Dear Yellowstone County Commissioner James Reno:
We caught your recent comments to the Montana press regarding Missoula County's big rigs lawsuit. Let us be the first to say, "bravo!" for taking up the fight for energy interests in eastern Montana. For the past year this issue has focused far too much on the so-called "pristine" forests in our backyard. It's high time the debate shifted to the human-made features in yours.
Billings suffers no lack of charm, Jim, the kind you only get in communities nestled on the high plains. Instead of filing injunctions against the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), perhaps we should celebrate that Imperial Oil didn't propose shipping these 200-plus oversized loads through your neighborhood. You have more to lose than us, it seems.
After all, those big loads might discourage tourists from visiting the Siberian tigers at ZooMontana (sorry to hear about the looming loss of accreditation). They might even delay traffic heading to the shiny new post-tornado MetraPark. Congrats getting Elton John last weekend, by the way. Between his concert and Billings is looking like quite the entertainment hub.
Most important—as you pointed out—is the potential impact our county commissioners' lawsuit might have on the Billings economy. After all, these loads are headed to ExxonMobil's tar sands mining operation in Alberta. And, with an Exxon refinery, Billings will no doubt be processing some of that black gold. Some people might call that bias on your part, Jim. We call it shrewd economic thinking. Plus, you have to live with the smell.
Imperial Oil's gotten a lot of flack over this proposal, and not just from our county commissioners. A large number of officials don't seem to share your forward-thinking attitude. Tribal leaders from the region decried the big rigs last year. So did Forest Service supervisors on the Lolo and the Selway-Bitterroot.
But since summer 2009, when he cautioned that this proposal would create a permanent high and wide corridor, MDT Director Jim Lynch has had a change of heart. If Lynch saw the light, others will too.
Rather than fight this, maybe our county commissioners should take a cue from Billings' annual Holiday Parade. Imperial could stimulate the economy by hiring a few locals to pass out candy. If you'd let us, we could even borrow Billings homeboy Denny Rehberg to saddle up and ride one of the big rigs. It could be the most weighty cause he's ever championed.