1Attend the Sidney Soccer Association board meeting on Monday, Nov. 4, as they are seeking new board members. No soccer experience needed. Open positions include secretary, concession coordinator, director of soccer facilities, field marshall, referee coordinator, adult ref for travel. If interested, attend the open meeting at 5:30 p.m., Sidney Middle School, first floor, room 125. Use the Verizon side door. Questions, call Shawna Karst at 406-478-4013.
2Learn about an invasive broadleaf at the Palmer amaranth workshop, MSU Extension Office, Sidney, 8:30 a.m., on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The workshop is free. Contact 433-1206 or email email@example.com for more information.
3For something other than the usual, visit the Legendary Tattoo Expo at the Grand Williston Hotel and Conference Center, beginning 11 a.m., Friday, Nov. 8. It’s a three-day weekend of live tattooing, piercing, competitions, specialty vendors and more.
4On Saturday, Nov. 9, visit the Holiday Bazaar at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Sidney, from 9 a.m. — 2 p.m. Crafts, baked goods and gift baskets. Proceeds go to missions.
5A German dinner will be hosted at Sidney Moose Lodge on Saturday, Nov. 9, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. for members and qualified guests.
BILLINGS, Montana — Dueling Keystone XL meetings in Billings on Tuesday, Oct. 29, drew both advocates and opponents of the pipeline from far and wide. They had at least one thing in common — strong opinions.
Those opinions bubbled to the surface during a public meeting held by the U.S. State Department in what was planned to be an open house format.
The idea, public officials explained, was for individuals to learn more about the pipeline, and then provide written or recorded statements that would be based on the expert information available during the forum.
“No decisions have been made yet,” Al Nash, Chief of Communications for the Bureau of Land Management explained. “But we need to hear more than just I don’t like it. We need to hear why they don’t like it. We need to see data that backs that up.”
Opponents of the pipeline, however, were critical of the format, and decided to take matters into their own hands.
Transcanada is not a good neighbor, one woman said loudly, to the room at large. She claimed the company had used eminent domain in Texas to take property for a pipeline.
Her comments and others, however, drew opposition from landowners living along the pipeline in Montana, who said the company had absolutely been a good neighbor to them.
“I don’t know if you understand the benefit to these local communities,” Todd Tibbetts of Terry told her.
He listed several things Transcanada helped sponsor in the community. The list included the Fire Department, local schools, and even a broken fence.
“Maybe Keystone learned its lesson from your friends in Texas,” he said. “In Montana, they have put their best foot forward. As far as me being a landowner, they have.”
“They are a foreign corporation using eminent domain to take property,” the woman responded. “I don’t know how that can be being a good neighbor.”
For a few tense moments, it seemed as if the conversation might escalate. But the tension dissipated.
Some of the opponents, such as Hollie Mackey, originally from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, but now a resident of Fargo, North Dakota, introduced themselves to the landowners and shook hands.
Mackey told Tibbetts it felt contentious for a minute, and that wasn’t what she wanted.
“If they allowed people to talk, it would not be as contentious,” she suggested.
“They did allow us to talk,” Tibbetts pointed out. “We just stood up and talked.”
Among Mackey’s concerns are cultural resources that she said stand in the path of Keystone XL and will be destroyed by it.
“They aren’t going around it,” she said. “They are going through it.”
When it was suggested she add the comments to the public record being created at the open house, she demurred.
“It will be a waste of time,” she said.
Mackey also doesn’t believe the pipeline will be as safe as the company contends.
“There aren’t any pipelines that don’t have problems,” she said, echoing concerns that were a focal point of the rally scheduled just prior to the federal public meeting.
The rally was held outside, in a caged-in area that had a yellow sign that said “free speech area.”
“We’re here to protect our water,” said Kandi White, of New Town North Dakota. “We’re here to protect our people. we’re here to protect our climate.”
Jestin Dupree, a council member for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, told the Williston Herald after the rally that protecting water is his main concern.
“We have a 320 million gallon water treatment plant that serves upwards of 22,000 people, and by next year it will be 30,000, in northeastern Montana,” he said. “That is our biggest concern. If this contaminates that water, we are all in a world of hurt.”
Unlike Mackey, Dupree did record his comments on the project during the federal public meeting. Among them, is a suggestion to co-locate the line with infrastructure already in place in North Dakota.
“What would be the harm in that?” he asked. “They are taking the shortest route, and it’s skirting a lot of Indian reservations all the way down.”
As far as drilling the pipeline deeper underneath the river, he said the route itself would still be a concern due to cultural resources.
Dupree was critical of the United States’ efforts at consultation, and said it did not match what he sees as proper government-to-government consultation.
Public officials at the hearing were unsure what consultation efforts were made, but pointed to a series of letters sent to tribes inviting them to consult. Copies of the letters are part of the draft SEIS.
Dupree, along with Montana Senator Frank Smith, D-16, criticized the distance of the public meetings from their community. None of the meetings been less than a couple hundred miles away, Smith said.
“I had to drive five hours — 300 miles — to be here today,” Smith said during the protest rally. “Why is it so far away and not in our community? Why do we have to be outside? Why not an open hearing, instead of private rooms? We should be inside the building, not outside, to make sure our voices are heard.”
As far as safety goes, Montana Petroleum Association Executive Director Alan Olson, said that Transcanada is taking many precautions.
Among them, the line will be at least 43 feet below the river, and the bore holes will be 380 feet away from the river on one side and 1,100 feet away on the other. That should prevent the bank erosion and scour issues that led to the Bridger pipeline spill.
“This pipeline is probably the safest that has been developed to date,” Olson said. “This pipeline is being developed with 21st century technology for safety and efficiency. There is no reason to believe this pipeline will fail.”
Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials have identified two additional cases of illness related to the national outbreak of e-cigarette use, or vaping. Montana now has five identified cases, including one death.
DPHHS officials said one new case involves an individual from Cascade County in their teens who was initially hospitalized this past summer and then again in October.
The second new case involves an individual from Lake County in their 30s who was also hospitalized in October.
Both individuals are now recovering. One case reported a history of vaping nicotine and THC and the other THC only.
DPHHS State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman said it’s not a surprise that more cases have been confirmed. “We continue to work with local public health on more investigations across the state,” Holzman said. “We appreciate the assistance from local public health, family members and the general public in sharing valuable information and vaping products that are being collected.”
DPHHS continues to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and local public health as this ongoing national investigation continues. On Oct. 24, 2019, the CDC reported 1,604 lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products from 49 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory. The CDC also reported a total of 34 deaths in 24 states last week.
DPHHS State Epidemiologist Laura Williamson said at this time, FDA and CDC have not identified the cause or causes of the lung injuries in these cases, and the only commonality among all cases is that patients report the use of vaping products, including e-cigarettes. No one compound or ingredient has emerged as the cause of these illnesses to date; and it may be that there is more than one cause of this outbreak.
“Based on what is known at this time, the only way to assure that you are not at risk is to consider refraining from the use of all e-cigarette or vaping products,” Williamson said.
With the current known information, DPHHS officials specifically highlight the CDC recommendation that individuals do not use e-cigarette or vaping products that are purchased off the street. Individuals should also not modify or add any substances to e-cigarette or vaping products, even if those products are purchased through retail establishments.
With the fast pace of the ongoing outbreak, the latest information and recommendations are available on the CDC website.
Regardless of the ongoing investigation, health officials state that e-cigarette products should never be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
Those involved in the national outbreak report symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fatigue. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also common. Symptoms worsen over a period of days or weeks and do not appear to be caused by a pulmonary infection. Anyone who vapes and is experiencing respiratory issues should promptly consult their provider.
Healthcare providers treating patients with respiratory illness with no apparent infectious cause and who have a history of e-cigarette use are asked to notify their local health department.
DPHHS has added vaping associated pulmonary illness to the list of reportable diseases and conditions to aid in the epidemiological investigation of the outbreak.
In addition to the national outbreak, e-cigarette use is also an epidemic among Montana youth. The dramatic increase in use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, by youth is driven in large part by flavored e-liquids, and flavors are a principal reason that youth initiate and maintain e-cigarette use. E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among high school students.
A court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 30, to address the emergency rules to temporarily ban flavored e-cigarette products. Fruit and candy-flavored products are marketed to youth in epidemic proportions and the ban seeks to keep the addictive products out of kids’ hands.
DPHHS states the high rate of e-cigarette use among youth is alarming. The 2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed nearly a third (30 percent) of Montana high school students currently use e-cigarettes and more than half (58 percent) have tried them.
If you are a youth or adult who is trying to quit smoking, go to the DPHHS website dphhs.mt.gov.
A grim picture of economic collapse in Richland County was painted by community members at a hearing in front of the Public Service Commission (PSC) on Tuesday, Oct. 29, in Helena. Representatives of Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU) were also in attendance.
PSC took public comments in reference to the planned 2020 closure of the Lewis and Clark Station in Sidney. The station is one of three coal-fired electric generation units being retired by MDU in the next few years.
Montana Rep. Joel Krautter talked about the big-picture impact the closure will have on Richland County.
“Behind me is a full room. Full of concern about the future of our area. Full of doubt, as you’ve heard today, on the numbers and information that have been provided and that we feel this decision has been based on,” Krautter said.
Krautter explained to the commission that in rural Montana, communities, businesses and industries are “extremely interconnected and depend upon each other for continued sustainability.” The loss of one business essentially has a domino effect on the area.
“That’s why I’m so concerned here today,” Krautter said. “When it’s a decision that can have such wide-ranging consequences, I believe we have to do a thorough vetting.”
About a dozen Westmoreland Mining LLC employees attended the meeting to testify about the impact on the Savage coal mine. Joe Micheletti, Westmoreland chief operating officer, spoke to the viability of the mine.
“We’ve invested heavily in the Savage mine. It’s a little one. We put a lot into equipment in that mine five or six years ago. We work really, really hard to be a top-notch fuel provider for MDU and Lewis and Clark,” Micheletti said. “Including ordinary inflation, we have delivered fuel for that plant for $0.16 a ton cheaper than we did five years ago. I don’t believe we are a party that is suspect to suspicion that we’re not going to do our part.”
Most of the Savage mine employees who attended provided comment for PSC. They spoke about loving their jobs, and nearing retirement and suddenly being faced with the possibility of a career change. They expressed their fear over the changes happening in their communities.
“There’s nothing worse than to stare at your family and all the questions they have about moving,” said Chris Bennett, Westmoreland Savage mine employee. “It’s becoming evident if the power plant shuts down, I’m going to have to move my family somewhere else – Wyoming, Nevada. I hear ‘re-education.’ I’m too invested in coal mining. I’m a miner. I can’t start over.”
Superintendent of Savage Schools Martha Potter gave testimony about the potential impact on tax dollars and ultimately the school system. She estimated $125,251 will be lost if the Savage mine closes.
James Brower, manager of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project, speculated about the eventual effect on Sidney Sugars, which many believe will also fall victim the economic collapse, thus sparking an agricultural crisis as well.
“The voluntary closing of coal operations at the Lewis and Clark plant involuntary closes the coal mine,” Brower said. “Closing the coal mine ceases the fuel supply for the Sidney Sugars processing plant. Sidney Sugars invested over $80 million between transportation and other operations in the community of Richland, Dawson and McKenzie counties. Without that plant, the beet farmers that raise over $40 million worth of beets every year have no place to get their beets processed. So when the beet farmers can no longer sell their beets, that greatly reduces the amount of taxes and the property value they pay into Richland and Dawson and other counties.”
Mike Green, an attorney representing MDU, spoke to PSC about the regulatory process required to make such a decision.
“You cannot accuse the management team of Montana-Dakota of not having a heart or not being willing to make difficult decisions in the face of overwhelming sympathetic situations like what you heard today,” Green said. “Unfortunately, in this regulatory regime, you don’t let us count heartstrings. You don’t let us count jobs. You don’t let us county community impacts.”
The Montana Consumer Council, who in charge of speaking for rate-payers in front of PSC, is who Green said would need to take the passion and emotion displayed at the hearing into consideration when addressing the commission. A practice he said has not been done in the past.
“That is not in the arithmetic we are allowed to use to make rates or to pass on these kinds of costs to the customer,” Green said. “We welcome any interactions or any movement that the Montana Consumer Council is able to make to allow the company to consider these thing in its rates.”
Green also addressed the unanswered question from the July MDU meeting in Sidney about what other companies had been approached to possibly purchase Lewis and Clark. At the time, MDU did not have proper permission to share the information.
“The companies that were contacted are Otter Tail, NorthWestern Energy, MinnKota and Black Hills. All five of those entities said they were not interested in this power plant,” Green said. “Montana-Dakota can only say, ‘This is for sale. Can you take it?’ We don’t have the ability to provide an economic incentive package. We don’t have the ability to provide property tax abatements. We don’t have the ability to tap into economic development grants, which may inspire someone else to take this plant.”
PSC members will take the comments provided into consideration. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled with PSC and MDU for early January to review their integrated resource plan and the matter may be readdressed at that time.
With all the uncertainty, Sidney Mayor Rick Norby left the crowd with some hope during his testimony.
“We’re united. We’re not going anywhere,” Norby said. “We’ve done it on everything that’s happened in our area. We are united.”