Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Stop flipping off the Mayor:" City official censures volunteer after she resigns from Historic Preservation Commission

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 1:05 PM

The anger was palpable in Kate Kolwicz's letter of resignation from the city Historic Preservation Commission last week. She acknowledged as much, writing that "as we are all aware, the past many months have been difficult and frustrating." The sources of frustration, Kolwicz wrote, included lack of training and a historic preservation officer, Leslie Schwab, who was "openly dismissive and contemptuous" of commission members. But Kolwicz, the third volunteer board member to resign over the city's handling of the Missoula Mercantile demolition, says she also wanted to offer constructive criticism as she bowed out. So, in addition to explaining the sources of her frustration, Kolwicz offered four suggestions toward fixing the broken system. Then she emailed her letter to the board, thinking that was that.

Schwab wasn't about to give Kolwicz the last word. She fired off a string of rebuttal emails to her and other HPC members accusing Kolwicz of lying, disregarding legal advice and abusing staff "at your every convenience."

"Also," Schwab concluded, "please stop flipping off the Mayor in public. It's childish."
Email from Historic Preservation Officer Leslie Schwab to commission members
  • Email from Historic Preservation Officer Leslie Schwab to commission members

Such is the state of affairs in the wake of last year's power struggle over the fate of the Merc. That bitterness and mutual distrust has only intensified in recent months, spilling into open hostility between Schwab and HPC members during public meetings. Even as Kolwicz ran for the door, Schwab made sure it hit her on the way out.

"It's like the Cold War," says HPC member Scott Loken, who has served on the board for ten years. "There's no connection between our historic preservation officer and the commission."

The standoff has virtually paralyzed the commission. It has been unable to obtain a quorum for the last four months, leaving those members who do attend unable to take votes or even approve meeting minutes. City Council has yet to fill vacancies stretching back to March 2016. Remaining members, Loken says, "don't want to come."

As the staff liaison to the board and an employee of the city's Development Services division, Schwab was at the center of the Merc tug of war. City Communications Director Ginny Merriam says the toll led Schwab to engage in the email exchange with Kolwicz—an exchange Merriam described as "never appropriate, nor is it professional or a best practice." No formal disciplinary action has been taken, Merriam says. Schwab did not respond to a request for comment.
In wake of the contentious Merc decision, the relationship between the volunteer Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Preservation Officer Leslie Schwab has eroded to the point where Schwab accused one member of lying and "flipping off the Mayor" after she resigned from the commission. - PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan
  • In wake of the contentious Merc decision, the relationship between the volunteer Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Preservation Officer Leslie Schwab has eroded to the point where Schwab accused one member of lying and "flipping off the Mayor" after she resigned from the commission.

On Monday, Schwab did email HPC members an apology for her "unprofessional" emails. "I have felt picked on, and I became defensive," she wrote. Kolwicz tells the Indy that while she appreciates Schwab's apology, "I was disappointed that she did not specifically retract her false and libelous allegations towards me."

Schwab's emails also prompted councilwoman Emily Bentley to contact HPC members in an attempt to begin rebuilding trust. Bentley says City Council plans to revise its much-maligned historic preservation ordinance, reexamine the HPC membership structure and fill open seats once Merc litigation with Preserve Historic Missoula concludes. What the city doesn't plan to do, Bentley says, is undermine the commission's authority.

"I feel like we could give them more support," she says.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Zinke's book offers some insight on the Interior Secretary-to-be's approach to public lands

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 12:01 PM

Congressman Ryan Zinke can’t seem to stay out of the headlines lately. He won reelection in November. He was nominated to Donald Trump’s cabinet in December. And just this Tuesday, he rankled conservationists by voting for a bill that would ease congressional transfers of federal lands to state or local control. His office has been increasingly mum on these developments, either supplying boilerplate statements or, as in the case of his nomination to the Interior, declining to even acknowledge receipt of email inquiries from the Indy. Spokeswoman Heather Swift offered only this in response to Zinke’s Tuesday vote on Republican Utah Rep. Rob Bishop’s controversial proposal:

"The Congressman's position on federal lands and their ownership has not changed."
amcom.jpeg


Slipping through the cracks of all this Zinke news was the November release of his new book, American Commander: Serving a Country Worth Fighting For and Training the Brave Soldiers Who Lead the Way. The 240-page tome—an autobiography of sorts penned with an assist from American Sniper author Scott McEwen—offers rare insights into Zinke’s mind at a time when comments from him are harder to come by. It’s an admittedly tough read, unfolding less like a chronological narrative and more like a series of tales told elbow-to-elbow in some Montana dive bar. But if you can tolerate the constant tangents, the dangling threads, the generals and Navy SEALs and NFL stars who flit in and out, there are some interesting passages pertinent to the Interior post Zinke now appears destined for.

Zinke is fond of describing himself as an avid outdoorsman, though American Commander spends virtually no time in Montana’s backcountry. The closest readers come to adventuring alongside Zinke in the elements comes during his recollection of hoofing it through the jungles of Thailand while on assignment with his SEAL crew. It’s a vivid passage, replete with game trails and swamps and Zinke’s leg “nearly black from being covered by leeches.” Mostly it leaves you thirsting for a similar glimpse of the home-state rivers and trails Zinke repeatedly says he loves.

What we do glimpse, however briefly, is the genesis of Zinke’s espoused soft-spot for wildlands. He got his start in the Boy Scouts of America, where he “learned how to cook, camp, and use a compass.” He describes the first time he turned a “critical eye” on the environment, conducting an Eagle Scout project that tested soil and water samples from the Whitefish River to gauge pollution from the nearby railroad’s oil-holding ponds.

The BSA has always been at the forefront of environmental awareness: You put out fires you build. You leave a campsite cleaner and better than when you found it. You respect wildlife and habitat. This is in addition to the cliche of helping elderly citizens cross a street—which isn’t a bad quality either, this idea that we should slow down and help one another.

Zinke has long cast himself as a conservationist and politician in the Teddy Roosevelt mold. And he’s fond of quoting the irascible former president. In discussing his beliefs about land management, Zinke invokes not only Roosevelt but the first chief forester of Roosevelt’s then-new U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot. The result is something of a mixed bag when it comes to natural resource development on public lands:


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Palace Lounge to close as a live music venue

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 10:38 AM

Missoula band Tiny Plastic Stars playing the Palace in September 2016. - PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan
  • Missoula band Tiny Plastic Stars playing the Palace in September 2016.

The Palace Lounge will close its doors as a live music venue after Sat., Feb. 25, according to a press release from Scott MacIntyre, owner of the four-bar complex that includes Palace, Badlander, Golden Rose and Savoy.

"Given the competitive demands of a live music venue in Missoula, the owners of The Palace have decided to switch directions of the venue to better diversify their businesses and focus more on the music scene in the Badlander," MacIntyre wrote.

The basement bar is slated to reopen on March 17 as a billiard room called Three on the Side, a reference to a difficult billiards shot. That opening will coincide with the 10th anniversary of the complex. According to the release, the space will host several pool tables, games, television, seating and a full bar. The final live show at the Palace on Feb. 25 will also be the final Rock Lotto (Rock Lotto V: The Final Countdown), an annual event where musicians throw their names into a hat and are randomly placed in bands, with which they play for one night only.

The Palace has been home to the independent rock scene, and is one of just a couple of venues in town that cater to the DIY scene. The basement space has been a dive bar and live-show venue since at least the late-1980s, when it was called the DownUnder. It later became Club X and then Trendz. Over the years the space has hosted several artists who later became big, including the Offspring, Red Fang and Reggie Watts.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Conviction vacated in Cody Marble rape case

Posted By on Tue, Jan 3, 2017 at 12:10 PM

Cody Marble's eight-year legal battle reached a major turning point this week. On Jan. 3, retired District Court Judge Ed McLean issued an order overturning Marble's rape conviction and ordering a new trial. Marble's father, Jerry, says they hugged upon hearing the news, and Cody jumped in his car and went for a drive to collect his thoughts.

"We were confident we were going to win, but ain’t nothing like the real thing," Jerry says. "And now when you see it in bold print, it’s a whole other feeling."

Cody Marble - COURTESY JERRY MARBLE
  • Courtesy Jerry Marble
  • Cody Marble

Marble's attorney, Colin Stephens, is elated with the result.

"This is exactly what we asked for," Stephens says. "It uses the evidence we submitted that shows that the evidence from way back when was a joke."

Marble, now 32, was convicted in 2002 of raping a fellow inmate at the Missoula County Detention Center. The now-deceased accuser, Robert Thomas, later recanted his testimony four times in front of Montana Innocence Project staff. (A 2011 Independent's feature story by Jessica Mayrer explores the evidence in greater detail.) Thomas told Innocence Project attorneys that he was pressured into making the allegation by other inmates. Marble has continuously maintained his innocence.

McLean's 21-page decision makes note of some of the major players who have been involved in Marble's case. Former Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg pursued Marble's conviction in 2002. His former deputy attorney, current County Attorney Kirsten Pabst, filed a motion to dismiss charges against Marble in April, and criticized Van Valkenburg's handling of the case.

After Pabst's filing, McLean allowed Marble to go free while asking for a new evidentiary hearing, which took place on Dec. 12.

McLean's decision notes that Marble's case is "the subject of much consternation between the current county attorney (Kirsten Pabst) and the former county attorney (Fred Van Valkenburg)." His decision doesn't directly criticize Van Valkenburg's original decision to prosecute, but it does state that the testimony of the Montana Innocence Project is sufficient to overturn the original conviction.

McLean's Jan. 3 order leaves it up to Pabst's office to decide whether to press charges and initiate a new trial. Stephens thinks that's unlikely. For him, McLean's decision marks the end of an eight-year pro bono case in which he became close to Marble and his family.

"I’ll be very surprised if they ask for a new trial," Stephens says.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival will open with a suddenly timely documentary about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 3:35 PM

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in Bright Lights.
  • Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in Bright Lights.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival sent out a press release in early December announcing Bright Lights, an HBO documentary about mother-daughter stars Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. At the time, it seemed an unremarkable pick for the kickoff of the festival's 14th year. Sure, Fisher had been back on the popular radar since Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but the franchise's most recent film, Rogue One, featured her only as a hologram. Reynolds had received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actor's Guild in 2015 and an honorary Oscar in 2016, but she hadn't been in the press much beyond that.

Everything changed when Fisher was rushed to the hospital on Dec. 23 and died on the 27th. Reynolds died one day later, of a stroke. The back-to-back deaths will go down as one of the more heartbreaking celebrity stories Of all time. Among Reynolds' last words, reportedly, were "I want to be with Carrie."

Big Sky Executive Director Rachel Gregg says she initially picked the HBO film to screen at the festival simply because she thought it was an interesting story about a complicated relationship. It had already screened at Cannes, and Missoula was supposed to be its last stop on the festival circuit before debuting on HBO.

This morning it was announced that HBO will move the film's network debut to Jan. 7. In an updated press release, BSDFF writes: "The Big Sky staff and board were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week ... it is our honor to open our festival with Bright Lights, an intimate portrait of these talented women."

Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher screens at the Wilma Fri. Feb. 17, at 7 PM. Free.

Daily Stormer's Andrew Anglin insists anti-Semitic demonstration in Whitefish will happen, names nonexistent "Jewish center" as location

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 1:28 PM

Neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin says he plans to make good on threats to stage an anti-Semitic armed march through Whitefish next month, despite dismissive comments this week by Richard Spencer, the white nationalist and part-time Whitefish resident who inspired the idea.

Anglin's insistence comes after Spencer said he doesn't believe the march will take place, describing Anglin's scheme as simply a "troll" of Whitefish residents. In an email Thursday, Anglin said Spencer is wrong, and that Anglin plans to apply for a permit that would allow him and a cohort of fellow skinheads to demonstrate in the streets.

"This is not about backing up Richard Spencer," Anglin wrote of his proposed march, "this is about justice, and making it clear to the Jewish mafia that we will no longer tolerate their criminal gangsterism, their attacks on the families of those they disagree with politically."

The proposed march was spun out of a recent dispute between Spencer, his mother, and local real estate agent Tanya Gersh, with the Spencers accusing Gersh of a "shake down" aimed at forcing Sherry Spencer to sell a commercial building she owns in Whitefish. Anglin took up the cause, calling for a "trollstorm" against Gersh, who is Jewish, and other Jewish residents of Whitefish. That threat later escalated when Anglin began promoting a "March on Whitefish" for which he would recruit California skinhead groups to carry assault-style rifles through the town.

The situation garnered international attention, prompting Spencer on Wednesday to tell the Daily Interlake and Missoulian newspapers he thought Anglin's call to arms was just a joke—much as Spencer dismissed his own "Hail Trump" salute at a recent white nationalist conference as ironic play. Spencer did not, however, explicitly call for Anglin to call off the march, saying only that he is powerless to influence the blogger, but has become weary of the spotlight the controversy has put on Whitefish.

"I'm not telling Anglin to do anything," Spencer now tells the Indy. "I just assumed it was a troll. Can he really bring out people for a march on a ski village in remote Montana?"
Richard Spencer says Anglin's tactics aren't his style. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL POLICY INSTITUTE
  • photo courtesy of National Policy Institute
  • Richard Spencer says Anglin's tactics aren't his style.
Anglin says he can, though he may be confused about where exactly his skinheads will march. Anglin, who lists a Worthington, Ohio, address on his site, says he is routing a path for the demonstration that will begin in "the center of the city" and end at the "Jewish center, where Gersh is the head and several figures in [local human rights group] Love Lives Here are members."

The Glacier Jewish Community congregation does not have a center or synagogue in Whitefish. Anglin did not respond to a follow-up question asking what he means by "Jewish center."

Anglin is virulently anti-Semitic, and his emailed statement doubles as a rant against the Jewish people. "Jews have operated with impunity for decades, destroying the lives of anyone who dared question their international criminal cartel," he writes. "Those days are finished. This is a revolt of the goyim."

He explains that he is moving forward with the march because Gersh and Love Lives Here have refused his demand that they apologize to Sherry Spencer.

In response to Anglin's demand, Loves Live Here chairman Will Randall echoed a recent comment by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. "This is not a negotiation," he says. "It's discrimination and it should never be negotiable."

Spencer and Anglin

Anglin's interest in Whitefish links Spencer to a rhetoric and style that he tries to keep at arm's length. Spencer, credited with coining the term "alt-right," attempts to present white nationalism as an intellectually legitimate position, independent of the overtly racist rhetoric usually associated with hate groups. That's why he has fashioned his nonprofit National Policy Institute as a beltway-style think tank with aspirations to relocate to Washington, D.C.

Anglin, on the other hand, has expressed concern via the Daily Stormer that media attention to figures such as Spencer serves to "remove focus from the Jewish problem."

"I absolutely believe that unrepentant anti-Semitism needs to remain at the core of the movement, just as it has been from the beginning," Anglin wrote in an August guide to the "alt-right" published on the site.

Spencer doesn't traffic in the grotesquely inflammatory language used by Anglin, but anti-Semitic jokes and references are nonetheless a regular feature of his speeches. At the NPI conference in November, where he led the "Hail Trump" toast, Spencer referenced Jewish folklore to describe journalists as "soulless golem."

Earlier this month, Anglin and Spencer appeared together on a right-wing podcast. An excerpt reported by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights shows the two men's difference in approach.
Spencer: “They [Jews] kind of need us in a way… But in a weird way, it’s the people that shall not dwell alone, to borrow a title from Kevin McDonald’s book. They do need us.”

Anglin: “It’s a virus. They’re a human disease” [laughter].

Spencer: “Somewhat inflammatory language, but I understand what you’re saying.”

This week, Spencer told the Daily Interlake that Anglin is "totally wild—that's not my kind of thing," while also calling him a "rational" person who wouldn't engage in physical violence.

Asked Friday morning whether he would call upon Anglin to stand down, Spencer offered this statement: "It's time to bring this to an end." He then pointed the Indy to a Youtube video he posted on Friday in which Spencer says that Whitefish residents can end the controversy by renouncing Love Lives Here, and specifically the Jewish rabbis involved.

"Don't listen to these rabbis," he says in the video. "Do you think they have good in their heart? Do you think they care for you? Do you think they care for this community? No, they're pursuing their own sick little project."

Spencer goes on in the video to tell Montana politicians who have denounced the march to "stop freaking out."

"The trolls are playing the tune and you are dancing to it, which is kind of funny," he says.

Residents opposed to Spencer and Anglin have scheduled a "Love Not Hate" block party for Jan. 7 in Whitefish.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Judge shoots down Malheur occupier Ryan Payne’s motion to withdraw plea

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 4:22 PM

A federal judge in Oregon yesterday denied U.S. Army veteran and Anaconda resident Ryan Payne’s request to withdraw his guilty plea, accusing Payne of having “buyer’s remorse” over a plea agreement reached in the wake of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. Payne, a key figure in the armed occupation and the subject of a 2014 Indy feature, admitted to a charge of conspiracy to impede U.S. officials this summer—and in so doing avoided another charge of possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities. In early November, not long after the acquittal of seven of his fellow occupiers, Payne attempted to reverse that admission.
Ryan Payne at his Anaconda home in 2014. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Ryan Payne at his Anaconda home in 2014.

Judge Anna Brown’s Dec. 28 decision was a strongly worded rebuke of each of Payne’s arguments, including the claim that he'd only accepted the plea agreement based on the belief that he would also get a deal in a separate case in Nevada. Brown's most damning critique took aim at Payne’s statement that he’d had serious misgivings about the facts surrounding his plea from the get-go, an assertion the judge said was “without merit.” Brown continued:

Although it was clear to the Court from Payne’s demeanor throughout the plea hearing that he had conflicting feelings about the decision whether to plead guilty, that is not surprising in light of Payne’s close relationships with Ammon Bundy and some of the other occupiers, his leadership role in the occupation of the MNWR, and the fact that his guilty plea would have been perceived by some as a betrayal of the causes that he sought to advance with Bundy and the other occupiers. Nevertheless, after assuring the Court that he had sufficient time to consider, with the advice of counsel, his decision to plead guilty, Payne ultimately chose to do just that.

The conspiracy charge Payne pleaded guilty to carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In denying Payne’s motion to withdraw his plea, Brown directed counsel on both sides to submit an updated proposal for a sentencing date by late January. Payne is also scheduled to stand trial in Nevada this coming spring on a separate set of charges stemming from his involvement in the 2014 standoff with federal agents at Cliven Bundy’s ranch. Attempts to reach a plea agreement in that case broke down this fall.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bullock cancels event addressing Neo-Nazi threats after security concerns reported

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 11:54 AM

Gov. Steve Bullock canceled a press conference in Whitefish today. Bullock had been scheduled to address neo-Nazi threats in the area, but canceled apparently in response to "security concerns," the Whitefish Pilot reports.

The event was planned in response to recent conflicts involving white nationalist Richard Spencer and his mother, Sherry Spencer, who lives in Whitefish. Those conflicts led to the posting of personal information about several local Jewish residents on a neo-Nazi website. (Read the Indy's latest on Richard Spencer and the situation in Whitefish here.)

Bullock's team did not offer a reason for the cancellation, according to the paper, but local activists believe it was related to security concerns relayed by law enforcement and the FBI:
Lisa Jones, a spokesperson for the Whitefish Convention and Visitor Bureau, which has been trying to quell the negative publicity for Whitefish, expressed disappointment over the governor’s canceled event.

“It’s sad we have to be afraid to have a press conference about denouncing hate because of the potential actions of the haters,” Jones said in an email statement.
Bullock now plans to send an opinion column to media outlets.

Read the full Pilot story here.

Attorney General's office ordered to turn over documents after claims of witness tampering in lethal injection suit

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 10:39 AM

A judge has sided with attorneys for two death-row inmates and ordered the Montana Department of Justice to turn over its communications with a controversial expert witness who repeatedly changed his testimony over the course of a lawsuit last year that struck down the state's lethal injection protocol.

After the trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs, including the ACLU of Montana, said they discovered statements made by state's medical expert, Roswell Lee Evans, suggesting that Montana DOJ staff may have instructed the Auburn School of Pharmacy dean to change his testimony. As the Indy previously reported, the attorneys raised the matter with Attorney General Tim Fox's office, which then conducted an internal investigation. Fox said he took "appropriate actions" toward the state's lawyers, but declined to elaborate.
 
Ron Smith is one of two inmates on death row in Montana, both of whom successfully challenged the state's lethal injection protocol last year. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Ron Smith is one of two inmates on death row in Montana, both of whom successfully challenged the state's lethal injection protocol last year.

In a Dec. 12 order, Helena District Court Judge DeeAnn Cooney said the evidence uncovered by the inmates' attorneys "raises serious questions about whether (Evans) changed his testimony to reflect what the Defendants wanted him to say as opposed to what he believed to be true." She ordered the Montana DOJ to produce certain communications with Evans, as well as documents related to the agency's internal investigation.

The documents could determine whether the state must pay attorney's fees associated with the lengthy case. ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor has previously said he thinks the public also deserves to know whether the state tried to manipulate a witness in a matter with life-or-death implications.

A Montana DOJ spokesperson told the Associated Press this week the department is confident the court will conclude "we did everything right."

Taylor says the plaintiffs expect to receive the documents next month.

For additional background on the case, Smith v. Batista, click here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

7,000 gallons of diesel spilled at Missoula rail yard

Posted By and on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 3:40 PM

Crews are continuing to remove soil at Montana Rail Link's Missoula rail yard, which was contaminated when 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled on Monday.

Travis Ross, an environmental health specialist with the Missoula Valley Water Quality District, says the spill, while significant in size, does not pose an immediate threat to drinking water. The spill does, however, raise questions about the company's emergency notification procedures and spill safeguards.

MRL issued a public statement regarding the incident Thursday night, apparently after receiving inquiries from media outlets. By then, remediation efforts had already been underway for several days.

The spill occurred when a coupling failed at the fuel pump house, where diesel fuel is delivered to the locomotive facility. In MRL's statement, spokesman Jim Lewis said the company shut down the pipeline and notified the Montana Department of Emergency Services, which then contacted other state and local agencies, "per required protocol."

However, the company did not call local 9-1-1, as required by the city's water quality ordinance, Ross says.
PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
The ordinance, designed to protect the city aquifer, requires immediate 9-1-1 notification for spills exceeding 25 gallons. The city-county health department employs a staffer who can then assess the risk of groundwater contamination. But the water quality district didn't learn of the situation from state officials until at least seven hours after the spill.

Because the spill did not pose an immediate threat to drinking water, local officials decided not to issue a general public notice, Ross says. The water quality district plans to issue a notice of violation to MRL regarding the lack of 9-1-1 notification, but Ross says a fine is unlikely.

The company nonetheless appears to have responded to the spill quickly, Ross says.

By Thursday, more than one-third of the fuel had been recovered by remediation contractors using a vacuum truck, according to the MRL press release. The company subsequently began excavating contaminated soil—about 1,100 cubic yards so far. According to Kristi Ponozzo, public policy director for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, MRL is removing impacted soils "to the extent possible to minimize health risks." Ponozzo, responding to the Indy via email, says she doesn't know where the soils are being sent or how they will be dealt with. Lewis, at MRL, had not responded to the Indy's request for comment at the time of this post.

This week's spill is not the first at the Missoula rail yard. The location is a state Superfund site due to past releases of diesel fuel—one of several Superfund sites statewide formerly owned by Burlington Northern.

"In the scheme of the thousands of gallons that have been released there over the years—and at times there's been a significant amount of fuels in that section of town because of the railroad operations—it's probably a small percentage," Ross says.

More recently, a spill of 13,000 gallons of ethanol occurred at the Missoula rail yard in 2006, DEQ records indicate, leading to the excavation of around 5,000 tons of soil.

Ross says that fuel safety practices are better today, but that city-county water quality officials would like to discuss preventative steps with MRL going forward.

Ponozzo says the spill was first reported to DEQ's Disaster and Emergency Services, which then referred the incident to the agency's remediation division. DEQ does not have a presence at the site "at this time," Ponozzo adds, but has been getting "updated information and some photos" from the Missoula City-County Health Department. The agency's involvement moving forward will "depend on the extent of the spill."

"This is a state Superfund site with ongoing clean-up," Ponozzo writes, "so we do/will have ongoing involvement at the site in general."

This story has been corrected to more accurately describe the location of the coupling failure.

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