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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Page One News at a Glance

Concerns expressed over RML Incinerator

Flat Iron Ranch annexation feasibility study contracts under review

Eastside Highway improvement planned for south of Corvallis

Stevi lifts moratorium on new water connections

AG Opinion clarifies community college district timelines

Concerns expressed over RML Incinerator

By Michael Howell

Alexandra Gorman, director of science and research for Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE), told the Hamilton City Council at its February 6 meeting that it was time to shut down the medical waste incinerator at Rocky Mountain Laboratory (RML).

Gorman said that while the group she represents, WVE, did sue RML over its proposed expansion project, that lawsuit was settled through mediation and she has great respect for the institution and its staff.

"But I do have concerns about the incinerator and its pollutants," said Gorman. "I'd like to see it shut down."

Gorman said that her analysis of the situation was based upon information produced by the lab and that WVE did not do any independent research, other than analyzing the RML data and researching the issue nationwide.

The problem with medical waste incinerators, according to Gorman, is that they produce and emit toxic air pollutants, such as dioxins, and heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium, as well as hydrochloric acid, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and others. She said that all these pollutants are shown to be coming out of the RML incinerator stack.

Other possible pollutants include PCBs, aluminum, antimony, arsenic, chromium, copper, iron, a whole long list, she said, that has not been tested for locally but is associated with the incineration of medical waste generally. She said that the pollution created by medical waste incineration is persistent and cumulative in the environment and in the human body.

Gorman said that alternatives did exist in the form of autoclaves, a method of steaming waste, and alkaline hydrolysis, a chemical reaction, that can effectively replace the use of an incinerators for medical waste and had in many places around the country. She said the number of medical waste incinerators in the country had dropped by 97 percent in 1997 from a total of 24,000 to only 72.

According to Gorman, RML is "probably one of the best run incinerators in the nation," and meets the current minimum standards for pollutants that are monitored by the lab.

"But there is a difference between what's legal pollution and what's healthy and right for our community," said Gorman. Gorman called it ironic that a medical institution following the oath of "first, do no harm," to be willingly emitting unnecessary pollution that can cause harm to human health. She said that, considering that RML is a public facility, funded by taxpayer dollars, with a mission to promote good public health, it should hold itself to a higher standard than simply being legal.

"Just making their pollution legal, I don't think quite cuts it ethically," said Gorman. "If you know that the law is not fully protecting the public health, then you should go the extra step." She also stated that the incinerator was not popular with the public and that the City of Hamilton had something at stake and possibly could make a difference, even though the final decision rests with the lab.

Associate Director of RML, Marshall Bloom, actually spoke to the council prior to Gorman's talk, during the initial public comment portion of the meeting. Bloom chastised Council President DeAnne Harbaugh for not giving the lab the courtesy of notice about scheduling the talk by Gorman. Bloom said that after discovering the scheduled presentation by accident, his attempts to be placed on the agenda as well were rebuffed.

"In other words, with no disrespect for Alexandra Gorman and Women's Voices for the Earth, tonight's meeting has an agenda item listed as 'public health and the RML incinerator,' but there is no one from Public Health or from RML making that presentation."

Bloom submitted a fact sheet to the Council about the lab's incinerator.

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Flat Iron Ranch annexation feasibility study contracts under review

By Michael Howell

City Planner Dennis Stranger approached the City Council asking for approval of three contracts that he believed would be required to move forward with the analysis of the feasibility of annexing the Proposed Flat Iron Subdivision into the city limits.

He reminded the council that the developers of the Flat Iron Subdivision had submitted an application for annexation. He said that the city was under no obligation to respond to it, but he had come to the council in December seeking direction on the matter and it was agreed to look for some consultants that could do a feasibility analysis if the developers would pay for it because the city could not afford it.

He told the council that he had made some progress and was recommending three contracts be signed. The first, he said, was an agreement with Flat Iron Ranch in which the developer agrees to pay a sum of money to be used to hire the two consultants. The other two contracts would be with consultants to carry out the feasibility study, specifically, an engineering firm, HDR, and a consulting firm, BBC Research and Consulting, out of Denver.

Councilor Robert Sutherland immediately moved to sidetrack the contracts into committee, stating that he had only received his copies of the contracts on Sunday afternoon and needed more time to review the documents. He moved to postpone consideration of the contracts and send them to committee for review and a recommendation.

Councilors DeAnne Harbaugh and Bob Scott both expressed concerns about aspects of the contracts and the lack of time for review and agreed with Sutherland's motion to postpone.

Scott mentioned particularly the contract with HDR where it states, "it is assumed that the structural impact on existing roadway conditions will not be reviewed."

"In my discussion with citizens they are concerned about the impact of extra traffic," said Scott.

"I didn't ask them to do that, to be fair to HDR," said Stranger. "That would probably cost as much as the rest of their work."

"Well, that's something that needs to be paid by the developer," said Scott, "if it's something that needs to be studied. And it does need to be studied."

He also complained that HDR was not being contracted to do an independent impact study but was simply reviewing the environmental assessment done by Flat Iron.

Councilor Mike LaSalle said that he was not going to second guess the City Planner and would accept his recommendation to sign the three contracts.

Councilors Jerry Steele and Nancy Hendrickson sided with LaSalle and the vote to postpone consideration of the contracts and send them to committee resulted in a 3 to 3 tie vote. Mayor Jessica Randazzo broke the tie by voting for the postponement.

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Eastside Highway improvement planned for south of Corvallis

By Michael Howell

The Department of Transportation is planning to reconstruct a section of Eastside Highway (Secondary 269) south of Corvallis in Ravalli County. The project begins at milepost 3.6, just south of the junction with Black Lane on the west and Bass Lane on the east side of Secondary 269. It extends northerly 0.2 miles to milepost 3.8.

MDT proposes to flatten the "crest" and "sag" vertical curves near the intersection to increase sight distance. The work will include grading, drainage, new asphalt surfacing, upgraded pavement markings and delineations and updated signs. The purpose of the project is to enhance the safety of the highway.

New right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation will be required. The project is tentatively scheduled for construction beyond 2011, depending on completion of the design features and availability of funding.

For more information, contact Shane Stack, Engineering Services Supervisor at 1-888-231-5819, or Project Design Engineer Bill Squires at (406) 444-6228. For the hearing impaired, the TTY number is (406) 444-7696 or 1-800-335-7592 or call the Montana Relay at 711. Submit written comments to the Montana Department of Transportation Missoula office at PO Box 7039, Missoula MT 59807-7039 or online at, noting comments are for project CN 6081000. Alternative accessible formats of pertinent information will be provided upon request.

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Stevi lifts moratorium on new water connections

By Michael Howell

The Stevensville Town Council, at its February 12 meeting, lifted the moratorium that has been in place since last September, prohibiting the connection of any new homes to the city water system. That move came on the heels of a report from Professional Consultants Inc. (PCI) concerning the flow rates in Well No. 1.

PCI informed Department of Public Works Superintendent George Thomas by letter on January 24, 2007 that the pump replacement in Well No. 1 had been completed and had been tested for capacity. Attachment of new homes to the town's water system had been suspended pending these results.

According to the report, the well produces sand at all pumping levels, but the rate of sand production significantly increases above 300 gallons per minute (gpm). The National Water Well Association has recommended that sand production from wells be limited to 5 milligrams per liter (mg/l) for water used in homes, institutions and municipalities. The report states that Well No. 1 begins to produce sand at a greater rate than 5 mg/l when the pumping rate exceeds 300 gpm. As a result the report recommends that the well not be pumped above 300 gpm unless sand reduction equipment is installed. If sand filtration equipment is installed on the well, the report states, pumping rates of 500 to 600 gpm can be sustained. Rates above 500 gpm, however, would require additional water rights and state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) approvals before commencement of pumping.

As a result of the test, and using assumed production rates for the Town's other two wells, which were not metered, added to the water flow from the gravity feed system from up the Burnt Fork, the entire production capacity of the Town's system (assuming Well No. 1 is limited to 300 gpm), totals 1494 gpm.

It was noted in the report that, in the past, "peak" flows from the gravity feed system, located up the Burnt Fork, have exceeded 900 gpm, although the flow rate is estimated, based upon its design, to be 784 gpm. But these flows are deemed "unreliable" due to fluctuations in groundwater availability in the area.

In 2005, the report states, the peak day's water use from the plant and wells was 1,333 gpm serving 843 homes (equivalent dwelling units, EDUs). The new pump in Well No. 1, when pumped at 300 gpm, apparently has boosted this total production rate to 1,494 gpm.

According to the Preliminary Engineering Report of June 2006, the town's system is losing about 350,00 gallons per day through leaks. Assuming that the leaks remain unfixed and that the average use of water that new services require is about 600 gallons per day per EDU, the present system should be able to deliver 950 EDUs with no sand filtration system or 1,075 EDUs if a sand filter is installed. This means that the current system, without sand filtration equipment on Well No. 1, should be able to accommodate an additional 57 EDUs over the 2005 figure of 843. If sand filtration equipment is added, the number of potential additions to the system that could be accommodated is boosted by another 125 EDUs.

As a result of this information, Mayor Bill Meisner informed the Council that he felt it was time to lift the moratorium and allow further development at Creekside Meadows, where development of Phase III had been precluded during the moratorium.

Members of the Creekside Meadows Homeowners Association, who have been complaining for some time about the low water pressure in the subdivision, were in attendance. Representatives Tony Norman and Harley Weer told the Bitterroot Star that the Town of Stevensville believes that because the water pressure meets DEQ minimum standards of 32 gpm, the Town has no obligation to address their complaints. They said that Mayor Meisner stated at the meeting that it was a matter between the homeowners and the developer. For the Town to be involved it would require the enactment of a Special Improvement District so the homeowners could pay for the improvements. The homeowners claim that the water pressure may meet DEQ minimum standards but it does not meet their own functional standards, leaving them unable to water lawns as well as other problems with household utilities.

In the past, developer of the subdivision, Arlo Ellison, has promised to foot the bill for installation of a booster pump to the system to boost water pressure to the subdivision. But when the Town placed a moratorium on additions to the water system, holding up Phase III of the subdivision, Ellison conditioned installation of the booster pump on the lifting of the moratorium.

According to unofficial minutes of the meeting, Ellison was present and agreed to install the booster pump, at his own expense, if the Town lifted the moratorium. v

The Council voted unanimously to lift the moratorium.

The Council also heard from Harry Whelan, Montana Rural Water representative, and Tom Hanson of PCI about the need to increase the Town's water rates simply to meet expenses of the existing use of the system.

In other business, the Town received a letter from First Lady Laura Bush congratulating the Town on its recent designation as a Preserve America Community and stating that the preservation and enjoyment of our historical and cultural resources celebrate an important part of our nation's heritage.

Main Street Association President Victoria Howell informed the council that the designation qualifies the town for some federal grants. She told the council that if it took immediate action it could meet the deadline for applying for an approximately $30,000 grant under the new program to update a survey of historic properties within the town limits. The council voted unanimously to apply for the grant.

Town Clerk Nancy Lowell has been re-certified by the Association of Public Treasurers.

The Town approved allowing Airport Manager Don Misevic and Jim Johnson to attend the ADO meeting in Missoula.

The Town also adopted the updated International Building Code and the International Residential Code as applicable to Town development.

The Council also approved payment of $1,400 in insurance payments for the airport.

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AG Opinion clarifies community college district timelines

By Michael Howell

In an opinion released last Thursday, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath held that the Legislature has the final authority to approve the creation of a community college district. McGrath also held that approval occurs after approval by local voters but before the Board of Regents issues an organizational order.

Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns requested the opinion. The questions arose from a proposal to create a new community college in Ravalli County.

Under state law, the creation of a new community college district begins with the submission of a petition to the Board of Regents to create the district. That petition has already been circulated in the county and members of the Bitterroot Valley Community College Exploratory Committee were successful in garnering 5,100 signatures in favor of establishing a district in the county. Signatures from 20 percent of the registered voters, 4,290 signatures in this case, were required. The signatures were validated by county officials last January and the petition is scheduled to be presented to the Board of Regents for their approval at its upcoming meeting starting February 28.

The Board of Regents will then order an election, presumably May 8, 2007, to seek voter approval of the district and to elect the district's trustees if it is approved.

"The law is less than clear on what happens next," states McGrath in his opinion, "and whether legislative approval happens before or after the election."

McGrath noted that the statute is a blend of three different bills, including one titled to require "final" approval by the legislature.

"Given the detailed procedural requirements set forth elsewhere in the statute," he held, "the inclusion of the word 'final' can fairly be read as an indication that the Legislature intended its approval to be the last substantive step authorizing the district to begin operation."

McGrath also held that state law requires the Board of Regents to submit a recommendation on a community college district for legislative approval. It does not, however, require the Board of Regents to approve the creation of the district.

Opinions of the attorney general carry the weight of law unless a court overturns them or the legislature modifies the law involved.

As a result of the opinion, approval of the proposed Bitterroot Valley Community College District will be a legislative decision which occurs after local voter approval but before the Board of Regents issues its organizational order. Provided, of course, that the voters first approve the district.

The proposed district covers all of Ravalli County except the Florence-Carlton School District. Based upon estimates made by the exploratory committee, a local community college of 175 full-time students would mean an increase in local taxes of about $8.50 per year on property of a taxable value of $100,000. Those taxes would cover about one quarter of the cost of the college with the rest of the money coming from tuition and state higher education funds.

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