Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bigger picture

Posted on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 1:54 PM

It can be difficult to see the bigger picture when our immediate needs and wants are at stake. Ask a first grader this holiday season if they would rather have a new toy or the cash equivalent put into a retirement fund. The answer will undoubtedly be the toy. That's a first grader, though. As adults we would have really appreciated that retirement fund. This type of foresight is something that is sorely missing in legislation these days, and this is why the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is so important.

This bill tries to keep afloat a dying Montana logging industry and the infrastructure to continue these important economic activities in the future. Keep in mind that the bill only mandates acreage, not board feet cut. This is an important distinction. Furthermore, these mandated cuts are legally bonded to restoration projects that are aimed at healing a forest devastated by years of neglect. This not only addresses watershed and beetle kill problems, but it keeps the sale of the timber here in Montana rather than nationalizing it.

Another lasting legacy of this bill is the recognition that local community based organization is sometimes better at solving conflicts of public land management than broader national legislation. It has been 25 years since the last wilderness designation in Montana, and not because of a lack of want. I am a wilderness advocate to the bone, and I am disappointed to see some of the concessions that must be made. What this bill does do, however, is combine efforts of local engagement that have finally broke through years of gridlock to protect areas that are under significant risk. If we don't act now, wilderness designation will become more and more difficult.

This bill is an investment in our public land's future that walks straight down the middle of the aisle while humbly refusing the toy for the greater good.

Aaron Olsen

Missoula

Remember us?

Posted on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 1:53 PM

Whether resulting from a thematic choice or just an oversight, the Indy's recent year-in-review sweep of the news neglected to mention any of the work done by local government this past year. Since we're not likely to make CNN's retrospectives, I hope you'll allow some space on the letters page to take a quick look from one attentive individual's perspective.

Some of the highlights of city business included undertaking the long-awaited construction of the Higgins-Hill-Beckwith roundabout and efficient completion of the necessary but nettlesome Scott Street overpass reconstruction, as well as other streets projects made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The mayor proposed and City Council approved a budget that avoided both widespread layoffs and an increase in property taxes despite the economic climate's effect on revenues and demand for services. The Planning Board and City Council reviewed in detail and adopted a new zoning regulation to replace the inadequate, antiquated and contradictory ordinance on the books previously. Though it took several 7-5 votes to get us to this legislative accomplishment that's stymied City Council several times before, the regulation was adopted by a 10-2 vote in the end.

In fairness, not everything was copacetic. City Council adopted an ordinance regulating panhandling that a minority of council considered too broad, while also amending the existing pedestrian interference ordinance in a way a minority of council considered inadequate—neither proposal addressing the disproportionate share of responsibility for needy Montanans that Missoula bears. An ordinance that would have regulated the serious safety threat posed by distracted drivers on cell phones was curtailed in scope. Efforts to construct streets safely and equitably were punctuated by pedestrian, cyclist and driver fatalities.

There was an election too. Mayor John Engen was re-elected without opposition. Four of the six candidates for City Council received over 65 percent of the vote in their race and, while the incumbent in Ward 2 was defeated, even that result ratified the course city government charted during his term.

All in all, and at the risk of being self-congratulatory, it was a year in which municipal government took up its responsibilities conscientiously, even if we sometimes came up short against persistently vexing issues. As fashionable as it always seems to be to be cynical about politicians and policymakers, and as much as the news from Helena or Washington sometimes justifies skeptical reading, we're plugging away for good government here at home.

Thanks, everyone, for your participation. Be proud and have a happy 2010.

Jason Wiener

Alderman, Ward One

Missoula

Thank you, Juneau

Posted on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 1:52 PM

I attended the December Land Board hearing where the leasing of the Otter Creek Coal tracts was approved on a 4–1 vote (see "Coal in their stockings," Dec. 24, 2009). I want to thank State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau for her "no" vote. She exemplifies true Montana courage by standing up, alone, for sound stewardship of our state's resources.

The proposal to strip mine a productive agricultural valley in southeastern Montana would never have gotten this far at the Land Board had it been proposed for western Montana. Remember the outcry from our governor when the Flathead Valley was threatened by coal and coal bed methane development just north of our border in British Columbia? Why is similar development so easy to accept in the Tongue and Powder River valleys?

Juneau understands that there has been no discussion of the environmental, economic and social aspects and costs associated with leasing this coal. She understands that the money that goes into the School Trust Fund does not automatically go to the schools because it is only the Legislature that can appropriate money for the schools. She understands that leasing Otter Creek coal means the construction of the Tongue River Railroad, which would result in a competitive threat to existing Montana coal producers. She understands that global climate change is real and that the burning of coal is a significant contributor.

So, thank you, Denise Juneau, for your vote, your commitment to the future of Montana and our schools, and for your leadership.

Janet McMillan

Greenough

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Coyotes, birds and deer

Posted on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 2:22 PM

There's not much good to be said about getting old, except that you have a longer memory than most people. As an old trapper, the short answer to Alex Sakariassen's recent question (see "Where are the white-tails?" Dec. 3, 2009) is in the bellies of coyotes!

The correlation between the price of a coyote fur and the impact on all game animals and birds is a proven fact. In the late '70s I averaged $125 for my coyotes and in the '80s we had more deer than we knew what to do with. As long as the price of coyotes stayed above $50, they were worth trapping.

Now that you can't give a coyote away, the deer population has nosedived. How does the price of coyotes impact the game birds? Very simple: When you trap coyotes, you also catch skunks, coon and fox. Those three were the main predators of game birds.

Now here is a plan: Go green and wear coyote fur and help increase the deer population. It's the ultimate renewable resource.

Mike Dey

Missoula

Terrible timing

Posted on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Every college student knows this time of the year is frantic—finals are upon us. The thing they probably don't know is that we might be in the final days of having a polling location on campus if County Clerk & Recorder Vickie Zeier gets her way.

She recently came out with a plan that would shut down a number of polling places across the city, including the University Center on campus and the courthouse downtown, another place where many young people vote.

And guess when the hearing is for this contentious issue? Right in the middle of finals week when most student can't leave their desk, let alone get across town to defend their voting location.

This plan to close our polling location is undemocratic and the process is shutting out our voice. Don't take away our polling location and disenfranchise thousands of student voters.

Richelle DeVoe

Missoula

Hail the Hiawatha

Posted on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 2:21 PM

The return of passenger rail service across the southern part of Montana will provide a safe, affordable and sustainable travel option across the more populous part of the state while creating beneficial jobs immediately. The vast distances between towns, combined with escalating flight and fuel costs, presents an overwhelming need for reinstating the North Coast Hiawatha route while preserving the Empire Builder.

Daily operations of the North Coast Hiawatha would create 269 permanent jobs, while improvements to the track, signals and stations along the way will create new jobs in construction, manufacturing and material supply, as well as the spillover benefits to other businesses and added tax revenue for the state.

The tremendous tourism boost must not be overlooked. This train will attract or retain millions of visitors annually to Yellowstone National Park in the summer and Montana's ski areas in the winter. What will happen to that tourism when gas prices skyrocket again?

Downtowns would greatly benefit from passenger rail. Downtown stations attract people and business in downtown instead of around towns. People can get a bite to eat, walk around and do some window-shopping, or stay overnight before catching their train. Daily train service to Montana cities will make them more attractive to business development by offering efficient transportation.

The 2009 Amtrak study of reinstating the North Coast Hiawatha Service from Chicago to Seattle through Montana estimated the initial startup cost at $1.04 billion. The majority of that cost, $620 million, is for host railroad infrastructure improvements to accommodate this train. This cost could be significantly reduced if the freight railroads, BNSF and Montana Rail Link, performed preemptive track and signaling upgrades. Any investment in this cross-country route would greatly benefit freight and commuter operations as well and reduce the North Coast Hiawatha startup costs.

Another cost of reinstating this service is acquiring 18 new locomotives and 54 bi-level coaches at a projected cost of $330 million. Why not build the new cars and engines in Montana? Amtrak needs to replace its insufficient aging fleet anyway and will be looking for an American company with that capability. That could create a lot of additional jobs in our state.

The projected annual ridership of the North Coast Hiawatha is estimated to be 360,000. If higher gas prices were figured in, that number would soar, reducing operational expenses.

The service is estimated to require a grant of $31 million a year to operate. That is a lower per-passenger cost than 12 of Amtrak's 15 current long distance trains and a bargain considering the hundreds of billions of dollars that the government spends on highways and airports annually.

The annual operational cost does not take into account the value of increased mobility for the 460,000 residents who live along the route in Montana alone or the positive economic, social and environmental benefits.

There is an immediate need for this service. Every time gas prices rise, so does the support for affordable, efficient public transportation. Implementation of the North Coast Hiawatha could take up to 60 months once funding sources are secured. We cannot wait any longer to reinstate this much-needed rail route that will create jobs, reduce pollution, bring increased mobility, boost tourism and bring affordable transportation to Montanans.

Ryan Ellis

West Glacier

Horrible message

Posted on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 2:21 PM

I currently serve as an elected Senator of the Associated Students of the University of Montana (ASUM). It is the role of every senator to be an advocate for the students of this campus and that is why I am writing today.

The Missoula County Commission recently held a hearing on whether to strip students and young people of two of their polling places (see "Polling places predicament," Dec. 10, 2009). Under County Clerk & Recorder Vickie Zeier's plan we would lose voting locations at the downtown courthouse and on campus at the University Center.

I just do not understand why a public official whose job it is to run elections would actively work to make voting harder for students. In each of these situations the new polling locations would be over a mile away, which is quite a distance if you do not have a car on a cold November Election Day. What a horrible message to send to students.

Ray Davis

ASUM Senator

Missoula

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Baucus on right track

Posted on Thu, Dec 10, 2009 at 4:00 AM

As a Montana farmer and as a director for CHS Inc., an agricultural cooperative owned by farmers across our state and throughout the U.S., I want to extend my thanks for the support and thoughtful consideration Sen. Max Baucus has demonstrated during the ongoing debate over climate change/cap and trade legislation (see “Cap and trade-off,” Dec. 3, 2009).

This is a very complex issue with significant implications for all agricultural producers and those who serve them. We have a great deal of concern over the current Waxman-Markey Bill, approved earlier this year in the U.S. House. CHS operates a small refinery at Laurel, whose primary markets are agriculture and rural America. We estimate the economic burden of the House-approved bill on our refinery could be well over $600 million a year.

As a farmer-owned company, CHS has a deeply rooted commitment to environmental stewardship within all of its operations, but we believe there are fairer, more effective and more economically sound means of addressing concern over climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

We appreciate the time Baucus and his staff have devoted to listening to the concerns of small refiners and agricultural companies like CHS. The senator has a solid understanding of the implications of the House version of the climate bill. In his role as the senior member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, he has helped create a version of the bill more favorable to those who are important economic contributors to agriculture and energy in this state.

While there is a long road ahead on this issue, those of us in Montana should be grateful that Baucus is providing important leadership that understands the needs of this state’s farmers and the businesses that serve them.

Richard Owen

Geraldine, Mont.

Forward thinking

Posted on Thu, Dec 10, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Montana has oil, coal, tar sands, natural gas and wind energy. We are number two in wind energy potential in the United States, and number one in coal reserves. As Montanans eye these various forms of energy we should look at what will make Montana an economically viable state in the future. Montana is at a crossroads. Climate change has huge implications for this choice.

Whether Sen. Max Baucus decides to get Montana on board with the future now or later is ultimately up to him. However, choosing coal now will hurt us in the long term. Over the next 40 years, strong climate change legislation will get passed. The temperature gauge will demand it.

When strong climate change legislation passes, the states that moved toward coal will be in for a harsh correction. Current buildup of coal coupled with future climate change legislation will result in a bubble in coal.

If the current housing crisis has taught us anything it is that bubbles are not good for the economy. The more we invest into coal the larger the bubble is going to be. We will watch the temperature climb and further our need for clean energy. We will need to abandon coal. You could call this a run on coal.

If Baucus decides to go with coal now, we will find ourselves in a harsh economic reality in the future. Knowing that fossil-fuel use will begin to wane, Montana has a choice. If we pass a weak climate bill today, build our coal infrastructure, and reap the benefits of coal energy now, we will find ourselves in trouble in the future. Coal will be phased out and Montana will have nowhere to go. It is time to look past the bridge of our nose.

Luke Seefeldt

Missoula

Here’s an idea

Posted on Thu, Dec 10, 2009 at 4:00 AM

I agree that many of the proposals for health care reform are unconstitutional. Requiring everyone to buy health insurance is unconstitutional. The whole Medicare system is unconstitutional. The social security system is unconstitutional. It is the duty of all patriotic citizens to defend our country, and they should not expect special rewards for their duty. Therefore, providing health care to veterans is also unconstitutional.

What this country needs is a strong, activist Supreme Court that will perform the duty clearly spelled out in the Constitution. That is, make a ruling on all the actions of the executive branch and all the laws passed by Congress on whether or not they are constitutional. Let’s do away with the cumbersome case-by-case legal system that has served us well for more than 200 years, and return to the lifestyle our forefathers envisioned for us in the 1700s. Or, better yet, let us return to the lifestyle the ancient tribes of Israel enjoyed.

Steve Schombel

Missoula

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