoning application.

You can email the director of DEQ, Richard Opper, at ropper@mt.gov.
You can email the Planning Board at opg@co.missoula.mt.us.
You can email the City Council at council@ci.missoula.mt.us.

~~~~~

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I hope that Bob Oaks remembers that if he reads this, because he will know that I essentially plagiarized most of this information from him. Bob Oaks is Director of the North Missoula Community Development Corporation and he wrote an excellent piece that takes this whole issue to task quite a bit more thoroughly that that which I outlined above. If you aren’t outraged yet, you will be when you go over and read his piece.

by jhwygirl

The release says temporarily – up to 12 months. Yeah, right.

It gets nastier – KPAX is reporting that Jeff Weber, Stimson’s Vice-President of Manufacturing, said that “a shortage of raw logs and a slumping U.S. housing market are to blame for the closing of the mill.”

A shortage of raw logs? He’s still going to slip that lie in on his way out the door? A slumping housing market isn’t enough?

Always serving the corporate interests first. Thank you Ma Stimson.

Ugh.

DEQ should start looking, now, into the state’s next EPA cleanup site before Stimson breaks ground and runs. Decades of chemicals stored and soaked onto timbers in those yards out there – God knows why Scott Cooney wants the land.

Talk to any old timer and they’ll tell you stories of barrels of crap sprayed and poured on timbers and logs out there for supplying the mining and railroads.

Perhaps Cooney and Stimson have a plan for hiding all the crap there in the ground?

On the other hand, Cooney is already raising the rents on the homes in Bonner.

Wasn’t he championing his development plans as those that will provide affordable housing for Missoula’s workforce? I’m too disgusted to go looking for the story – I remember Missoulapolis also championing Cooney’s “affordable housing” plans.

100 more Missoula workers are out of a job tonight, folks.

My heart goes out to those families.

~~~~
Other 4&20 posts on Stimson:
Why Stimson Lumber Mill Matters
The Mysteries of Stimson
Stimson Needs a Bigger Yard?
On Regurgitating Stimson Lies, False Economic Development and Affordable Housing
A Short Thought on the Bitteroot Resort

by jhwygirl

I will admit I didn’t fully read through the Missoulian’s article on the proposed Lolo gravel pit before I posted this the other day. Not only did I know exactly where DEQ was coming from (after I read the first few lines), but I also knew that the Missoula Board of County Commissioners knew of the previous state legislation regarding gravel pits, and have failed to act to prevent exactly that which is proposed in Lolo.

And that was over 2 years ago.

Plus the idea that the BCC would push for DEQ to hold public meetings, I saw, as a way of passing-the-buck….all things considered when you understand their knowledge concerning gravel pits and zoning. It made them look like they were trying to do something about it – placating the public – when, in fact, they’ve not done anything for over 2 years. Blame it on DEQ (yeah, that’s who’s fault it is!)

That’s the curmudgeon in me, I guess.

So I finally read through the Missoulian piece, and I see where land-use attorney and Lolo resident Myra Shults has asked the county commissioners to emergency zone the neighborhoods that sandwich the proposed JTL gravel pit site. Seems she’s gathered signatures too – although I don’t know how many. Given the large attendance at a Lolo community meeting last week, I’d say she’s probably got more than a few.

Ms. Shults has presented the county commissioners with two petitions – one to emergency zone, the other for permanent zoning.

County Attorney Mike Sehestedt, it appears, is concerned that the petitions might amount to “spot zoning” – he is, as the paper reports, looking into whether zoning a small portion of Lolo could be challenged as “spot zoning.”

Upon hearing that, I’d think that Ms. Shults has continued to gather more signatures.

But I can’t help but wonder – If zoning a small portion of Lolo is “spot zoning” – does that make all the Citizen-Initiated Zoning Districts that Missoula County “spot zoned?” I mean, how many of those were there? 44? 45? They’re everywhere. Are those “spot zoned,” those small areas all over the county?

Here’s a page from Missoula Office of Planning and Grants (remember, Google is your friend) with information on citizen-initiated zoning districts.

I wait with baited breath, Mr. Sehestedt’s opinion………

by jhwygirl

DEQ officials are letting everyone know that only zoning can stop a gravel pit proposed by JTL up near Lolo.

No surprise there – legislation passed in the 2005 session made that true. It’s not like the county commissioners didn’t know it either – they did an emergency resolution related to that ’05 legislation back in October 2005.

The ’05 state legislation, BTW, was the result of a similar situation in Flathead County.

So who’s to blame – DEQ, JTL or the Missoula BCC?

And – believe it or not – I have another case for county-wide zoning just waiting to be written.




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