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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Opinion & Editorial

Guest Comment

Will the people be heard?

by Stewart Brandborg, President, Bitterrooters for Planning

The people have spoken! Will they be heard?

Nine months ago Bitterroot voters overwhelmingly voted for passage of the temporary one-house-per-two-acre initiative that put a stop to major subdivision development in Ravalli County until the completion of a comprehensive planning/zoning program. This action by voters was the culmination of their long-standing frustration over the rampant, uncontrolled development that has inflicted such a heavy toll on their quality of life: countless cumulative impacts on private properties and neighborhoods, prime agricultural lands, wildlife, our rivers and streams and an economy that is based to a large extent on the beauty and livability of our valley, one of the last best places.

Our three Ravalli County Commissioners – Alan Thompson, Greg Chilcott and Howard Lyons – opposed the passage of the zoning initiative while approving over 90 percent of developers' subdivision proposals, consistently overriding the voices of impacted neighborhoods, Bitterrooters for Planning, and allied citizen groups. At stake were individuals' private property rights, health and safety issues, road hazards, impairment of wells and water supplies, and livability of their neighborhoods.

It comes as no surprise then that these three Commissioners pursued a series of strategies to obstruct in every way possible the zoning program. Challenges in the courts and in the interpretation of the voter-approved initiative were instigated and/or supported by them at every turn.

None of these attacks on the voters' mandate were so egregious as those in the weeks and days before the June 5 election in which three pro-planning candidates – each strongly committed to planning and zoning – were elected to the newly expanded five-member County Board of Commissioners.

The first of these attacks was the appointment of a five-member Board of Adjustments to consider developers' variance requests to subdivision proposals under the interim zoning requirements. This Board was intended to function following completion of county-wide zoning by November, 2008 (assuming a one-year extension for completion of the planning program upon authorization of the Commission).

Authors of the zoning initiative with sponsoring organizations held that the Zoning Board of Adjustment has no legitimate function until zoning is completed. The three member Commission – Thompson, Chilcott and Lyons – moved before the election to appoint the Board which met publicly for the first time on June 25 to approve variances that would allow 14 condominiums on 3.9 acres immediately adjacent to the Old Brooks Hotel in Corvallis. Four members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment repeatedly overrode denial recommendations of the County Planning staff in defiance of prescribed criteria and legal procedures. In their action, they provided precedent – they opened the gates – for developers to circumvent the one-for-two requisite of the zoning initiative mandated by voters last November. The three Commissioners, through their appointment of these Zoning Board members, have endangered the zoning mandate of voters in last November's election.

In a hurried action that precluded any effective public involvement, the three earlier Commissioners moved a second time to override the zoning program. This action, in their signing off on a Court settlement, allows 14 developers to proceed with construction of some 1600 housing units throughout the valley.

Drafting of the incomplete agreement was done in earlier closed-door sessions, and finally with developers' attorneys on June 4th, followed by a short open meeting with the public in which copies of the agreement were unavailable. It was not until the next day – June 5th, Election Day – that this 9-page agreement was made available for public inspection. The request by the Bitterrooters for Planning attorney for time and adequate notice of a public hearing (48 hours) were summarily denied by then Chairman Chilcott with his announcement that adequate opportunity had been provided for the public's review and comment on the settlement document.

The arrogance of this action with disregard of open government procedures to provide public access and comment is unprecedented. Commissioners Chilcott and Thompson have overridden the vote of Bitterroot citizens for a stay on development until comprehensive planning and zoning can be completed.

The courtroom becomes the last and final resort of the public's stake in protecting our valley. On July 16th, Bitterrooters for Planning appeared before District Court Judge Langton to make the case for a full public hearing process on the Settlement Agreement by the new five-member County Commission. His decision will be rendered in coming days.

The new pro-planning majority of the Commission faces a tremendous challenge in moving forward quickly with the County Zoning program. With 40% of the two years available for this vital work having been lost by the previous Commission, every effort must be made to get broad public participation in the actual work – school district by school district – of this complex and arduous process of showing lines on the map that support best public consensus process.

Much hangs in the balance! Will the people of the Valley prevail – as measured in their votes for planning – or will they be overridden by the influence and unlimited funding of corporate developers who seek quick profits while imposing the loss of our quality of life through catastrophic, uncontrolled development?

The people have spoken. Will they be heard? Will they prevail in the Courts and in the Commission Chambers?

Letters to the Editor

Unhappy with Creamery Picnic change

Dear Editor,

How sad for Stevensville. Whose idea was it to put the events and vendors in the park? That was the saddest display of NOTHING I have seen in a long while. I think what we should do next is have everything at the top of St. Mary's and make everyone hike up there and then you can really see Stevensville for what it is and it would then truly represent the minds that came up with the idea to put the picnic away from downtown and in the process, dare I say it... screw every downtown business. By the way, Stevensville looks kind of small from up there.

Thomas L. Hoffman

Double standard?

Dear Editor,

Interesting how Judge Langton can patronize bars in Stevensville with his alcohol history, then sit on the bench and sentence others for the same offenses he has committed. He was seen in the Plum Loco and other bars with a drink in his hand (cannot confirm if it was alcohol) socializing with others Friday night at Creamery Picnic. 

One of the people he sentenced to jail recently had to serve time for being in a casino while on probation for a DUI, the person was not drinking just in the casino a place where alcohol was served. Isn't a bar a place where alcohol is served? 

I am very anti-drinking and driving but totally into the government officials being as accountable as the laymen... the ones who contribute to their paychecks.

Pari LeCoure

The perfect storm in Region 1

Dear Editor,

Once again, we are faced with another wildland fire season, igniting at the slightest provocation. The resulting property and monetary loss will depend largely upon the preparedness of our fire fighting professionals and their resource support contractors.

Unlike previous years, this fire season has a new obstacle to impede the rapid deployment of firefighting resources to those areas in need. I am referring to the USFS Western Montana Acquisition Zone contract office at Fort Missoula. They have seen fit to ignore and circumvent previous years' procedures of pre-enlisting resource support contractors before fire season starts. As a prudent precaution, these contractors and their equipment have been committed to fire deployment with an Emergency Equipment Rental Agreement (EERA) before a fire crisis occurs. In years past, by the time fire season arrives, the USFS has approximately 450 resource contractors signed up on EERAs within the Flathead, Lolo and Bitterroot forests.

This year, as of mid-July, I estimated that fewer than 50 EERAs were written in the entire WMAZ. This has reduced the resources for the firefighting community by 91 percent, when fire tendencies are at record levels and the fire danger is extreme. WMAZ is not prepared because they do not have every viable resource available to assist firefighting efforts. In addition, if assets are not available this simply increases the chance of a death and/or destruction of property from wildland fire.

The Contract Specialist at the WMAZ is telling contractors that the new policy is to issue EERAs on an as-needed basis. In other words they want to wait for a fire or disaster and then issue the EERAs. In addition the contract officer-in-charge is refusing to sign up any additional resources until an actual fire emergency is in progress. If this situation wasn't jeopardizing life and property by itself, combine the additional USFS procedure of locating the individual contractors, having them respond to the appropriate USFS Supervisor's Office, complete a detailed EERA with a contracting officer, and then having each piece of equipment inspected by the USFS before it can be deployed to a fire incident. This procedure usually takes a full day and including travel time to the incident, that resource might be on scene within 12 to 24 hours.

In the meantime, the incident commander requesting the resource is watching the watershed go up in smoke and you or I may be watching an engine crew cool the foundation of our home or business. This policy is not in line with the directive of preparedness, and will greatly increase the danger and slow any initial attack or quick response. Any action taken by the WMAZ may or may not benefit my business called Firecom. Firecom leases Air Operation Command Centers (Helibase Trailers) to the Forest Service and other governmental agencies, such as FEMA and NASA.

Through the month of June and July, Firecom has been in contact with the WMAZ, but under the new policy, has not received satisfactory service and has been unable to receive an EERA for Region 1. Several contractors have experienced the same treatment, and have called me to explain their situation and frustration. They are reluctant to call WMAZ as they are fearful that they may never get an EERA or, if they get one, they may never receive a call from dispatch. For the first time in six years, Firecom does not have an Emergency Equipment Rental Agreement (EERA) in Region 1. Firecom was forced to take our four Air-Ops Command Centers to our office in Boise, Idaho and sign them up on a Region 4 EERA. Boise was easy to work with and welcomed our equipment. We were lucky enough to have a Boise office and achieve this, but by doing so we have deprived Region 1 of fast and timely service. Most contractors cannot move their equipment to another region as they live, work, and pay taxes in Montana, and want to work in this region.

I represent the people that live, work, pay taxes here in Montana and do not have the ability or desire to relocate their equipment. Many of my constituents and their companies provide fire operation related services to the USDA, BLM and other state and federal agencies. I also represent the thousands of residents, property owners and taxpayers of the greater Missoula and Ravalli counties who depend on expeditious response of emergency resources. If EERAs are not written, and the fire conditions continue to escalate, it will put all fire responders, property owners and the general public in a dangerous and possible deadly situation.

I would ask the Forest Service to make immediate changes to the EERA writing process and those involved, to avert this disaster that is looming on the horizon. As fire conditions continue to worsen, a perfect storm is brewing in our Region that could have detrimental effects on all of us.

Rep. Bill Nooney

Solution for Stevi dumping problem

Dear Editor,

I am a Stevensville Main Street resident and maintain one of its historic homes. I, as well as many others in town who strive to maintain these historic properties, rely heavily on the City disposal for our yard up-keep and maintenance. It is very important that we have this access (immediately) to keep the city clean and well groomed. I simply cannot maintain the yard as so many have appreciated and expect, I'm backed up and can't move!

My solution. I will gladly pick up the trash in question and bring it to Missoula or Victor and pay whatever to get rid of it. I should hope others would volunteer also. Let's do it Thursday, August 9, meet at the disposal area at 10 a.m. with your trailer or pickup. I hope someone from the City will respond to this to let us in.

Second. Everyone from Stevensville who wants to use the composting "dump" could register at the Police Department. Let's say $5-$10.00 to register per year (summer). That gets you a cheap "pink" sheet of paper you have to show on your dash to get in. It has your name, etc. and license plate number of the vehicle (of your choice) which has to be used to deposit your clippings.

Third. We all act as neighborhood crime watch. When you see someone without a "pink slip" just copy their license plate number and turn it into the Stevensville Police. Proceeds could also be used to hire seniors for periodic spot checks for your registration "pink slip." No pink slip = $100.00 fine.

Let's do it now! We need to move on.

Dr. Robert J. Bloyer, DC
Aspen Meadows Clinic

Facts on medical marijuana

Dear Editor,

Facts: The federal government ships 300 marijuana cigarettes to seven patients in seven different states every month. That's 2,100 joints, shipped by the government, across state lines, month after month. That same government sends the DEA into states that have voted to allow medical marijuana to pursue the sick and infirm, who abide by the law as written, and don't import across state lines.

There has never been an overdose on marijuana.

Approximately 75% of medicines prior to 1934 were based in tincture of cannabis.

Every human being, every animal, save for insects, has an endocannabinoid system in their brain.

The newest weight-loss drug acts by blocking the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, and has been shown to cause depression, suicidal ideation, and multiple sclerosis, which reversed when the drug was discontinued.

I have a perfect driving record and I use cannabis daily.

You're allowed to drive on Oxycontin, morphine, Fentanyl.

The FDA continues to allow pharmaceutical drugs to remain on the market even after proof they cause heart trouble, stroke, and death.

Nicotine is an addictive drug. Yet it is not regulated by the FDA nor the DEA - it comes under the category of alcohol (another addictive drug), tobacco, and firearms.

Just thought you ought to know.

Robin C. Prosser

Troubled by Road Department

Dear Editor,

I’m troubled by the performance of our Road Department Supervisor with regards to the Lost Horse Quarry. The possibility of reopening the quarry has been in the works for months. Yet, when the issue was recently brought before the commissioners, the supervisor did not provide them with even the minimal information needed to make a responsible decision. More troubling is that he did not seem to have the information himself. Roads are a major budget item. It is incumbent upon the supervisor to provide commissioners with detailed economic analyses of their proposed projects, have inventories available of potential sites where road materials can be obtained and a list that prioritizes road and maintenance needs. It's the commissioners’ job to make sure that the department head does this. Apparently, both the supervisor and the commissioners who hired him several years ago have been derelict in their duties. If they had not been, the three newly elected commissioners could easily have sorted through the advisability of reopening the Lost Horse Quarry. Even more importantly, I'd guess that if the project had been subjected to proper analysis in the first place, it would have been discarded as a bad idea without ever coming before the commission. It seems obvious that there's been a long-term lack of department oversight on the part of our county commissioners. It's important that our new commissioners take the time to get to the bottom of what may turn out to be some very large messes.

Pat Tucker

Quarry will have impact on Lost Horse canyon

Dear Editor,

Like many, I have strong feelings regarding the reopening of the Lost Horse quarry. I am not a rock climber, not even a devout recreationist, but I appreciate the valley's remaining unspoiled areas.

The only mountain goat I have seen in the wild was on a ledge above the quarry site. I was in quick pursuit over the rocks below, to get close enough to get a good picture of him, finally he just stood out on a ledge above me and watched me, like he was trying to figure out why I wouldn't go away.

Last Saturday, I drove the length of the canyon, stopping at at least four of the camp sites along the way to the Bear Creek Pass camp (so my pup Deuce could swim and run around), sidetracking to Twin Lakes on the way back down. After reading "Commissioner explains quarry vote" (Letters, Bitterroot Star, Wednesday, August 1) it became apparent that Kathleen Driscoll would regard each as "primitive." I find that in conflict with the nostalgic self-image she projected during her race for County Commissioner.

Nostalgia is Lake Como before picnic tables and toilets were installed in close proximity to each other, and Campground Hosts were not a necessity, Beautiful, yes; primitive, no.

The road to Twin Lakes was traversable, although one might have to gear down his SUV. Throughout the several hours spent on Lost Horse road, the flow of traffic amazed me. Families stopping at campsites along the way so little kids could fish, kids and adults alike enjoying the choice swimming holes, campers coming out with pickups loaded down with gear, ATVers, and one truck hauling out four canoes on a contraption behind it. I am at a loss to follow the thought process that would advocate relocating the campground across from the quarry site to the quarry site as justification for reopening the quarry. One sensitive to safety issues should recognize the safety factor involved with small children crossing the road to get to the creek to fish and swim.

The campground Kathleen proposes relocating is among the few natural campgrounds remaining in the valley. It is beautiful throughout each of the four seasons of the year; my favorite being in the winter, when it is void of all summer's activity. Under the stillness of winter, it is peaceful and beautiful. In the spring, the air is crisp, the water is cold, and the sun is bright and warm.

Obviously I am not a Civil Engineer, but I never could understand the County Road Department's penchant for gravel. They take what seems to be a perfectly good road and throw gravel all over it, and it immediately turns into a 'washboard' nightmare. I suppose in the long range scheme of things, it is a necessary evil. One thing I do understand, is that an operating quarry will impact Lost Horse canyon, regardless of what the decision makers want us to believe.

Alice E. Foster

Reflections on firefighting past

Dear Editor,

We are once again in a serious fire situation.

I spent 30 years in Fire Management/Forestry with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I worked my way upward from a Smoke Chaser to a Type I Incident Commander. My last job, prior to retirement, was Chief of Fire Management at the National Interagency Fire Center.

I would like to briefly explain what being involved in fire is/was like, starting with the "good old days."

Fires were generally reported by ranchers, campers, pilots, lookouts, etc. The call would go to the local agency office. A two-man "smoke chaser team" would head for the reported fire area. We carried water, rations, pulaskis, shovels, headlamps, and a crosscut saw. If we were lucky, we could find a logging road near the fire. If not, we started hiking. For some strange reason, a fire is always up the hill from your vehicle. Once at the fire, we would size up the situation and go to work. Again, if lucky, it would be a lightning strike in one tree. If not, it would be on the ground and moving. The two of us would work the fire until it was dead out or we needed to retreat, guard our butts, and go for more help.

In later years, we would fly the fire area and call in an initial attack crew. If possible, they would be directed to the fire by the spotter plane. And later yet, a helicopter would bring in the initial attack crew. Definitely improvements, but some of my more memorable times were as a smoke chaser.

I would like to try to explain what a large forest fire is like. It seems the call-outs were always at night. Half asleep, you are told to report to some airstrip to meet a plane picking up supervisory personnel. Your fire pack is always ready so you head out. After a turbulence-filled flight in a small airplane, you arrive at the closest airstrip to the fire. Generally you are met by people from the agency that has the fire. After a briefing, you are assigned to the fire according to your fire rank, be that a crew boss or Incident Commander. Next is the journey by bus, truck or helicopter to the fire camp.

A fire camp on a large fire is an instant city. Even the military is amazed at the speed with which fire personnel can set up a small town and go to work. Generally sleeping was under the stars in paper sleeping bags. These were just that - paper with a small flannel piece near the head. Food was generally old World War II C rations. If the fire continued, we would hire a cook(?) from the local town, set up a kitchen, buy groceries, and start serving. Not great food, but it seemed like it after C rations.

Shifts in the 50's, 60's and 70's were generally 14-16 hours or longer. Fighting a large fire is somewhat like a war battle. Plans are drawn up, people assigned, and off you go to battle. To stop fires, you must cut off the fuel from the active fire front. This is done in various ways, but the old standby was men cutting lines through brush and timber, clearing it to mineral soil, and then spreading out to 'hold" the line when the fire hit. On large timber fires which are "crowning" (burning through the tree tops), you can hear the fire coming for a long time. Trees pre-heat and then explode in flame with a loud boom. This can be nerve wracking until you have a few large fires under your belt. Even then, it certainly raises your pulse rate.

If you are in beginning or intermediate supervisory fire positions, you are out on the line with the troops, giving direction and hopefully using your experience to keep people safe and alive. If you are in the top fire team, you are the "generals" sending people out and hoping you have made the right decision and nobody will be trapped or put in "harm's way." Sometimes plans work, sometimes not. Fire jumps the lines, and we start over again.

You do this for 14-16 hours, return to camp, eat and sleep. Then back to the line. This would continue until the fire was controlled. It is hot, hard, dirty, smoky, dangerous work. So why do we do it? I can only speak for myself. I loved it! After 500 fires I was ready for 501. It becomes an addiction. You take pride in your abilities. You want to match your experience and ability against the worst the fire can offer. Sure, there are frightening times, but these are also part of the attraction. You never want to see another fire, or, you're hooked for the rest of your career.

Things have changed. We now have good food served by fire catering services; computers are used; tents are set up for sleeping; shift time has been reduced; clothing and safety equipment have greatly improved; and fires are not fought as aggressively (this is a much disputed item, especially by some of us old retired hands). Aircraft use has increased. More transportation is done by helicopter; on line communications have vastly improved. Personnel are rotated more frequently. Technology is great and has allowed us to do many things more easily, quicker and sometimes with fewer people. However, the fire job still remains the same hot, dirty, smoky, dangerous job done by a group of dedicated hard-working people who generally couldn't or wouldn't explain why they love it.

What are the real dangers on a fire? To begin with, you are using sharp axes, pulaskis, shovels and chain saws for long hours in usually rough terrain. Trees, which have partially burned, frequently fall over and roll. Rocks and boulders in the fire heat and crack and roll downhill. Trees, which have been consumed by fire, leave holes in the ground, many times not visible, filled with hot coals. Transportation via bus, truck and helicopters creates hazards, particularly in mountain country. Supervisory personnel spend considerable time in small planes and helicopters. Wild animals are generally not a problem. Occasionally bears, black and grizzly, cause concerns. Rattlesnakes are problems in some areas. Eye injuries from debris and smoke are very common. Smoke inhalation becomes more of a problem as the fire continues. One is constantly breathing smoke, even in camp. Sanitation is a real concern, and many camps have had problems with dysentery. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are fairly common. When working on direct attack, sparks and flying embers can result in burns. Heart attacks do occur but have been greatly reduced by fitness requirements.

And finally, the biggest fear of fire fighters are the endless possibilities of being overrun or trapped in the fire. One cannot outrun a moving crown fire. Terrain, such as box canyons, can become death traps. The continually changing fuel, terrain and weather conditions create very hazardous conditions. If you think you know all you need to and your experience is more than ample, you're a danger to yourself and others with or near you. One must be constantly aware of the terrain, weather and fire behavior. This comes only with experience. No two fires behave the same. There are too many variables.

In all, it's a very dangerous work place that can be very unforgiving very rapidly.

I only wish I could do it all over again.

Bill Lyon

Thanks from volleyball coach

Dear Editor,

Recently Stevensville High School held an all-valley summer volleyball camp for grades 4-12. I would like to extend a thank you to a few people who helped make the camp a success. Thanks go out to Northwest Design for the shirts, Kodiak Jax and Subway for lunches, coach Ryan Platt from the U of M volleyball staff, Jim Chisholm and Kathy Rausch for helping me stay organized, and our high school girls Brianna Beller, Janele Jessop, Shelby Munson, and Christina Boberg for helping coach the young team. Many, many thank you's!

Coach Lori Lewis
SHS Volleyball Coach

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