The way we were 

A look back at the important stories of 2003

The Libby mill closure
When Stimson closed its Libby mill and dismissed 300 employees last December, two camps developed. One camp stayed in town, hoping that Libby’s economic outlook would rosy up. The other scattered across the state (and the West) in search of employment. A handful of those who left came to Missoula in hopes that Stimson’s Bonner mill could provide jobs to get them back on their feet. Originally, Stimson said that there might be as many as 60 positions open, and proposed seniority for Libby’s laid-off workers. In actuality, only about 20 Bonner positions became available, and only about half of those were eventually staffed by workers from Libby, many of whom—with families and homes in Libby—couldn’t afford to uproot. (Jed Gottlieb)

Digging for clues in Ovando
It was March when the call came in: officers of the law had ransacked the homestead of Carol Boyd in Ovando, Mont., looking—according to the warrant taped to the table—for evidence of pornography and the remains of a human fetus, among other specified items. Boyd, whose family has had run-ins with the law before, declaimed any knowledge, even as a multi-jurisdictional cop squad apparently dug up her son’s gravesite and chased reporters from the scene under threat of arrest. In June, the state Department of Justice described the case as “suspended,” and by December, the attorney general’s office had “nothing new” to report. According to available information, no charges were ever filed, no crime was ever alleged, and no suspect ever named. (Brad Tyer)

UM’s Environmental Studies Program under attack
During the second half of the 2003 legislative session, something unprecedented happened: mining, timber and construction lobbyists urged the Legislature to curtail state funding for EVST because they felt the program was damaging the state’s economy. One lobbyist, Angela Janacaro of the Montana Mining Association, testified that the program was “insidious.” A few state lawmakers—Sen. John Esp (R-Big Timber) and Rep. John Witt (R-Carter)—even jumped on the bandwagon.

The culminating event of the would-be coup had Witt sponsoring an amendment to the state budget bill diverting $800,000 from the university system to fund students at the dental hygiene program at MSU-Great Falls and the Montana Library Commission. It wasn’t until after the 11-6 passage of the amendment that Witt told the press the move was intended as a symbolic removal of EVST’s funding. Democratic anger at being misled had House members calling for an Ethics Committee hearing, but thanks to Republican control of the Legislature, at least according to Democrats, Witt wasn’t even given a slap on the wrist. (Jed Gottlieb)

The removal of Milltown Dam
In April, the EPA announced that the almost 100-year-old Milltown dam will be removed. The $95 million Superfund cleanup will not only remove the dam, but also clean up the toxic sediments that have settled behind it, causing fish kills and seeping into the town’s aquifer. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has endorsed the EPA’s plan and even Gov. Judy Martz chimed in with her support for the dam’s removal. (Jed Gottlieb)

Touch America and NorthWestern bankruptcies
Those of you who remember the Montana Power Company may be wondering: How did it come to this? United, Montana Power was one of the nation’s top companies. Divided…well, look at the pieces. Both Touch America and NorthWestern declared bankruptcy this year—Touch America in June and NorthWestern in September.

In the fallout, many lost jobs, retirement savings and any hope of reliably affordable power. Meanwhile Bob Gannon and other execs at the companies took millions in bonuses, raises and payouts. “Who Killed Montana Power?” asked 60 Minutes. The answer: a little Gannon, a little greed, and the Montana Legislature. (Jed Gottlieb)

Keeping the homeland safe—from Canadians
When Noni Belland and her daughter Lauren arrived at the border crossing at Peigan, Mont. on Aug. 4, Belland found to her surprise that she’d been working illegally in the United States. Belland, a Canadian citizen, has worked as an ophthalmology assistant at Bitterroot Valley Eye Associates in Hamilton since 1988, but the border guards didn’t care. Post-9/11, an expired work visa translates to a trip home—a three-year trip. Belland says the guards “took me into an interview room and put my fingers on a scanner and photographed my face. I asked, ‘Am I being arrested?’ And the officer said, ‘No, but you won’t be able to go back to the U.S. for three years.’” Belland has since appealed to the U.S. government and may have that three years reduced to a year or less. (Jed Gottlieb)

The death of James Welch
Missoula lost a leading light and longtime friend, and literature lost one of the good ones on Aug. 4 when Native American novelist James Welch passed away at the age of 62. The author of internationally acclaimed works of fiction including Fools Crow and The Indian Lawyer—knighted by France in 2000 for his work—died of a heart attack at his home after a long battle with lung cancer. On Aug. 27, hundreds of friends, colleagues and admirers—from UM professor emeritus William Kittredge to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw—gathered at the Wilma Theatre to pay tribute to Welch’s memory, which, like his books, should have a healthy shelf-life in Missoula and beyond. (Brad Tyer)

Inspecting the beef inspectors
Before Mother Jones profiled John Munsell, the owner of the family-run Montana Quality Foods spoke with the Independent about his concerns with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) meat inspection system. Munsell, a whistle-blower whose refusal to back off nearly cost him his business, says that because of lawsuit fears the USDA essentially looked the other way—or blamed Munsell himself—as E. Coli-contaminated beef from the multinational ConAgra corporation entered the country. The Independent filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the USDA for a look at the number of refused and reinspected lots of beef and poultry at the major port of Sweetgrass, Mont. That request has since been denied. Why aren’t you allowed to know how much of the meat you buy is being inspected? Because the inspection stations in Sweetgrass are run by private companies, says USDA FOIA officer Barbara McNiff, and they don’t have to tell you. (Mike Keefe-Feldman)

Putting the public back in public comment
When a Montana governor appoints a Supreme Court Justice, there is a mandatory public comment period. Yet how could Montanans comment on who should replace the retiring Justice Terry Trieweiler—generally considered the court’s foremost progressive—without access to the applications of high court nominees? After wrangling with the Judicial Nomination Commission for months over making applications available on the state law library website, the Montana Supreme Court stepped in with a 5-2 decision siding with the Independent and commanding the commission to make the applications accessible on March 13. With the comment period over, Gov. Judy Martz appointed Havre’s former 12th District Judge, John Warner. (Mike Keefe-Feldman)

Forest Service outsourcing
This year alone, the government has examined 3,781 Forest Service jobs for outsourcing, says U.S. Forest Service employee and union representative Doug Law. By 2007, that number will grow to around 10,200. Law maintains that some computer support jobs could even end up in India.

Here in Missoula, 41 members of the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team (CAT)—the department in charge of analyzing public comment on proposed policy changes—were sent packing in November. Outsourced employee Holly Schneider says there aren’t any Missoula companies prepared to take on the whole of what CAT did, and her claim is backed up by the fact that not one Missoula-based company is bidding on the CAT takeover. Already, more than 60 companies from California to Washington to Vermont have come forward to bid on portions of the project. By many estimations, outsourcing signals not only a loss of government jobs, but a loss of in-state jobs. (Jed Gottlieb)

Making every vote count
The state of Montana prepared to purchase 710 units of Direct Recording Equipment (DREs) under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). As Montana Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Brown appeared in television and print media to tout the opportunities digital touchscreen voting will provide to the blind and disabled, an independent study commissioned by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell detailed massive security problems with every brand of the new voting machines, raising the specter of widespread, non-traceable vote tampering in 2004. (Mike Keefe-Feldman)

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