Written by John Plestina
Fort Peck Tribes Chairman A.T. “Rusty” Stafne (left), BIA regional director Darryl LaCounte and Dry Prairie board chairman Rick Knick of Culbertson display gifts from the Fort Peck Tribes after signing the water agreement. (Photo by John Plestina)
The Fort Peck Tribes, Culbertson-headquartered Dry Prairie Rural Water Authority and the Bureau of Indian Affairs signed an historic water agreement for the delivery of water from the Tribes’ intake and treatment facilities near Wolf Point to Dry Prairie customers throughout northeastern Montana at the tribal government offices in Poplar Tuesday, March 31.
The tribal and Dry Prairie water systems agreement is a result of more than two decades of work that resulted in a collaboration between the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and their non-Indian neighbors. The systems will be connected later this spring as a result of this three-party agreement.
Once connected, the tribal intake and treatment facilities will begin supplying water to Dry Prairie at a delivery point near U.S. Hwy. 2 on the eastern side of the reservation. This eastern connection will allow Dry Prairie to immediately serve some 700 of its rural customers, as well as the communities of Culbertson, Bainville, Froid, Medicine Lake, Plentywood and Antelope.
In addition to the eastern connection point, tribal and Dry Prairie officials hope to establish connections between the two systems near Frazer later this year and then near Nashua during the upcoming year. The westernmost connection would allow Dry Prairie to deliver water from the tribal facilities to its customers west of the reservation. A third connection is also planned along the northern boundary of the reservation, near Montana Hwy. 251. Eventually, the combined rural water systems would consist of about 3,000 miles of water pipeline servicing approximately 30,000 residents throughout all of Roosevelt County, the eastern half of Valley County, and Sheridan and Daniels counties.
“This moment has been a long time coming,” Tom Escarcega, director of the Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water System project, said.
Escarcega, who emceed the ceremony and signing event, has worked on the project since 1992.
“It’s truly a great thing when the Indian community works with the non-Indian community to make a good thing happen,” BIA regional director Darryl LaCounte of Billings said.
“This is a great example of what we can do together,” Dry Prairie board chairman Rick Knick of Culbertson said.
Knick, LaCounte and Fort Peck Tribal Chairman A.T. “Rusty” Stafne were the three signers of the agreement.
“This is a very important project for northeastern Montana. This is great for us,” Stafne said.
“I think we are entering hard times. This project will make it easier for us,” he said.
“We are very proud. This agreement represents decades of cooperation between the Tribes and its off-reservation partners, and is a first of its kind in Montana,” Stafne said in a prepared statement prior to the signing ceremony.
Sens. Steve Daines, R. Mont., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., and Gov. Steve Bullock were all invited to participate. Bullock, Daines and Tester sent representatives in their absence. Zinke was not represented.
Congress authorized the two water projects in 2000 at 1998 costs of $193 million. That price tag is now estimated at $320 million. Daines said the project was about $150 million short during a visit to Poplar in May 2014.
Dry Prairie Rural Water Authority is a municipal, industrial, and rural water system for Roosevelt, Valley, Daniels and Sheridan counties outside the boundaries of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation that the conservation districts own in each of the counties.
DPRWA brings Missouri River water to municipal water systems, rural households, and livestock pasture taps.
The Fort Peck Tribal water system is operated by the Fort Peck Tribes and held in trust by the Department of Interior.
Written by John Plestina
An unofficial straw poll taken by the Fort Peck Tribes Executive Board Thursday, March 26, put the brakes on the $33 million dollar Buffalo Rivers Casino & Lodge that was proposed to be built on a site near Fort Kipp.
The 8-2 vote against moving forward with the project was taken following a lengthy discussion that included concerns that a $29 million loan from the Shakopee Mdewankontan Tribe in Minnesota would be too expensive with a 6.5 percent interest rate. The cost to the tribes with interest would have been $44 million with steep monthly payments.
“It has to come to full board [on April 13],” executive board member Stacey Summers of Wolf Point said. She also said she expects the project to be formally voted down.
Summers said there will be discussions about a smaller casino project that would cost less money to build.
“The $29 million plus the 6½ percent interest; I just don’t see us making those payments,” Summers said.
Vice chairwoman Patricia Iron Cloud said she would delay any public comment until after the executive board takes a formal vote.
Information disseminated by Jamie Beskow, media director for James Dugan, a Sioux Falls, S.D., casino marketing firm, led to news stories in The Herald-News, Fort Peck Journal and Billings Gazette that the casino was going to be built. A date in June for a groundbreaking was given to The Herald-News.
The Herald-News contacted Beskow Wednesday, March 25. She said she was not aware the executive board had not approved the project.
Beskow said her company is affiliated with Arrowhead Consulting Group of Sioux Falls, which is also involved with the proposed project. Arrowhead Consulting Group is a casino staffing and training consultant, according to information on the internet.
Executive board members voting against proceeding with the casino project were Ed Bauer, Marva Firemoon, Charlie Headdress, Pearl Hopkins, Rick Kirn, Terry Rattling Thunder, Grant Stafne and Summers.
Garrett Big Leggins and Tom Christian voted in favor of the project as it was proposed.
Roxanne Gourneau abstained from voting.
In a second straw poll, council members voted 8-2 in favor of a possible smaller casino project and a more extensive feasibility study.
According to a press release from Beskow, the proposal called for a casino with a gaming floor with 400 video gaming machines and four poker tables, 75-room hotel, 150-person restaurant with a buffet, events center that would seat more than 400 people, a lounge that would accommodate live entertainment, snack bar and a gift shop.
Beskow’s press release also said the completed project would employ about 220 people.
Written by John Plestina
Between 850 and 900 people were served at Schmeckfest Friday, March 27, the 50th annual fundraising dinner for Lustre Christian High School.
Julie Reddig, who along with her husband Dean, head the steering committee for Schmeckfest said Monday, March 30, that it was too soon to determine exactly how many people were served or how much money was made from the dinner and fundraising auction.
The annual fundraiser that celebrates the German-Mennonite heritage of much of the Lustre community, features an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord-style traditional German meal, silent auction, live auction, crafts, bake sale and entertainment.
The dinner held in March every year began in 1966 as the Lustre Bible Academy Smorgasbord and, in 1973, became Schmeckfest. The private Christian school became Lustre Christian High School in 1978.
Written by John Plestina
With the search and screening process for school district superintendent candidates seemingly completed with two finalists selected for interviews, the Wolf Point School District must now start the process again with both finalists withdrawing from consideration.
School trustees voted 4-0 during a special meeting Monday, March 30, to re-open the position for 10 days to again attempt to find finalists to invite for interviews, with the alternative available of hiring an interim superintendent.
Other options the board considered were hiring a permanent superintendent only or considering interim candidates only to serve one school year.
Board chairman Martin DeWitt suggested that the board take the path they did with an interim superintendent an option.
“We also have individuals within the district who have superintendent certification,” DeWitt said.
No names of certified potential superintendents were mentioned. There are at least three people living in Wolf Point who are qualified but did not apply. They include Northside Elementary School principal Hannah Nieskens and former superintendent Paul Huber.
The school board and Kerri Langoni of the Montana School Boards Association will screen second-round applicants Tuesday, April 14, with candidates selected for interviews or an offer could be extended for an interim position.
During a screening meeting for district superintendent candidate finalists on Monday, March 23, interviews were offered to two finalists that had been scheduled for Monday, March 30, along with meetings with both unions that represent teachers and other school district staff and a public meet and greet.
They are Vinson Gund-lach, an assistant principal in Miles City, and Rixon “Rick” Rafter, a school district director of human resources in Ketchikan, Alaska. Raftor is a former principal.
Gundlach was contacted by telephone after the March 23 meeting and accepted the invitation to interview but withdrew the next day. Rafter declined when contacted.
Two other semifinalists who did not make the cut for interviews during the screening meeting are Debra Combs, a K-12 principal in Dodson, and Charles Smith, a K-12 principal in Heart Butte.
The new or interim superintendent is expected to start in July. The salary range will be $80,000 to $90,000 annually, depending on experience, with full family medical benefits and other benefits.
The school board is working with the Montana School Board Association to attract and screen applicants. The district wants a new superintendent to be in place July 1.
The next superintendent will replace Joe Paine, who submitted his resignation to become a principal in Grenora, N.D. Paine’s final day is June 15. He served the Wolf Point district 24 years as an educator and administrator; the past four years as district superintendent.
Written by John Plestina
Shopko Hometown manager Kerrie Letsche cuts the ribbon during the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the Wolf Point store, Friday, March 27. Holding the ribbon are: Chris Warren (at left), Shopko Hometown assistant manager in Sidney; and Jim Morley, Shopko manager in Yakima, Wash., The other people in the picture are all employees of the new Wolf Point store. The new Shopko Hometown opened March 22 in the building on U.S. Hwy. 2 that formerly housed ALCO. (Photo by John Plestina)
Wolf Point’s new Shopko Hometown store officially opened with a grand opening and ribbon cutting, Friday, March 27. The store opened to customers five days earlier.
The Wolf Point Shopko was one of 20 grand openings on same date of new Shopkos in buildings previously operated by ALCO Stores, Inc., in Western and Midwestern states. Those 20 stores are the first Shopkos with a new floor plan that includes clothing in the center of the store.
Shopko Hometown Wolf Point manager Kerrie Letsche officially opened the store with Shopko district manager Aaron Cragun of Missoula, Shopko’s Yakima, Wash. manager Jim Morley and Sidney assistant manager Chris Warren.
Letsche, who is from South Dakota, worked for ALCO 18 years and managed the Wolf Point store for about a year and a half until it closed.
ALCO, which had been in bankruptcy since October, closed the Wolf Point store Jan. 30.