Study finds widespread groundwater pollution on Montana reservation
The U.S. Geological Survey began studying the aquifer underlying the Fort Peck Reservation in 1989, and in 1997, a plume of briny water found in the aquifer was tied to the East Poplar Oil Field in the southeastern quadrant of the reservation, which is still producing, and the latest study estimated the contamination at 15 to 37 billion gallons spread across 17.9 square miles.
Billings Gazette; April 25
Philanthropic groups step in to help on national park projects
As federal budgets shrink, the backlog on projects in the United States' national park system grows, but in Yosemite National Park and others, philanthropic groups are stepping in with funding to get things done.
New York Times; April 25
In 2013, New Belgium Brewing, the Fort Collins, Colo.-based purveyor of libations like Fat Tire and Ranger, whipped up exactly 792,292 barrels of beer. Considering each barrel is capable of filling somewhere in the range of 60 six-packs, that production made for plenty of happy drinkers (including, on more than one occasion, yours truly). But New Belgium also satisfied non-human consumers, too, by selling 64 million pounds of “spent grain” — the ingredients left behind after the brewing process — to beef and dairy farmers, who feed the porridge-like substance to their cows.
“For hundreds of years, brewers have had this great symbiosis with farmers,” says Bryan Simpson, New Belgium’s director of media relations. “It’s a very elegant system.”
While many operations give away their used grains, selling the stuff can be a lucrative sideline: Spent grain goes for about $50 per ton nationwide, and total annual sales add up to around $160 million (most of it to the big boys, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors). Now, though, brewers claim this centuries-old harmony is threatened by new Food and Drug Administration rules that could make it harder for beer-makers to sell or donate their spent grain as cattle feed.
As winter fades to bright green spring in northwest Montana, three men are hitting the pavement in the towns of Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls, shaking hands at local businesses and visiting Rotary Clubs like politicians on the campaign trail. The comparison isn’t far off: the men are the new faces of Glacier National Park, and they’re eager to build relationships with the surrounding communities.
Among them are new park superintendent Jeff Mow and the CEO of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, Mark Preiss, who’s arrived with a plan to triple his organization’s annual giving. The most-discussed newcomer, however, is Xanterra, the giant concessionaire owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz. Last fall, the National Park Service ended a long-standing relationship with former concessionaire Glacier Park, Inc. (GPI) — which has been part of Glacier since the park’s inception in 1910 — and granted Xanterra a 16-year contract to operate Glacier’s lodges, dining establishments and fleet of red busses.
Critics of the decision dismiss Xanterra’s arrival as a Walmart-esque takeover — another example of a national corporation monopolizing its industry and giving a local business the boot. But though Xanterra’s presence in town hasn’t been without controversy (and its first season hasn’t yet begun), the company has thus far proven a good neighbor. The third member of the trio is former GPI employee Marc Ducharme, who’s been hired to manage Xanterra’s operations in the park. Other GPI employees have also been put into high-ranking positions. And with GPI maintaining a presence at several private lodges, the new deal may ultimately mean more jobs for the region.
Montana FWP to consider smaller-scale bison plan
On Wednesday, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Jeff Hagener told the Associated Press that the state's plan to restore wild bison may start with a pilot project of 50 to 100 animals, rather than the earlier proposal of 1,000 bison to restore the wild bison.
Billings Gazette (AP); April 24
Group files lawsuit to reclassify grizzlies in Montana's Yaak area
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a lawsuit in federal court in Montana seeking reclassification of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears in northwestern Montana from threatened to endangered.
Flathead Beacon (AP); April 24
Railroad bottleneck delays delivery of Montana, Wyoming coal
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said coal reserves are at 6-year lows, and coal companies said delays in shipping coal caused by congestion on railways is to blame for the low reserves.
Billings Gazette; April 22
Utah conference focuses on states' rights to federal lands
Last week, legislators from Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Utah met to discuss avenues to transfer federal lands to states' control.
Deseret News; April 19
Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.
ARIES (March 21-April 19): If for some inexplicable reason you are not simmering with new ideas about how you could drum up more money, I don't know what to tell you—except that maybe your mother lied to you about exactly when you were born. The astrological omens are virtually unequivocal: If you are a true Aries, you are now being invited, teased, and even tugged to increase your cash flow and bolster your financial know-how. If you can't ferret out at least one opportunity to get richer quicker, you might really be a Pisces or Taurus. And my name is Jay Z.
TAURUS (April 20-May 20): You remind me of a garden plot that has recently been plowed and rained on. Now the sun is out. The air is warm. Your dirt is wet and fertile. The feeling is a bit unsettled because the stuff that was below ground got churned up to the top. Instead of a flat surface, you've got furrows. But the overall mood is expectant. Blithe magic is in the air. Soon it will be time to grow new life. Oh, but just one thing is missing: The seeds have yet to be sewn. That's going to happen very soon. Right?
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Here's an excerpt from "Celestial Music," a poem by Louise Gluck: "I'm like the child who buries / her head in the pillow / so as not to see, the child who tells herself / that light causes sadness." One of your main assignments in the coming weeks, Gemini, is not to be like that child. It's true that gazing at what the light reveals may shatter an illusion or two, but the illumination you will be blessed with will ultimately be more valuable than gold.
CANCER (June 21-July 22): Would you like to forge new alliances and expand your web of connections and get more of the support you need to fulfill your dreams? You are entering the Season of Networking, so now would indeed be an excellent time to gather clues on how best to accomplish all that good stuff. To get you started in your quest, here's advice from Dale Carnegie: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Does Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt run faster than any person alive? As far as we know, yes. He holds three world records and has won six Olympic gold medals. Even when he's a bit off his game, he's the best. At the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, he set the all-time mark for the 100-meter race—9.69 seconds—despite the fact that one of his shoelaces was untied and he slowed down to celebrate before reaching the finish line. Like you, Bolt is a Leo. I'm making him both your role model and your anti-role model for the foreseeable future. You have the power to achieve something approaching his levels of excellence in your own field—especially if you double-check to make sure your shoelace is never untied and especially if you don't celebrate victory before it's won.
VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): In his unpublished book The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig coins new words that convey experiences our language has not previously accounted for. One that may apply to you sometime soon is "trumspringa," which he defines as "the temptation to step off your career track and become a shepherd in the mountains, following your flock between pastures with a sheepdog and a rifle, watching storms at dusk from the doorway of a small cabin." To be overtaken by trumspringa doesn't necessarily mean you will literally run away and be a shepherd. In fact, giving yourself the luxury of considering such wild possibilities may be a healing release that allows you to be at peace with the life you are actually living.
The night in April 2011 when a nearly 500,000-pound Imperial Oil megaload knocked out power to some 1,300 Idaho residents, activist Linwood Laughy got a call from a volunteer monitor down in Orofino. Highway 12 had subsequently been shutdown, temporarily stalling the megaload’s trek up the Clearwater-Lochsa corridor. Laughy’s response was brief: “Yes!”
The call was an emotional moment that never made it into media accounts of the incident. And it’s a prime example of the dramatic backstories sprinkled throughout Boise journalist Steve Bunk’s new book Goliath Staggered: How the People of Highway 12 Conquered Big Oil. Those stories serve to bolster a chronological unspooling of the events that have unfolded in Idaho and Montana since Imperial Oil first began eyeing Highway 12 as an industrial corridor in late 2008. Goliath Staggered serves not as a heady environmentalist tome as much as a day-by-day collection of what locals have come to know as the megaload saga.
“The machinations of big oil and the government are actually pretty intriguing,” Bunk says. “What they’ll do to get what they want, it’s kind of dismaying.”
Bunk launched the project early last year with the intent of focusing on a few key characters in the battle over Highway 12. Laughy and Borg Hendrickson were obvious choices in Idaho, having founded the initial opposition effort there. Hendrickson says the book is “like reading a live history.”
The backstories of other players in Missoula proved a compelling addition as well, Bunk says. For example, few who followed the megaload issue in newspapers knew that attorney Robert Gentry was diagnosed with brain cancer in the middle of his fight to stop Imperial Oil in 2011—a story documented in detail in Goliath Staggered.
A federal court ruling issued last year has given Highway 12 a temporary reprieve, but the megaload story is far from over. The U.S. Forest Service must now conduct a study to determine the potential impacts of megaload traffic to the Clearwater-Lochsa corridor. Hendrickson says she “wouldn’t want people to feel the book is a conclusion of any kind.”
Bunk is also fully aware that Goliath Staggered comes not at the end of the saga but, perhaps, somewhere in the middle. He hopes the book can serve as an inspiring template for activist efforts elsewhere and illustrate that what matters is “people forcing change.”
“The title is Goliath Staggered, not ‘Goliath Fell,’” he says. “I think there’s no doubt that even though they won the battle, the war isn’t over. But it’s important to celebrate these victories.”
Steve Bunk will read from Goliath Staggered: How the People of Highway 12 Conquered Big Oil at Fact and Fiction tonight, April 22, at 7 p.m.
Josh Quick's "Camp Sleepover" appears every Tuesday online, and can be seen in the Indy's printed pages every Thursday.
Curses, Foiled Again
When the police officer who stopped Douglas Glidden, 25, in Livermore Falls, Maine, found marijuana in his vehicle, Glidden insisted the pot couldn’t be his because he had stolen the car. Indeed, the car had been reported stolen, according to Lt. Joseph Sage, who said Glidden was charged with felony car theft, plus a civil violation for pot possession. (Franklin Sun Journal)
Acting on a tip that fugitive Michelle Singleton, 66, had been living under an assumed identity for 18 years, authorities tracked her to a houseboat in Key West, Fla. She’d stolen a birth certificate and become Catherine Harris. When sheriff’s detectives asked for her identification, she handed them a driver’s license for Harris, but it expired in 2012. Detectives then asked for her birth certificate, but while fumbling with her papers, she dropped a birth certificate and Social Security card that the detectives noticed were for Singleton. They promptly arrested her. (New York Daily News)
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox’s office said this week that it aims to broker a deal between embattled Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg and the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve claims that local prosecutors unlawfully failed to pursue sexual assault reports.
“Our office is trying to work to a good resolution in this issue,” says John Barnes, Fox’s communication director. “We’re spending a lot of time on this.”
This week’s announcement marks the latest development in a two-year battle between the DOJ and Van Valkenburg over how local prosecutors handled sexual assault claims during a four-year period.
Amid claims from the DOJ that the Missoula County Attorney’s Office badly botched sexual assault prosecutions, Van Valkenburg has maintained his office did nothing wrong. He says further that the DOJ has no authority to investigate an elected county attorney. On Feb. 11, Van Valkenburg took that argument to court, asking a federal court judge to order the federal government to cease its investigation of his office.
Rather than backing off, the DOJ raised the stakes when it releasing a letter to the public on Feb. 14 that stated a 10-month investigation into Van Valkenburg’s office revealed “substantial evidence” suggesting county prosecutors discriminate against female sexual assault victims and that the county’s shortcomings put “all women in Missoula at risk.”
Barnes says the AG’s office hopes to end the standoff between Van Valkenburg and the feds by facilitating dialogue between the two. “Our office is trying to work toward a good resolution in this issue,” Barnes says.
It appears the DOJ is on board with negotiations, as the U.S. Attorney for the State of Montana, Michael Cotter, today asked a federal court judge to provide additional time for the federal government to respond to Van Valkenburg’s Feb. 11 filing. According to the federal government’s request, “The parties intend to discuss the possibility of resolving amicably the subject matter of the litigation and agree that this can best be accomplished if the deadline to respond to the complaint is extended.”
As for Van Valkenburg, he says he’s willing to engage in negotiations to resolve the standoff. He adds, however, that he’s not going to accept just any terms. “It depends on what the resolution is,” he says.
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