Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Minimum toot

Posted on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 3:31 PM

This is an open letter to train engineers operating in the Missoula area.

Fellas, I know regulations require you to sound your engine's horn four times at two different locations here in town. One of these is at the intersection of the railroad tracks and Madison Avenue. That's a busy intersection with heavy traffic. The other location is at the intersection of the railroad tracks and the Envirocon heavy equipment parking lot?! Can that be reviewed? It's not a through street at all. Why four honks there? Couldn't that requirement be deleted? There is no traffic. Ever.

Now let's address your train horns. Some of these blasts reach incredibly high decibels. High enough to deafen unfortunate pedestrians and bicyclists waiting to cross Madison Street. There are all kinds of laws on the books prohibiting such blasts in populated areas but as we all know those laws are ignored.

Fellas, that's why I want to appeal to you, man-to-man. Can you keep those four required blasts short? Forget the attorneys, judges, city councilpersons and the rest of the pencil-necks. Do all of Missoula a huge favor and give us the minimum toot. Please! I'll be happy to buy you a beer. Thanks fellas.

Mark Stergios


One idea

Posted on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 3:30 PM

If you would have told me when I moved here 17 years ago that I would grow old at the University of Montana, I would have LOL'd before that was even a thing. Yet, here we are. I've seen administrators come and go, some under a cloak of disgrace, others having given up the ghost for a retirement I'm assuming is filled with travel abroad, charitable work and maybe some consulting on the side. One thing they've all had in common is a fundamental lack of ability to understand what truly drives the Montana University System. It's not an outside firm like RuffaloCODY that has since 2010 failed to produce any notable increase in enrollment despite being paid millions to do so. It's not a recruiting headhunter who will be paid $240,000 on a one-year contract without any knowledge of or tether to our community, yet is imagined will revitalize this institution in the wake of endlessly poor decisions from a top-down level (see "New VP gets big bonus," July 21). It's not a bloated emphasis on an athletic department that has incurred scandals for profligate spending primarily to draw in students whose exploits off-campus were more notable. And it's not the courting of well-padded alumni who will build yet another facility to cater to ... those who would be taught in shiny new rooms by overburdened faculty or supported by a skeleton crew of staff?

Let's not go into wages—which often fall below that of a waiter and require us to take second jobs or be on public assistance—but rather what we do under limited means.

We meet with prospective students and their families, relating why we live here and work in higher education. We explain what financial aid entails and the importance of completing their degree in order to pay it back. We make it possible for graduate students to be supported in research positions that will contribute to their theses. We make schedules around their schedules. We advise veterans and people with disabilities and nontraditional and international students. We provide fresh food from what is possibly the best dining service you'll find at any university. We counsel when they've hit a wall, nurse them when they're sick and make their surroundings aesthetically pleasing. We encourage them to be of service to others. We teach every discipline under the sun, keeping it as contemporary as possible to fit into a constantly evolving work climate. We take them into the mountains and overseas, making sure they're safe while exploring science and culture. On any given day we will do a hundred different tasks focused on the same directive: to educate students in the most fulfilling way possible.

Unfortunately, higher education has become perversely attached to a corporate model of production and our upper tier administrators seldom come in contact with the product. It is those of us in the classroom or at a counter in Griz Central or in one cubicle among many who are the real heart of this institution, yet we are the very first to be considered expendable. Years of experience with the intricacies of a system that houses, feeds, cares for and educates thousands seems to pale in comparison to a talking head that has the next big idea. There has only ever been one idea: Students will come here and stay here if you treat them well. The only way to do that is to similarly value the people who are with them day in, day out. I'd like someone to draw this to the attention of President Engstrom, the board of regents and whomever will appoint them in the coming years. Fiddling while Rome burns, imagining we're all eating cake—who remembers that history?

Julie Tompkins


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Waste management

Posted on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 3:37 PM

Our neighbors in North Dakota have recently enacted new rules to comprehensively track and regulate the disposal of oil and gas waste of up to 50 picocuries per gram of radium. In late 2015 the Montana Department of Environmental Quality raised our state's radioactivity limit—without taking any public comment—to 50 as well. Coupled with the fact that no North Dakota disposal facilities have amended permits to accept waste up to 50 picocuries, this effectively results in continuing to send oil waste to eastern Montana dumps. Unlike North Dakota, Montana has no rules in place to govern disposal of oil waste. Instead it is regulated by loose guidelines with no regulatory teeth. If a serious problem such as groundwater contamination occurs, there are no rules to hold responsible parties accountable.

Since fall 2014, the DEQ solid waste management division has been telling me and other affected citizens/ranchers in Dawson County—the location of the first radioactive oil waste disposal site in the state—that Montana will issue protective rules. Working with Northern Plains Resource Council, we provided suggestions in February—an excellent proposal for protecting Montana citizens, water and environment while providing safe places for the inevitable byproduct of oil and gas production. As a society we will primarily be relying on oil and gas for decades to come. The time is now for the DEQ to put oil and gas waste rules into effect and protect present and future generations of Montanans.

Seth Newton


Fine job, but ...

Posted on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 3:36 PM

My name is Richard Brown and my hometown was Livingston. I was visiting my brother who lives in Florence and we stopped for breakfast in a local cafe. While there, he remarked about your paper and I picked one up, brought it back to Texas and read it through and through. Seems that you are doing a fine job with your paper.

Naturally, I read the letters to the editor and have a couple of comments about such. One letter was from a fellow involved with solar replacing the fossil fuel plants here in our country. I agree with solar energy. Problem is, as far as my limited knowledge of solar, how many panels would it take to produce enough power to run a factory such as a paper mill or, say, a steel manufacturing plant? One of our fine candidates for president has vowed to shut down fossil fuel here in the U.S. A neighbor of mine attended a seminar for electric power's future here in our country and it was stated that if fossil fuels were eliminated, only the very wealthy would be able to live as we do today. Food for thought.

Another letter was from a poor soul who felt the Forest Service was letting you in Montana down by wanting to cut trees. Keep up this rhetoric and Mr. and Mrs. Nature will handle that. Look around—Montana is in serious condition right now due to bug kill in your forests. You have hired professionals to manage the forest. Let them do their job, people. They know what they are doing. Do you go the doctor and tell him how to do his job? I think not, since the doc would probably throw you out on your ear.

One more thing: delisting the grizzly. I agree, relocate them to California since they seem to want to tell you in Montana to love the wolf and the grizzly. Send a few wolves, too, while you are at it. California's state flag has a grizzly bear on it, but they have no grizzly? That would serve two ends—not killing the bears or the wolves. California is a larger state than Montana, and a taste of their own medicine seems fine to me.

If you disagree, fine. That is American. Just my consensus as I see it. I still like your paper.

Richard Brown

Atlanta, Texas

Slow it down

Posted on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 3:35 PM

A child will be killed on a neighborhood street in Missoula. Twenty-five mph is too fast for our neighborhoods. Kids, pets, bikers, skateboarders and more frequent these streets.

Unmarked intersections are everywhere—no stops, yields or roundabouts. Yield to the right, right? Lots of people cruise through without slowing down. Sidewalks won't help. Pedestrians still have to cross the street and sidewalks hide people until it's time to cross. They are also very expensive. Roundabouts distract drivers from pedestrians and bikers. They're also costly.

Cars pulling out of driveways, parked on the street, the sun shining and bad weather create distractions—and that's just outside the car. Inside, there's hot coffee, the bright morning sun, stereo noise and the dog barking in the back seat.

The average braking distance at 25 mph is 30 feet on clean, dry roads with good tires. That's three times the length of the average car. That does not include response time—the time it takes for the driver to see the need to stop and move to brake.

At 15 mph the braking distance drops to 11 feet.

Broadway, by St. Patrick Hospital, shrank years ago to protect pedestrians. It has three lanes, two bike lanes and two parking lanes, and it's about 85 feet wide. There are pedestrian signs, trees set back and great visibility—the speed limit is 25 mph.

My street is 30 feet wide from edge to edge. Cars are frequently parked on both sides, no lines, no signs at intersections, trees and bushes inhibiting views and the speed limit is also 25.

There is no money in it for the city, but maybe it's time something be done for Missoula citizens, and the speed limit for unlined neighborhood streets be lowered to 15 mph. Why wait until it is too late?

Tim Zalinger


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Break the cycle

Posted on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 3:21 PM

Native American girls face the highest rates of incarceration of any ethnic group. They are five times as likely as white girls to be sentenced to time in a juvenile detention facility. Incarceration rates for Native American women are also disproportionately high.

For you this is probably just a startling statistic—for me it hits very close to home. My daughter is currently in her 12th year of a 20-year sentence for drug possession.

It's an all-too-common story on the reservation: our young people making serious mistakes with drugs and being sentenced to lengthy stretches in federal prison. When they go away, they leave behind their families and their culture. Sometimes they leave behind their own children, creating a cycle that is incredibly difficult to break.

There is no doubt the drug epidemic on our reservations is one of the greatest challenges we face. But it has also become clear that the main thing we've done to combat that epidemic—lock away the people who use drugs—has not accomplished what we need it to.

Native Americans make up a disproportionate population in our prisons. Because crimes on the reservation are prosecuted in federal court, this is especially true in federal prison.

Part of the reason Native Americans are so overrepresented when it comes to incarceration is the mandatory minimum laws that were enacted by Congress in the 1990s. The mandatory minimum movement was intended to bring more consistency to federal sentencing by restricting the discretion of judges and setting in place rules to guide appropriate sentences for similar crimes.

The majority of criminals behind bars today were sentenced under these mandatory minimum regulations. And most of those are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. But the high incarceration rates, especially among minority groups, that resulted from mandatory minimums have also resulted in prison overcrowding and have become very expensive.

Those factors have prompted a real bipartisan movement in Congress to reform judicial sentencing. That's come in the form of a bill called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, or SRCA, which would reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders from 10 to five years and give more discretion to judges in sentences for first-time offenders.

To be clear, the bill would actually increase sentences for serious drug offenders—those who are involved in production, distribution or gang activity related to drug trafficking.

We need to continue to be tough on the individuals who have brought the scourge of drugs to our communities. But I believe more leniency is needed for our young people who make the serious mistake of using drugs. The SRCA will allow judges to do what they should be doing—judging each case and each individual on its own unique circumstance.

Sen. Steve Daines recently cosponsored the SRCA, along with 14 Republicans and 19 Democrats in the Senate. For that, I want to say a heartfelt thank you.

With significant and growing bipartisan support, there is a very good chance for the SRCA to pass into law this year. That's a rare occurrence in Congress these days, but it's heartening to see it's possible. The only thing holding up a vote is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. I hope you'll join me in encouraging him to put this important measure on the schedule.

We have to do something for the thousands of Native American women who are behind bars, away from their families and their communities. Drugs have decimated our reservations, but lengthy prison sentences have not stemmed their impact, and have arguably made the situation on the reservation worse.

Rep. G. Bruce Meyers

Box Elder

A worthy investment

Posted on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 3:20 PM

Allow me to represent the moderate view on what I think should happen to the Mercantile. As a builder and Realtor, I understand that building up makes economic sense for the developers of the Mercantile and for the rest of the downtown. I agree that having an indoor mall on the main floor and a hotel above would be a great use of space. What I do not understand is why this issue is so black and white. It seems there are plenty of people who think the entire building should be demolished and perhaps an equal number of people who think that it should be completely preserved.

There should be more discussion of how we can restore and preserve facades and then build up multiple stories. In every large city around the world there are examples of this kind of architectural ingenuity, where unique modern architecture is built behind and above historical facades. I admire these buildings because of how they illustrate the passage of time and creatively provide solutions without destroying our heritage.

The Mercantile is the cornerstone of our downtown not only in location but origin as well. The Mercantile represented fair dealing and was the largest department store between Minneapolis and Seattle. It established downtown Missoula as a center of commerce that still thrives today. My concern is that downtown will lose some of its character if we demolish its roots.

I hear the argument that restoring and preserving the facades will be cost prohibitive. It will cost more initially to restore the facades, but in the end I believe the return on investment will be higher, because it will attract more people who want to shop in a unique mall with historical significance and stay in a hotel with a story. The only reason Chelsea Market of New York is a household name is because it was built in an old factory. Otherwise I think it would just be another American mall with a fraction of the visitors. The city of Missoula is subsidizing the redevelopment of Southgate Mall, so why couldn't the city subsidize the cost of preserving facades? I think this would be a worthy investment both financially and for the legacy of our town.

Holly Deluca


Voter project

Posted on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 3:19 PM

I loved reading about the upcoming Montana-based climate ride (see "Staff Pick: Best Way to Fight Climate Change," in the July 7 Best of Missoula issue). Lots of my friends ride in it and hike in Glacier to raise funds for Citizens' Climate Lobby, a volunteer organization working to create the political will for Congress to enact legislation to cut emissions and stabilize manmade climate change.

Did you know that a sizable percentage of Americans who are considered to be "super-environmentalists" don't vote? Researcher Nathaniel Stinnett found that even though tens of millions of Americans are super-committed environmentalists, as a group they have only about an 8 percent turnout rate on Election Day. For more information, please contact Stinnett's Environmental Voter Project or Citizens' Climate Lobby.

Judy Weiss

Brookline, Mass.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Listen to Montanans

Posted on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 3:43 PM

The Department of Interior has placed a sweeping moratorium on new federal coal leases in the United States. The stated objective of the moratorium is to pause the leasing in order to conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement, or PEIS, of this program.

But there are strong suggestions that the true aim of Interior's move is to simply place a permanent stop to all federal coal production. Even environmental groups, Interior's usual allies, agree that this is more than a temporary pause as they laud the decision as a means to kill coal jobs.

Interior recently completed a series of public listening sessions to collect comments on their PEIS process. They held sessions in a number of coal-producing western states, but they conspicuously avoided Montana, arguably the state most impacted by their decision. Oh, but they did find time to hold a hearing in Seattle—though Washington produces no federal coal and is not impacted by the proposal.

Interior's snub prompted Sen. Daines to hold his own listening session for Montanans, the comments from which will be put on the record with Interior. Hundreds of people turned out for Daines' hearing on June 21 in Billings, with opposition to Interior's decision outweighing the supporters by about four to one.

There was so much opposition to Interior because the elimination of federal coal leasing in Montana is a really big deal. Montana holds the largest coal reserves in the country, but more than half of that coal is owned by the federal government.

That means there are thousands of jobs in Montana directly dependent on federal coal. Interior's decision to stop coal leasing will eventually destroy all those jobsat the mines, on the railroads and in generating facilities.

This is going to be an enormous economic hit to the state of Montana. And though it's centered in southeastern Montana in places like Colstrip, it'll have a ripple effect that touches every community in the state.

Montana's budget depends a great deal on coal production. Federal coal is especially valuable because half of the royalty revenues collected by Interior are returned to the state, amounting to about $50 million per biennium for the state's general fund.

That revenue is in addition to all the other taxes paid by coal companies on federal production—taxes on property, business equipment, payroll and income. Simply put, our state budget is very dependent on coal production—especially production of federal coal—and undermining that industry will make it more difficult to fund education, law enforcement, infrastructure and other core functions of government.

Production of tribally owned coal is also put in jeopardy by Interior's decision. Already, the Crow have laid off hundreds of workers due to the political attacks that have undermined the industry over the last two years.

Interior has claimed that the leasing moratorium is necessary so they can determine if coal companies are paying their "fair share" for the federal coal they produce. That excuse rings hollow. Recent data indicate that coal producers pay five times as much in federal royalty payments as they make in profit from mining that coal.

The real objective of Interior's leasing moratorium is fairly obvious: put a stop to federal coal mining. When taken together with the plethora of other federal regulations aimed at killing coal, the picture becomes clear. The biggest threat to Montana coal is not soft markets—it's entirely political.

And that's why we need our political leaders to fight back. Sen. Daines deserves a big thank you from all Montanans for protecting their interests in this matter. It's a fight we can't afford to lose.

Sen. Duane Ankney


Wolf numbers

Posted on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 3:43 PM

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission are two different critters. Our FWP presents wildlife management proposals to five, governor-appointed commissioners. Commission meeting minutes regarding wolves, from 2007 through 2015, are available to the public. Get a copy, it's interesting history.

At their July 14, 2011, meeting, the commissioners established a three-wolf quota north of Yellowstone National Park. On July 9, 2015, the commissioners reduced their quota to two wolves. Yellowstone buffer zone wolf quotas were instituted by commissioners at final season setting meetings. They were not proposed by the FWP or sent out for comment.

On May 12, 2016, department biologists proposed a six-wolf quota and a Montana trapping quota of seven fisher. Commissioners rejected the department's proposal and put out two-wolf and zero-fisher quotas. Department biologists made no Yellowstone wolf quota proposals before their six-wolf quota that was shot down by a commission majority.

Do wolf advocacy groups and their "green decoys" masquerading as sportsmen try to influence Montana politicians? Could Montana hunters and trappers be "sold down the river" to placate national wolf advocacy outfits who couldn't care less about Montana's hunting heritage? Are environmental activists seeking more federal control over Montana resources, pouring political action cash into our governor's reelection campaign? Does wolf predation impact Montana's ungulate populations? You decide.

Edwin Johnson


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