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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Page One News at a Glance

County Treasurer needs help

Group hopes to continue recycling at fairgrounds

Hamilton Council adopts Master Park Plans

Stevi Council rescinds policy on seeking legal counsel

Stockgrowers honor Rennaker

County Treasurer needs help

By Michael Howell

Newly elected Ravalli County Treasurer Mary Hudson came before the County Commissioners at a hastily scheduled meeting last Friday, January 28 seeking approval to hire a new tax clerk. What she got was a verbal thrashing from the Commissioners for her inability to fulfill some basic functions of her office such as a monthly reconciliation of the county's books and the investment of funds.

The Treasurer's position is an elected position and, as an elected position, not under the direct authority of the County Commissioners, although they can control the budget and hiring and firing of personnel. Due to the tight budget, the Commissioners have put all departments in the county on notice that any new hires or re-hires must gain commissioners' approval.

There were 42 applicants for the job of tax clerk that was advertised as a Grade 7 position according to county standards. Robert Jenni of the Human Resources Department told the Commissioners that the tax department was looking to hire one of the applicants at the Grade 9 level. He said the position being replaced was actually a Grade 9. He said typically the county hires a Grade 7 in such instances but that in this instance they had an applicant with some extra qualifications that make her more valuable. Her experience as a former Lake County Treasurer means that she has the skills and abilities to train the new Treasurer in the county's reconciliation process and how to handle investment funds.

"She brings some knowledge that we need," said Jenni.

Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher said, "My concern is we are hiring someone to train you to do the job you were elected to do."

"You think because Iım elected that I will be able to walk in on the first day and be able to do this job?" countered Hudson.

"Yes," said Kanenwisher.

Commissioner Suzy Foss said that she, too, was concerned that Hudson was actually hiring someone to train her.

"I need to know how to do the monthly reconciliation," said Hudson. "I am looking for help."

Commission Chair J.R. Iman also expressed concern that the job description that was advertised was not the same as what the new clerk was really being asked to do.

Jenni said that they were not hiring a new Chief Deputy, they were just hiring a tax clerk with some extra skills.

Kanenwisher said that there was talk early on of getting training.

Hudson said that she had contacted some people at the state level but not gotten a response.

Kanenwisher said that it scared him that she would stop there and not stay at it until she got the help she needed.

"That's your responsibility," he said.

Hudson said the first state-sponsored training sessions were not scheduled until April.

Commissioner Greg Chilcott said that he believed the problems extended beyond the inability to do the reconciliation. He said that he had also heard about problems with ³sweeping the countyıs checking account² to provide 2.9 percent interest in an investment fund. He said it was a $2 million account and even at only 2.9 percent it added up to something.

"I don't know what else is going on, but I'm not confident that our funds are being managed in the best fashion," said Chilcott.

Iman said that the Treasurer was responsible for the county's dollars. He said that because she is elected, the county commissioners don't have the authority to tell her what to do.

"But we have an obligation if you are not doing your job," he said, "It appears by your own admission you are not getting the job done." He said that he wanted to see a job description that accurately states what the person's job will be. He said he wanted in writing a justification for hiring at a Grade 9 level instead of the advertised Grade 7.

"It sounds like the job you were hiring her to do is not much of a job if she will have all the time to do the training of the Treasurer, too," said Foss.

"At best it sounds like you are hiring a Chief Deputy Clerk," said Kanenwisher. "At worst you are hiring a Treasurer."

Iman read the applicable Montana law to Hudson:

7-4-2110 - Supervision of county and other officers. The board of county commissioners has jurisdiction and power, under the limitations and restrictions that are prescribed by law, to: (1) supervise the official conduct of all county officers and officers of all districts and other subdivisions of the county charged with assessing, collecting, safekeeping, managing, or disbursing public revenue; (2) see that the officers faithfully perform their duties; (3) direct prosecutions for delinquencies; (4) when necessary, require the officers to renew their official bonds, make reports, and present their books and accounts for inspection; and (5) require the officers to supervise staff in a manner that complies with personnel policies and procedures adopted by the county governing body.

Since Friday's meeting did not receive adequate public notice for making a decision, the matter was postponed to Tuesday, February 1, 2011. .

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Group hopes to continue recycling at fairgrounds

By Michael Howell

As part of a series of meetings it has been holding, aimed at gathering community input into its Grand Plan for future use and development of the Ravalli County Fairgrounds, the Ravalli County Fair Board hosted a presentation by Ravalli County Recycling, Inc. and Habitat for Humanity about how the Fair Board and the citizens could benefit, both directly and indirectly, by including these organizations in its future development plans. The meeting was held at the First Interstate Building at the Fairgrounds on Thursday, January 27.

Ravalli County Recycling, Inc. (RCR, Inc.) is a private non-profit tax-exempt corporation that was registered with the state last December and operates under the umbrella of Ravalli County Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D). It was formed out of the efforts of a task force established by the County Commissioners following the closure of Ravalli Services Recycling Center last spring.

The task force was a large one and included a few County Commissioners, a few members of the Fair Board, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, RC&D, the Council on Aging, the Chamber of Commerce, representatives from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and from businesses such as Ravalli Services, Bitterroot Disposal, Pacific Recycling, Recycling in the Root, and Bitterroot Auto Removal.

RSVP stepped forward last summer and held a very successful recycling event at the Ravalli County Fair. After that, the group worked out an agreement with the Fair Board to use a few acres at the north end of the Fairgrounds every Monday for a regularly scheduled recycling operation.

Since its inception the weekly operation at the fairgrounds has received and transported over 1,500 lbs. of aluminum, 1,900 lbs. of plastic, 20,000 lbs. of newspapers, 4,500 lbs. of magazines and catalogues, and 3,000 lbs. of office mix.

RSVP's temporary arrangement with the Fair Board expires on July 31, 2011. In light of that pending expiration, the organization presented to the Fair Board a plan to permanently include recycling in the fairground's future.

According to RSVP member and RCR, Inc. board member, Doug Soehren, the organization looked around and found another organization they could partner with to most fully and effectively occupy the proposed space at the fairgrounds. He said that Habitat for Humanity was a natural match.

That organization, dedicated to providing affordable housing to families, was currently interested in opening a Re-Store, where they could store and/or sell salvaged building materials.

Soehren said that both organizations were currently looking for a building site. He said that a permanent site to locate some necessary machinery was his organization's priority right now. He said that having a piece of property on which to build a recycling center would put them in prime position to receive federal funding for development of the facility.

Soehren said that his organization was drawn to the fairgrounds for a number of reasons. He said it would provide for a smooth transition from the temporary operation that has so far been successfully run at the spot. He said the space is currently unused and available. It is also centrally located in the valley which coincides with the most effective design for recycling services in rural areas, called the Hub and Spokes design, where a central center serves outlying communities like spokes on a wheel.

The plans for the Re-Store, by Habitat for Humanity, fit in well with this scenario as that group is also involved in recycling used building materials. The two would work together as a one-stop drop off for different recyclables.

Their involvement would also include the construction of a new building to use as a business showcase area, office, and restrooms. It would also involve the conversion of some of the old stables into building material storage sheds.

Soehren said that by including the recycling center and the Re-Store in the fairgrounds it could save the Fair Board up to $8,000 per year in annual garbage bills.

Fair Board Manager Deborah Rogala has said publicly that the concerns that many Fair Board members had about having a recycling operation on the fairgrounds, including trash and noise, have not been a problem with the RSVP temporary operation. She said the Fair Board was happy with the current operation.

But the development of the Fair Board's Grand Plan will not be completed by next month. According to Rogala, it will be a long and exhaustive process to consider all options. This may not be soon enough to meet RCR's needs if they hope to be up and running by July 31, when the temporary agreement expires between RSVP and the Fair Board.

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Hamilton Council adopts Master Park Plans

By Michael Howell

At its January 18 meeting the Hamilton City Council, by a narrow 3 to 2 vote, approved Master Park Plans for both Legion Park and River Park. The price tag on the planned improvements is $630,000 for Legion Park and $315,000 for River Park.

Jolene Rieck of Peaks to Plains, a consulting firm from Billings hired to help the city develop plans for the parks, gave the Council a recap of the work that went into the plans. She said that a working group consisting of 12 to 15 people met four times over a six-month span. She said two Town Hall meetings were held with 20 to 25 people in attendance and their comments were incorporated into the plans. Two third grade classes and a fifth grade class at Grantsdale School were also consulted, especially about the playground equipment. Eventually three design concepts were developed for each park and the working group finalized the designs.

Rieck said that not as much work was planned for River Park. She said that most of the trails were deemed safe, except one which requires more signage to keep people on track, so most of the plan is aimed at developing management plans and maintenance guidelines. She said a streamside and watershed management expert was used in the process.

She called it a "flexible plan that doesn't change much. That's what we heard from the public was not to change too much. They generally like it the way it is."

Rieck said that Legion Park had the most potential for changes. She said that past activities in the park were taken into account in the design. She said the major proposed changes included relocating the childrenıs play area to a rear corner of the park away from the streets, a major increase in handicapped accessibility, and parking and pedestrian crossing improvements on South 2nd Street.

Hamilton Special Projects Director Dennis Stranger said that it was one of the best projects he has worked on and that expenditures could be made in increments of $20,000 to $50,000 as the city could afford it.

Councilors Lynette Helgeland and Joe Petrusaitis voted against the proposal. Petrusaitis expressed concerns about the cost and Helgeland said that she thought that kids had taken second seat in the park plans to other interests and she thought kids should come first.

In other business the council:
- unanimously approved, on second reading, Ordinance 349 amending the Hamilton Business Code.
- unanimously approved on second reading an ordinance providing for the qualifications of the City Judge, specifically requiring that they be an attorney.
- unanimously approved an auditing contract with Cote & Wheeler CPAs, PLLC.
- unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the placement of matured CD funds into a money market account. Stranger said that those accounts are currently paying more than CDs.
- unanimously authorized the Mayor to sign the 2011 Urban and Community Forest Grant agreement for $5,000. It will involve hiring a UM graduate student to do a tree inventory in the Cityıs right of way.
- appointed Lynette Helgeland as Council Representative to the Planning Board.
- appointed Al Monson as Council Representative to the Zoning Commission.
- appointed Nancy Hendrickson as Council Representative to the Parks Board.
- reappointed Dan Harmon and Corey Johnson to the Planning Board through February 2013
- reappointed Vivian Yang and John Trangmoe to the Board of Adjustment and Ron Uemura and Corey Johnson to the Planning Board through 2012.
- reappointed Alan Ford to the Zoning Commission through 2013
- reappointed Stacey Lewis and Greg Marose to the Parks Board through 2013.

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Stevi Council rescinds policy on seeking legal counsel

By Michael Howell

After a lesson from Montana Municipal Insurance Association representatives at a general education forum held on January 11, the Stevensville Town Council, at its most recent meeting on January 18, rescinded a recent policy that was adopted that would require any town councilor or town employee to first inform the Mayor that they are requesting a legal opinion from the townıs attorney. The problem is, according to Councilor Dan Mullan, that no one outside the Mayor and the sitting Council has the legal authority to seek a legal opinion from the town's attorney.

The issue first arose when Councilor Pat Groninger acted, without bringing it to the Council's attention, and requested on his own a legal opinion from the town's attorney about the actions of then fellow Councilor Clayton Floyd. Groninger submitted a list of four allegations that he said Town Attorney Keithi Worthington helped him prepare. Three of the four allegations turned out to be false and were debunked by Floyd at the meeting. He did admit to making a phone call to a town employee that was "out of order." Without any discussion, other than Floyd's refutations and one admission, the Council voted 3 to 0 to censure Floyd for the reasons stated in Groninger's document.

The publisher of the Bitterroot Star sent a letter to the town objecting to the process. One thing mentioned was the lack of any authority on Groninger's part to seek legal help from the town's attorney for his own purposes. The Bitterroot Star made a Freedom of Information Act request for all records related to the creation of that document. When no reply was received another request was made.

At a meeting in December, Town Attorney Keithi Worthington stated that she did not know why the original FOIA request fell through the cracks but she was ready to respond to it herself by the end of the week. Before the meeting was over she said that she could have the information by the next morning. Groninger stated that he would try to get the information requested together, but that he was very busy. No information from either the attorney or Groninger has been received to date.

As a result of the discussion, however, Councilor Mullan offered to draft a policy concerning the use of the town's attorney by employees and councilors. The result was the adoption of the policy that was rescinded at the last meeting.

According to Mullan, what he learned from MMIA at the recent workshop meeting is that no individual councilor, acting alone, has any authority outside a council meeting, and subsequently, when acting as an individual without Council approval, has no authority to get legal opinions from the town's attorney. Neither does any employee, he said. According to the law it is only the mayor or the town council that have authority to make such requests.

Mullan elaborated, saying that another problem the town's policy is that allowing any employee or individual councilor to get legal opinions from the town's attorney is that there would be no control mechanism to limit the costs. He said that uncontrolled demands on legal council could also get complex if, for example, two councilors started using the town's attorney at cross purposes with each other.

The bottom line, though, according to Mullan, is the fact that no employee or individual councilor, outside the action of the full council, has the legal authority to consult the town's attorney.

The vote to rescind the resolution creating the policy was unanimous.

The Council also adopted official guidelines for public involvement at its meetings that would restrict public comment by any individual from the public to three minutes. A group spokesperson or several members of the group will be allowed to speak for up to ten minutes when all added together. The guidelines require that the person stand at the microphone and identify themselves by name and address and states that the police will make the calls on any unruly or unacceptable behavior.

In other business the Town Council:
- accepted the Prosecuting Attorneyıs contract with Brian West at a rate of $75 per hour;
- approved the revised Police Manual;
- approved setting up an on-line banking procedure and credit/debit card acceptance procedure for use by town residents paying bills;
- established a committee consisting of a councilor, the chief of police and the clerk to set up a town website;
- agreed to research how past due accounts and collections are handled in other towns.

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Stockgrowers honor Rennaker

By Jean Schurman

Dwain Rennaker of Darby was honored Saturday night at the annual Bitterroot Stockgrowersı Banquet in Stevensville. Citing his lifetime commitment to the livestock industry, Stockgrower president Randy Maxwell presented Rennaker with a plaque, and his wife Lillian Rennaker a lovely plant. Their son Loyd then gave a moving slideshow tribute to Rennaker and his many years in agriculture.

Rennaker grew up a cowboy and has never left the lifestyle. The Rennaker Ranch, located on the Bitterroot River between Hamilton and Darby, has been the scene of many brandings, youth rodeos, team ropings and even regular rodeos throughout the years. Along the way, Rennaker and his wife, Lillian, have raised six children who all helped, and still help, on the ranch. He has run cattle, raised yearlings, run an outfitting business, and even raised sheep for a very short time. In the 1990's Rennaker began buying cattle, citing the fact that small producers had very limited options to market their cattle. The first year he sold three semi loads of cattle. This year, he sold over 300 semi loads, according to Loyd. Also honored were this yearıs Steer of Merit award winners from the valley. Laura Frazee, Bobby Harrington, Megan Pendergast, Daniel Pendergast, Marissa Hancock, Clifton Kearney, and Thor Larson all received certificates. The Steer of Merit program measures and records carcass characteristics as a means to improve beef and the Market Steer projects in 4H and FFA. Elements include selecting for leaner carcasses while still maintaining high quality grade beef.

Congressman Denny Rehberg gave the keynote address. He spoke of streamlining the bureaucracy in order to make life easier for everyone. About 225 people attended the event.

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Oversize loads headed our way

By Michael Howell

It's been a long haul already for Conoco Phillips just to get the required permits, but the rubber was scheduled to hit the road on Tuesday, February 1, beginning the real haul of two giant coke drums destined for its refinery in Billings.

Conoco Phillips was issued a permit by the Idaho Department of Transportation on November 10, 2010 to haul four shipments of large refinery equipment from the Port of Lewiston along Highway 12 to Montana to be delivered to its refinery in Billings. Each of the two giant coke drums would be split into two separate loads and the four sections would be hauled along the same route. That route through Idaho, along Highway 12, is a two-lane road that winds along the scenic Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers before entering Montana and finally intersecting Highway 93 at Lolo.

Some businesses as well as individuals living along Highway 12 organized under the name Fighting Goliath. They were influential in challenging the issuance of that permit in court, arguing that the public had been excluded from the process and that the permits should have been denied on their merits. A District Court Judge put the permits on stay but then decided the permits were valid. That decision was appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that the public should have been involved in the permitting process, without ruling on the merits of the permit itself. It was sent back to IDOT for a special hearing to allow public involvement.

A hearing officer, Merlyn Clark, was appointed and a hearing was held on December 8 and 9, 2010 with interveners included. Clark issued proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on December 28, 2010, recommending to the ITOD Director Brian Ness that the Conoco Phillips' shipments be approved. Ness approved the permits in January.

Adam Rush, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Transportation, said that the first oversize load was set leave the Port of Lewiston on Tuesday, February 1. It would be followed by a second load on Wednesday. Both loads would leave in the evening and travel only at night. They are restricted to traveling between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. These two loads would be delivered to Billings and the transport equipment returned to the Port of Lewiston to retrieve the remaining two loads. That could take a week or more depending on a number of factors, according to Rush. He said at the estimated rate of travel the first load should take four days and arrive at the Montana border on Friday night.

Meanwhile, officials at the Montana Department of Transportation have been simply waiting for weeks to see the outcome of the Idaho proceedings. MDOT Director Jim Lynch told the Bitterroot Star two weeks ago that his department was ready to issue the permits to Conoco Phillips. He said the only hold up was a provision in the permit requiring that the company possess a legal permit to travel through Idaho to get to our state.

No environmental assessment was required and none was conducted in Idaho or in Montana relative to the permits.

Lynch said that MDOT did an assessment of the loads and the condition of the roads and the bridges involved to assure that it could be done safely. As long as they stay on the pavement, he said, no EA is really necessary.

The Lolo National Forest did require an environmental assessment, however, related to the impacts of burying the power lines that run through Forest Service land in the Lolo Forest. That public review process recently concluded and the results are being finalized.

Advocates for the West, a public interest environmental law group representing interveners in the case, recently issued a press release stating that they would not be pursuing any further legal action related to the Conoco Phillips permits. They said they would support demonstrations against the haul along the way, but would not support any action aimed at stopping or interfering with the transport in any fashion. Organizers instead are going to concentrate on the next round of permits slated to be issued to Exxon Mobil/Imperial Oil to haul about 207 oversized loads from the Port of Lewiston to the Kearl Sands oil project in Alberta, Canada. About 34 of those loads are already sitting on the docks at the port waiting to be hauled.

The Exxon Mobil/Imperial Oil oversize load permit applications have been the "elephant in the room" throughout the fight over the Conoco Phillips permits. The company wants to haul over 200 loads weighing approximately 300 tons each across Idaho and Montana. The loads could be as big as 227 feet long, 27 feet high and 29 feet wide.

IDOT spokesperson Adam Rush said that not all of the 207 loads would come over Highway 12. He said about half would go on I-90 because they would be low enough to make it through the underpasses. The other half, he said, would go on Highway 12 to Montana and to Lolo, then through Missoula and north to Canada.

"We are still looking at the configuration of the loads and we are having our bridge staff review the proposal," said Rush. No EA is being conducted in relation to the process. Rush said that some very large loads have already been hauled on Highway 12 in the past, including a large grain silo that weighed over 1 million pounds, he said.

Jim Lynch of MDOT said that an Environmental Assessment was being conducted under the MEPA process for the haul through Montana. He said that no public meeting was required to do an EA but in this case three public meetings were held to gather public comment, in Chinook, Lincoln and Missoula.

Lynch has been criticized by some opponents of the permits for doing an about-face on the issue. They claim he initially opposed the use of Highway 12 as a corridor for oversized loads then turned around and supported permitting them.

Lynch said that he was opposed to establishing a "corridor." He said that technically, establishing a corridor would mean that no permits are required for oversized loads on that route. He said he is still against that, but the deal now is that each load must be permitted and go through that process.

"A corridor is far different than what is being proposed now," said Lynch. "Now it is individual permits."

Opposition to the Exxon Mobile hauls has been growing louder as the process moves forward. The controversy has made national headlines.

Last September, 40 organizations from across the Northwest sent a letter to the Congressional delegations and governors of Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, calling for detailed economic and environmental review of oil giant Exxon Mobil's proposed establishment of an oversize-load corridor through those states. 

Organizations that signed on include All Against The Haul, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermenıs Associations, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Montana Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, Clark Fork Coalition, Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, and the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, among others.

The All Against the Haul group is headquartered in Missoula and has established a website to serve as a clearinghouse for information and an instrument for organization against the hauls.

"The public has been kept in the dark on this issue for too long," stated Zack Porter, Campaign Coordinator for All Against The Haul. "This website sheds light on the corporations and public officials who would transform our communities into pit-stops on one of the world's longest and most treacherous high-wide corridors. Now taxpayers and concerned citizens can see for themselves the impacts these proposals will have on our states."

The group has enlisted the help of two local authors, Rick Bass of Missoula and David James Duncan of Lolo, and rushed a book into print designed to enlighten the public about the extent of the company's plans and the devastating effect if could have on tourism and the local economy in Montana.

The book, titled "The Heart of the Monster," is half fiction/half non-fiction. Proceeds from the sale of the book go to All Against The Haul.

"Our goal was to help frame the story before millions of dollars from Exxon and Imperial began flooding the airwaves with homey anecdotes about 'loaning a neighbor a cup of sugar,' when they are in fact imposing a catastrophe upon the atmosphere and the world," states Bass in an interview about the book that can be viewed at

"We believe 'The Heart of the Monster,' with your help, can make a crucial difference. We might not be able to shut the tar sands down (it is the largest industrial project in the world) but we can defend our home against the biggest company in the world, and we can do it without money. Corporate money is all but useless when it attempts to break the love and guardianship people feel toward still-beautiful places in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana," states Bass.

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