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Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Page One News at a Glance

Commissioner of Political Practices to investigate Bitterroot complaints

Ravalli County Citizens for Free Enterprise funded 100 percent by Wal-Mart

Complaints concerning efforts to defeat Interim Zoning Initiative to be investigated

Ninth Circuit Court denies Emergency Injunction on Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project

County adopts Old Corvallis Road Neighborhood Plan

Appleblossom Subdivision tabled

Museum helps provide 'Indian Education for All'

AmeriCorps helps out at Pantry Partners

Commissioner of Political Practices to investigate Bitterroot complaints

By Michael Howell

The Commissioner of Political Practices, Dennis Unsworth, confirmed on Monday that at least four complaints from the Bitterroot Valley concerning alleged violations of the state's election laws in the recent elections have been determined to be valid complaints and will be investigated. He said that the determination is based upon receiving a notarized complaint stating the law under which the Commission has jurisdiction and describing the allegations which, if true, constitute a violation of the law. Unsworth said that his office received eight new complaints in the last week before the elections and half of them were from the Bitterroot Valley.

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Ravalli County Citizens for Free Enterprise funded 100 percent by Wal-Mart

By Michael Howell

The latest complaint from the Bitterroot came from the Bitterroot Good Neighbors Coalition (BGNC) and was signed by its president, Russ Lawrence. It charges the political action committee, Ravalli County Citizens for Free Enterprise - Repeal 1844 (RCCFE), with violating the naming and labeling portion of the campaign laws that requires political action committees to use a name or phrase that "clearly identifies the economic or other special interest, if identifiable, of a majority of its contributors." In this case, argues Lawrence and the BGNC, not just a majority, but 100 percent of the funding for RCCFE came from a single $100,000 donation from Wal-Mart. BGNC argues that the group's name was indeed misleading and actually conceals the identity of its contributors.

The Bitterroot Good Neighbors Coalition is a non-profit group that was instrumental in gaining passage of Resolution 1844 by the County Commissioners. That resolution, referred to by many as the "Big Box Ordinance," established a size limit of 60,000 square feet on retail stores and placed design standards on intermediate stores from 25,000 to 60,000 square feet. Public clamor for passage of the resolution was in part inspired by the efforts of Wal-Mart to establish a 153,000 square foot Supercenter near Hamilton.

Wal-Mart originally provided $40,000 (about 99 percent of the contributions) used to gather signatures to place an initiative on the ballot to repeal the size cap. Unsworth confirmed on Monday that once the petition was successful, as of October 21, 100 percent of the funding for RCCFE efforts to support the ballot measure to repeal the Resolution also came from Wal-Mart, in a single donation of $100,000.

"One hundred thousand dollars is an unprecedented amount of money to spend on a Ravalli county ballot issue," said Lawrence, president of BGNC. BGNC characterizes it as a "blatant attempt to buy the election." Lawrence claims that Wal-Mart has a clear economic interest in the outcome of this election and should, according to law, have been identified in the group's name as a major contributor.

The complaint, filed on October 31, according to Lawrence, asked for the Commissioner to force the committee to change its name and levy a fine against it for the $24,000 already spent. It did not take Unsworth long on Monday after finding the complaint, which was originally misplaced in the office, to determine that it was something worth investigating.

But the investigation may not be completed for a year. According to Unsworth, it is placed on a docket of complaints that are dealt with on a first come, first served basis. There are about 19 cases preceding this one on the docket, including three others from the Bitterroot Valley.

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Complaints concerning efforts to defeat Interim Zoning Initiative to be investigated

By Michael Howell

Three complaints filed by the Bitterrooters for Planning Action Committee, two against the Bitterroot Building Association (BBA) and one against the Residents for Responsible Land Use (RRLU), will also be investigated, according to Unsworth. According to Marilyn Owns Medicine, chairperson of the BFP Action Committee, Unsworth has proposed combining the three complaints into a single complaint with three counts because he believes that the BBA and the RRLU are the same entity.

The BFP Action Committee complaints allege that RRLU violated the naming and labeling provisions of the state's election laws that require political action committees to use a name or phrase that "clearly identifies the economic or other special interest, if identifiable, of a majority of its contributors." In this case, BFP argues, the BBA was the main contributor, donating about $37,000 in three separate installments to RRLU. They claim that BBA should have been identified in the name of the committee. BFP also alleges that the BBA illegally distributed political campaign material through its newsletters and website. BFP claims that the BBA, which is registered as an "incidental committee," is authorized to donate to political action committees but may not distribute campaign material itself. A third charge alleges that BBA did not properly identify the contributors of the money.

Owns Medicine said that other counts may be added to the complaint as their group's investigation of the issues continues. She said that the Bitterroot Valley Board of Realtors (BVBR) may also have made undisclosed contributions to the BBA for use in the campaign.

"They are trying to hide who was behind the opposition to this ballot measure," said Owns Medicine. "They claim to be composed of residents and to be citizen groups but so far all the evidence suggests that it is mainly the BBA and the BVBR. I find that alarming."

If the allegations in these complaints prove to be true and it can be determined that they likely affected the outcome of the election, the results of the election may be voided and a new election would be scheduled.

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Ninth Circuit Court denies Emergency Injunction on Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project

By Michael Howell

On November 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request by WildWest Institute and Friends of the Bitterroot for emergency renewal of the lapsed injunction pending appeal of the Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project on the Sula Ranger District.

The decision to implement the first Forest Service project to be sponsored under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act was appealed by the Institute to Judge Molloy's Missoula District Court last summer. Molloy refused to grant an emergency injunction on the project. WildWest Institute appealed that decision and on August 25, 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 60-day injunction on any commercial timber harvest pending appeal. The emergency injunction was renewable by request, but no request was made and the injunction expired on October 24.

On October 30, the Forest Service executed the award of the first of three stewardship contracts developed to implement the planned fuel reduction work. It awarded the Spring Mink Stewardship Sale to Rocky Mountain Log Homes of Hamilton, which is working with R&R Conner, a logging company from Darby, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation which will be implementing the non-commercial fuel reduction work. Work is planned to begin in three to four weeks and will continue as long as weather permits.

Dave Bull, Forest Supervisor, feels that moving ahead is the responsible thing to do.

"I feel it is important that I honor my commitment to our neighbors along the East Fork by moving forward, in accordance with court action, to implement this important fuels reduction project," said Bull.

Sula District Ranger Tracy Hollingshead said that the project work would begin in the highest priority areas behind the homes up the East Fork. It would involve some commercial logging but mostly non-commercial thinning, slashing, and hand piling and burning. She said that some fire line would also be constructed. Hollingshead said that work was continuing on the second proposed stewardship contract but that it would probably be several weeks before that could be advertised for bid.

The day after the contract was awarded, WildWest Institute filed for an emergency 72-hour renewal of the lapsed injunction pending appeal.

On November 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied that request.

However, on November 15 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments for granting a Preliminary Injunction in the case, a separate question from the emergency injunction that was temporarily in effect but now denied.

Also, on December 8, Montana District Court Judge Molloy will hear the motion for summary judgement in regard to the case.

Jeff Juel, of the WildWest Institute, said on Monday that the latest decision to deny a request for an emergency injunction was not fully explained and that he was confident that when the court takes a look at the case for a Preliminary Injunction on November 15, and the entire case in Molloy's court on December 8, that the Institute will prevail. He said that the Forest Service should take a good look at that possibility as well.

"If they go forward and the project is found to be illegal, then they will be accountable for the over commitment of taxpayers' money and the damage to the environment," said Juel. He said that the Institute was not against fire reduction measures near the homes, but did object to the invasion of Old Growth habitat far from the homes under the guise of fuel reduction.

"To us, it is clear that the intent is logging of old growth and not a healthy forest or fire protection," said Juel.

Ravalli County has joined the lawsuit on the side of the Forest Service and argued that the work is necessary for safety considerations in an area serviced by only one road in and out.

"Molloy didn't grant the emergency injunction and the fact that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did not renew the one that it granted shows that the Court sees a weak case here," said Ravalli County Attorney George Corn.

Senator Conrad Burns, who worked hard to pass the Healthy Forests Initiative, stated in a press release that, "the attempt at an additional injunction notwithstanding, I'm pleased to see the East Fork project moving forward. It's had its day in court, the local community and the federal managers agree with the project, and this is clearly a wise usage of harvestable timber under the Healthy Forest Initiative. I've worked hard on the stewardship program, and feel it serves a great purpose of not only wisely managing forest resources, but bringing benefit back to the local community."

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County adopts Old Corvallis Road Neighborhood Plan

By Michael Howell

Ravalli County Commissioners amended the county's Growth Policy on Monday to adopt the Old Corvallis Road Neighborhood Plan, or Area 3 Plan. It is the first long range zoning initiative to be undertaken by the county. The plan to basically zone 487 acres of land north of Hamilton has undergone a rocky road in its journey before both the City of Hamilton and the County Commissioners.

The land currently lies outside the city limits between Old Corvallis Road on the west and the Eastside Highway on the east. It stretches from Fairgrounds Road on the south to the Daly Mansion on the north. But the plan calls for eventual annexation into the city and attachment to city water and sewer services. Both the City and the County jointly hired John Horwich to draft the plan.

Despite a recommendation for adoption of the plan by the Hamilton Planning Committee, the city declined to adopt the plan. Councilor Robert Sutherland said that it was voted down 5 to 1 because not enough information had been presented. He said that the Council considered having Horwich provide the additional information or the City Planner, whom they expected to hire. In August they opted to wait for the planner.

In the meantime the Ravalli County Planning Board also recommended to the County Commissioners that they adopt the plan. The Commissioners' first attempt to do so failed because it was not recognized that it meant making an amendment to the current Growth Policy.

Horwich pointed out to the Commissioners on Monday that, counting the six before the City and the eight meetings before the County and the last public hearing, the plan had been through 15 public meetings to date. He noted that, as an amendment to the County Growth Policy, the Area 3 Plan was not a regulatory document. He said that, like the growth policy, it may lead to regulations to implement the expressed goals, but it does not contain any regulations in itself. He also stressed that it was not a subdivision plan for the area, but a set of goals and policies to guide development in the area over the next 15 to 20 years.

The plan envisions residential development on about 300 of the 485 acres. Density would be limited to 2.9 dwelling units per net acre with a total of 840 at build out. It would allow denser development, up to 10 dwelling units per acre, as long as the total number of 840 units was not exceeded. This would encourage dedication of private open space throughout the development.

Horwich told the Commissioners that whether or not the development is actually annexed and placed on city services or not, it should be a public water and sewer system in the area, even if it is privately operated. He said the plan also calls for a trail system integrated into the adjacent surroundings. He said that a business corridor was proposed along Old Corvallis Road that would include an Entrepreneur Training Center proposed by the county Economic Development Authority and would foster businesses integral with Rocky Mountain Laboratory and GlaskoSmithKline and the bio research industry. Not retail stores, he said.

The plan also calls for establishment of a public park of 46.5 acres in the north part of the area by the existing pond. It would also preserve the view of the western mountains from the Daly Mansion on the east. He said combined with the Mansion property it created about 100 acres of public space in the area.

Horwich said that some zoning would be required to implement the plan concerning such things as the density and design standards. Some amendments to the subdivision regulations would also be required for things such as requiring dedication of trails as opposed to sidewalks.

The meeting was sparsely attended with more press in attendance than public and only one member of the public spoke.

"I think it's a good plan," said Planning Board member Bob Kraun. "It appears to be driven by landowner involvement."

The Bessenyey family owns about 75 percent of the land in the area, was involved in the planning process, and approves of the final draft of the plan.

County Attorney George Corn also urged the Commissioners to adopt the plan. He called it a critical first step by the Commissioners in an actual zoning process. He said that following the many years of struggle to secure the Daly Mansion, it only made sense to adopt a development plan in the area that would protect it. Corn assured the Commissioners that the failure of the City of Hamilton to adopt the plan did not jeopardize the Commissioners' ability to adopt it.

County Planner Karen Hughes said that the City of Hamilton did have a new planner and would likely resurrect consideration of the plan by the city.

All three Commissioners expressed "disappointment" and "frustration" at Hamilton's failure to adopt the plan and then voted unanimously to adopt it themselves. First passing a Resolution of Intent and then a Resolution to Amend the Growth Policy and include the Old Corvallis Road Neighborhood Plan.

Hamilton Mayor Jessica Randazzo said in a telephone interview that the city had hired a new planner, Dennis Stranger, who started work on October 23. She said that Stranger had looked at the Area 3 Plan and thought it might be worth reconsideration by the council. She said that she was hopeful the council might take up with it again.

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Appleblossom Subdivision tabled

By Michael Howell

There was a public hearing before the Stevensville Board of Adjustments on October 30, to consider a proposal by Appleblossom Court LLC to annex property into the city and create a subdivision of several homes on a 3.65 acre parcel on Park Street. The parcel is currently home to a trailer park. The plan calls for R-2 residential zoning and no variances are being requested.

According to draft minutes, following a presentation by Nathan Lucke of Landworks Consulting at a meeting on September 7, the Planning and Zoning Board recommended approval of the annexation request with R-2 multi-family zoning. The Board also recommended adoption of the preliminary plat, "with the condition that it conform to all the requirements of annexation and subdivision."

The Board of Adjustments received a letter from Park Street resident Betty Lowell who lives next to the existing Appleblossom Trailer Park. She told the Board that she had a new septic and drainfield installed in 1998 and did not want to be annexed into the city. She said that the city's system was already inadequate to serve existing users.

At the meeting the Doziers, next door neighbors to the property, also protested the proposal stating that they were opposed to the R-2 zoning. Lila Baldwin expressed concerns over the future of the current trailer park inhabitants. Mr. and Mrs. John O'Bannon wondered if it would effect the 9th Street neighborhood.

Street Superintendent Ed Sutherlin expressed concerns over providing water to the subdivision at this time. He stated that Bruce Park requested water some time ago and was turned down and that things had not changed. He also stated that the current septic systems at the trailer park would have to be removed, not just filled.

No decision was made at the meeting and the matter was tabled to be taken up again on November 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 215 Buck Street.

Most of the primary business at the Town's regular meeting on October 23 was tabled and also rescheduled for the meeting of November 13. It will include the proposed changes to the town's Curfew Ordinance and the newly proposed Burning Ordinance. Discussion of proposed changes to the Development Codes was also postponed until the 13th.

The Council heard an update on the Well #1 Project from Ed Sutherlin. He said that the well has been baled, jetted and pumped and that the Town's engineer, Tom Hanson of PCI, was obtaining a 50- or 60-horsepower pump. A video camera inspection is planned soon.

Mayor Meisner informed the council that the Army Corps of Engineers would be in town on the 25th at approximately 10 a.m. to discuss grant possibilities for the town's water system.

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Museum helps provide 'Indian Education for All'

By Gretchen Langton

Article X of the Montana State Constitution, ratified in 1972, specifically mandates "preserving the cultural integrity of the state's tribal nations." But for thirty-three years, little funding was devoted to Article X; there was one staff position to meet the Indian education needs for the entire state.

In 1999, Representative Carol Juneau (Democrat-Browning) sponsored the Indian Education for All Act, calling for all Montana school children to learn about the distinct Native American cultures that defined Montana prior to the arrival of Caucasians. Still no funding... until the Montana Quality Education Coalition filed suit claiming that not funding Indian Ed was unconstitutional. Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena agreed with the coalition and so did the Montana Supreme Court. In 2005, the court mandated funding for Indian Ed and the state budgeted $3.4 million to, first, develop a model curricula and then purchase classroom material for teachers. This year, Superintendent Linda McCulloch announced that the Office of Public Instruction would partner with Fish, Wildlife and Parks to create 25 different programs specific to Montana's rich native cultures. Also, several informational DVD's were made to augment the 50 model social studies lessons ideally incorporated into Montana's K-12 system. While the slow wheels of bureaucracy turn, there are those in the Bitterroot who are taking matters into their own capable hands.

The Ravalli County Museum has begun its own program designed to enhance cultural awareness. All the valley's fourth graders and several seventh grade classes, 651 students in all, participated in a first annual event with eight different speakers. The event was held at the Ravalli County Museum beginning on the 23rd of October and running through November 3rd.

Terry Hinman, Ravalli County Museum board member and volunteer coordinator of this program, has worked tirelessly on everything from funding to scheduling to greeting fourth and seventh graders at the door. Hinman is dedicated to facilitating cultural awareness, so dedicated she bought a 12-foot teepee. The teepee is set up in the old court chambers upstairs, and is accurately designed in the style and detail of the Kootenai Salish. This unique museum quality reproduction is not a cheap teaching aide and the museum, Hinman says, has had to reach deep into their general funds (to the tune of $10,500) to make this program happen. Fortunately, the teaching aides only have to be purchased once and can be used year after year for this program as well as others. Some of these aides will also be on display in the museum's new permanent Native American room next to the elevator upstairs. Hinman says the daily operating cost for the program is $1,000.00‹most of this goes to pay the incredible line-up of talented Native speakers who work with the children.

A total of 45 students per program (there are morning and afternoon programs) break into three groups, visit three distinct stations with one to two speakers at each station. In the Discovery Room, Irene and Bud Wood, both retired school teachers and library volunteers, discussed Lewis and Clark's journey and encounters with the Salish people. At another station, Mary Jane Charlo taught the students the names and signs (hand signals) for Montana wildlife and had the students practice each sign and pronounce the words in Salish. Charlo's station alternated speakers to include eighty-three-year-old Bud Barnaby and seventy three-year-old Louis Adams, both tribal elders, who recalled the stories of their youth in the Bitterroot and examined tribal customs with students. Dalon Weaselhead demonstrated the stick game for the children and they were encouraged to participate.

In the old courtroom with the teepee as a backdrop, Tim Ryan introduced students to the daily activities of native men and particularly focused on the activities that children of his audience's age would have engaged in. Tim, a tribal archeologist for the Salish, captivated his young audience as he explained each replicated artifact succinctly but with a care for detail he gets from being each item's maker. Tim makes his bows and baskets in the traditional fashion. For example, the child's bow he passed around for students to inspect closely was not sanded with 220, it was sanded with horsetail grass authenticating the process in a meaningful way. Tim has items in the Montana Historical Society's new permanent exhibit in Helena called "Neither Empty nor Unknown" - his cedar bark baskets and traditional fishing tackle (including a spear, Indian Hemp fishing line and bone hooks) are on display.

Shawn Ryan, Tim's sister, is an artisan in her own right and is equally engaging with her audience. Shawn covered the daily duties of tribal women and focused specifically on the process of hide scraping and tanning. On the subject of brain tanning, Shawn told her wide-eyed audience that she had always been amazed that "each animal has exactly enough brains to tan its own hide." Shawn's reverence for the laborious tanning customs was evident in her voice as she explained how physically fit one must be to live in this manner. Shawn does her own beadwork as well.

After Tim and Shawn completed their talks, Shawn gave students the chance to try on leggings for the boys and a lovely dress adorned with elk teeth and beadwork for the girls. The rest of the students sat inside the teepee and asked Tim more questions.

The impressions made by this program on the Bitterroot's young minds are invaluable. It not only begins the dialogue of cultural awareness, this event reminds us that the cultural heritage of this valley is very dependent upon preserving the Native perspective to be balanced. Also, events such as this serve to remind children that Native cultures must not be relegated to museum dioramas. The Salish people are very much alive and anxious to share their language and customs with those who will listen. This cultural sharing can begin to break down the barriers of racism that have existed for so long in Montana.

If you are interested in cultural programming or reproduced artifacts, you can contact Tim Ryan at (406) 212-7809. If you would like to sponsor cultural programming and help the museum offset its costs, contact Terry Hinman at 363-3338.

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AmeriCorps helps out at Pantry Partners

By Michael Howell

As part of National Make a Difference Day, service workers from AmeriCorps showed up at Pantry Partners, the local food bank in Stevensville, to help the usual volunteers there with a multitude of tasks. The crew from AmeriCorps swept in and swept up, or rather, vacuumed up, cleaned out freezers, re-organized storage areas, and stocked shelves, among other things.

This year, the Corporation for National and Community service, which supports the Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America initiatives, across the nation, will commit more than $8,900,000 to support these initiatives in Montana communities. In Montana, more than 9,000 people of all ages and backgrounds are helping to meet local needs, strengthen communities, and increase civic engagement through 51 national service projects across the state. This year AmeriCorps has 496 individuals providing services across Montana to meet educational, environmental, public safety and other pressing needs.

AmeriCorps operates locally through the Family Resource Centers at many Bitterroot Valley schools including Grantsdale, Washington, Daly, the middle and high schools and the Head Start in Hamilton as well as centers in Stevensville, Florence and Victor schools. Its aim is to get more parents actively involved in their children's schooling, because research has shown that children whose parents are actively involved make better students. AmeriCorps is also involved in Vista, WORD (in Missoula), and Kids First (in Hamilton).

Anyone interested in the services provided by Pantry Partners can visit the office at 616 Park Street, Stevensville or call 777-0351.

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