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Let the Games Begin!

Coaches throughout Montana are moving forward in anticipation of sports practices beginning on August 14. With a noticeable question mark of fall sports start-up dates due to COVID-19, however, a cloud of uncertainty hovers over practice fields across the Big Sky state.

Fairview High School Head Football Coach Levi Seitz stated: “We might have to make some adjustments as we get more information.”

“Our players are very motivated and have been in the weight room trying to do everything they can to defend our title,” he added with a tone of optimism winning coaches are known for.

Sidney High School Activities Director Chris Lee is equally hopeful and optimistic the school will have athletic activities available to students in the fall. The Sidney school district is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, Lee said.

Lambert High School is assessing its facilities. School leaders informed the Sidney Herald they are examining procedures they can take to ensure better social distancing, such as having fewer people standing in lines and ramping up existing disinfecting routines.


Meanwhile, as COVID-19 cases steadily rise in over half of the states in the United States, the Montana High School Association (MHSA) is working on a “tiered system” in case COVID-19 throws a wrench into the fall sports plans.

MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman told NBC Montana, “We want to have the most comprehensive plan available so that if this does happen, we can go here. If this happens, we’ll go here. Or if this happens, we’ll do this. We are trying to cover all of our bases.”

MHSA is hoping to have the system finalized and ready to implement by mid-July, it was announced.

On May 28, 2020, the MHSA Reopening Sports/Activities Summer Guidance was released. It states, “MHSA summer rules allow for coaches to coach their own players from June 1–July 31; however, that participation cannot be mandated. One team vs. another team scrimmage is allowed (no tournament or round robin play) during this time with both schools approving and, of course, with approval of that format from the local health department.”


Lambert Schools Athletic Director Kara Triplett stated: “We did go to the DCC tournament, which was awesome to be allowed to play other teams. We would really like to get a few scrimmage games against local HS teams in July, if possible. Our Board will allow it at this point, but so far, no takers!”

One primary reason other coaches may seem reluctant to accept scrimmage invitations is out of concern for their players.

The health of players and students is of the utmost importance to each of the athletic directors and coaches the Sidney Herald reached out to. As just one example of precautions taken this year: players are encouraged to bring their own water bottles and not to share those water bottles or towels with teammates.

Sidney High School (SHS) track and cross-country coaches Stacey and Justin Collins have been conducting speed training for students on Monday and Wednesday evenings.

“Other teams have been running optional summer practices that are open to any Sidney High School student,” Lee stated. “Interested students can contact specific head coaches or myself for more details. Any current SHS student who wants [access to] the weight room is encouraged to contact Coach Hoffman to get on the list.”

Lee’s statement sums up well the status of fall high school sports in July 2020: Wait and see.

Sidney Health Center ready for Health Screens

Sidney Health Center recently resumed the Birthday Month Health Screens, effective July 1, 2020. In fact, Birthday Club Members with July birthdates should have received a postcard in the mail with instructions to take advantage of their annual health screen at the reduced rate of $45, and an additional $40 for men interested in the prostate cancer screen.

The Birthday Month Health Screen, which is valued over $500, includes a chemistry panel that evaluates kidney and liver function, blood sugar and electrolytes, a blood count, which identifies anemia or infection as well as a lipid (cholesterol) panel.

For those individuals who had a birthday during the suspension of this popular service, Sidney Health Center is dedicating a week in July to schedule the Belated Birthday Month Health Screens. Birthday Club Members, who had a birthday during March, April, May or June, are encouraged to call a dedicated phone number at 406-488-2004 to schedule an appointment.

Upon calling this number, individuals will be instructed to leave a message including their name, phone number and birth date. Since this phone extension will not be answered at all times, a representative will call patients back to schedule their appointment for the week of July 13. Appointments will be made on a first call, first serve basis. If there are not enough appointments to meet the demand, an additional health screen event will be organized at a later date.

The Belated Birthday Month Health Screens will be done at the Extended Care Rehab Room, located behind the Medical Arts Building on 12th Avenue Southwest on the east side of Sidney Health Center’s campus with parking available in the ER parking lot. Signs will be posted to help direct traffic to this health screening event.

Participants are reminded to wear a facemask or cloth covering to this event to help mitigate the spread of infectious disease. Those who remember to bring their facemask will be entered into a drawing for $50 in Sidney Chamber Bucks. Payment in full is required at the time of service. Cash and checks only for this event as no credit cards will be accepted and no insurance will be filed. To maximize your investment in this health screen, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1. To avoid lines and ensure social distancing, please come 5-7 minutes before the scheduled appointment.

2. For accurate test results, it is important to fast 10-12 hours prior to having your blood drawn.

3. Drinking water will not affect results. In fact, normal water intake is encouraged.

The results of the tests and a general explanation sheet will be available through MyChart and/or mailed to participants following the blood draw. It is the patient’s responsibility to review the results with their provider. Follow-up testing should be based on personal and family history and by recommendation of the patient’s primary care provider.

As a preventative measure, individuals are encouraged to get a baseline blood test screening done by age 20 to identify early risk factors. The Prostate Cancer Screening for males is not generally recommended until about age 50. The Birthday Month Blood Screen offers a cost effective option to help identify whether you may be at risk for disease or health complications. Take advantage of this opportunity to play an active role in their long-term health!

To sign-up for the Annual Health Screening at a reduced rate visit: https://www.sidneyhealth.org/Services/Laboratory-Services/Birthday-Signup

EGT adds shuttle train loading capabilities in Sidney

EGT, LLC, a joint venture between Bunge and ITOCHU, is now able to load shuttle trains at its elevator in Sidney, Mont. This achievement is thanks to the completion of a rail track upgrade that nearly triples the number of rail cars the facility can handle.

“Since purchasing this elevator in 2018, our goal has been to improve its speed and efficiency so we can better serve our farmer customers in and around Richland County,” said Matt Kerrigan, EGT operations manager. “With the ability to load shuttle trains, the Sidney elevator is now a more competitive option for marketing wheat and soybeans to export customers.”

In a press release issued after the purchase, EGT’s CEO said the Sidney elevator strengthened the capacity of its export terminal in Longview, Wash.

“The facility is located in a key draw area for wheat, particularly spring wheat, which is experiencing increasing demand.” the president and CEO of EGT stated in 2018.

“The Sidney elevator has access to the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad which serves the Longview terminal,” EGT declared in the 2018 press release. “It can also handle inbound and outbound trucks.”

The Sidney facility complements EGT’s other elevators in Montana, the press release pointed out.

“We are excited to be in the Sidney area and have plans to begin expanding the facility’s speed and capabilities immediately,” said the company’s CEO in 2018. “We look forward to providing growers efficient service from day one.”

With the upgrade, the elevator now has the capacity to handle a 110-car shuttle train versus its previous capacity of 45 single cars. The improvements bring Sidney’s loading capacity in line with EGT’s other elevators in Chester, Kintyre Flats and Tunis, Montana which serve its export terminal in Washington.

EGT, LLC is a joint venture between Bunge North America and ITOCHU.

Radioactive oil waste rules finalized

Two weeks ago, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) finalized rules that will govern radioactive oil waste disposal in Montana. Crafting these protections took more than six years, and was driven largely by members of the Northern Plains Resource Council of Billings.

“Plain and simple, these protections would not be law if it weren’t for the determination of Montanans who refused to let our land, water, and livelihoods be sacrificed,” said Maggie Copeland, a Northern Plains member.

Copeland lives along the road to Montana’s only operating radioactive waste landfill near Glendive.

Montana currently has one landfill that actively accepts radioactive oil waste: Oaks Disposal, located outside Glendive. Sites in Missoula, Plentywood, Culbertson, Great Falls, and Baker have also been granted permits for radioactive oil waste, while a proposed landfill for the Sidney area is currently on hold.

The rulemaking began in 2013 and was prompted by local residents in eastern Montana. Since that time, citizens made their case to the DEQ through seven rule drafts, three public comment periods, four public hearings, two virtual hearings during COVID-19 quarantine, and comments and testimony from thousands of eastern Montanans.

“We’ve been at this for over six years,” continued Copeland. “The industry used every tactic they could to try and derail the hard work of local people. I’m relieved we finally got these over the finish line. Thank you to the thousands of Montanans who stood up to protect this place we all love.”

The rules were crafted to match North Dakota’s protections around radioactive oil waste, where the vast majority of the waste dumped in Montana originates. North Dakota currently has no landfills permitted to accept radioactive waste.

One of the most relevant rules is the “radioactivity limit,” which determines the maximum radioactivity level that landfills are allowed to accept. Advocates of the rules wanted Montana’s limit to be set at 50 picocuries per gram, identical to the rules in North Dakota.

Those Montanans were shocked in the fall of 2019 when the DEQ proposed raising Montana’s allowable level of radioactivity to 200 picocuries per gram of radium – four times North Dakota’s accepted levels. A limit at that level would have made eastern Montana a dumping ground for radioactive oil waste from North Dakota and around the region, according to thousands of Montanans who packed hearing rooms and flooded the DEQ with comments.

After the public outcry, the DEQ responded by returning Montana’s radioactivity limit back to 50 picocuries per gram, in line with North Dakota. The rules were expected to become law this spring.

In April, however, the rulemaking hit yet another roadblock, when Senator Mike Lang (R-Malta) raised an objection at the Environmental Quality Council, an interim committee of the Montana legislature. Northern Plains members ultimately persuaded the committee to reverse course and withdraw their objection by a vote of 13–2.

“I think the rulemaking process was a perfect illustration of how an active, informed citizenry is essential to governance,” said Northern Plains member Laurel Clawson, who ranches near Plentywood, close to a site permitted for radioactive waste disposal.

“The recently adopted rules allow the energy industry to flourish to the same extent it does in surrounding states, while protecting ag-based industries and, as importantly, the health of Montana’s people and environment,” continued Clawson.

Mask use on the rise in Montana

More than three-quarters of Montanans are wearing face masks, avoiding crowded public places and practicing social distancing in response to the coronavirus, according to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago in late May and early June. Responses were collected from 257 adult Montanans, giving the poll an 8.4 percentage point margin of error.

The survey, part of an ongoing effort to assess how the pandemic is affecting Americans, also recorded 41% of respondents indicating that their personal plans had changed as a result of domestic travel restrictions.

Heavy majorities of Montanans reported keeping six feet of distance from people outside their household (81%), wearing a face mask (78%), avoiding public or crowded places (76%), putting off social activities (72%) and avoiding some or all restaurants (67%).

The poll didn’t ask respondents to provide details on the situations in which they do or don’t use face masks or how consistently they are wearing masks in public. A prior survey by the COVID-19 Consortium, conducted in the second half of May, had 30% of Montana respondents report adhering “very closely” to health guidelines that they wear a face mask when outside the home, with another 29% reporting that they were adhering “somewhat closely.”

While the figure for self-reported mask-wearing is up substantially since late April, when 62% of Montanans reported taking the precaution, it still lags the national figure of 90%.

Fewer Montanans reported praying (48%), wiping down packages entering their homes (32%), or working from home (30%) in response to the coronavirus.

Research based on prior rounds of the survey administered in April, included in briefing materials distributed to some Montana lawmakers this week, indicated that 6 in 10 Montanans reported wearing masks, compared to 8 in 10 survey respondents nationally.

That research also reported that as of April and May, the percentage of Montanans working for pay had fallen 13 percentage points relative to the pre-COVID level, and that the average number of hours worked by employed Montanans had declined by 9%.

The latest round of the survey was conducted between May 30 and June 8 for the Data Foundation by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. Research funders include the Associated Press and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Respondents were selected from a stratified random sample of households drawn from the U.S. Postal Service’s delivery route database, which means rural residents who only have P.O. boxes were excluded.

Full survey results and detailed methodology information are available at covid-impact.org.

Eric Dietrich is a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. This article was provided by the Montana Free Press.