Written by John Plestina
The president of Montana’s Highway 2 Association said Friday, Nov. 4, that he wants the Montana Legislature to convene in a special session to address highway and infrastructure funding following passage of the first long-term national highway bill in a decade.
Montana lawmakers failed to act on highway and infrastructure funding during the last legislative session.
President Barack Obama signed the $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, Friday, just hours before the most recent of several temporary highway-funding measures was scheduled to run out.
Highway 2 Association president Bob Sivertsen of Havre called the passage of the bill a milestone.
“It creates some certainty in long term planning for construction of highways; the prerequisite to economic development,” said Sivertsen, who has brought various transportation proposals to meetings in Wolf Point and Culbertson in recent years.
The association has considerable members and supporters from Roosevelt County.
“It’s a big boost for Montana. After meeting its prior obligations — paying for work that’s already done — MDT [Montana Department of Transportation] will be able to forge ahead on highway projects approved under the five-year plan,” Sivertsen said.
He said the Highway 2 Association would continue advocating for upgrades along the U.S. Hwy. 2 corridor. Some portions of that roadway are currently four lanes, including in Wolf Point.
“Montana’s segment of the Highway 2 corridor is the only portion that is not a four-lane,” Sivertsen said. “Yes, we can and should make a case for major upgrades to Hwy. 2. North America’s economy will benefit.”
Since its inception in 2001, the Highway 2 Association has been a strong proponent of the “4 For 2” campaign to build a four-lane U.S. Hwy. 2 across the 666 miles that crosses Montana, for an adequate transportation system along the Hi-Line with safety, tourism, agriculture and the enhancement of energy and other economic development cited as reasons for the need.
Sivertsen cited MDT’s Bainville West Project for construction of a four-lane roadway in eastern Roosevelt County once the funding becomes available.
“We will continue submitting projects to be considered in the five-year plan. We have to make a case that justifies every project and I’m confident we can,” he said.
“Consider this: northern Montana sits at the gateway to three of the strongest economies in North America; Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota. Montana is included in what I call the Golden Economic Region of North America,” Sivertsen said.
More than $7 million people live in that international region with a $600 billion gross domestic product (GDP), a monetary measure of the value of all final goods and services produced over a set period of time. Sivertsen cited agriculture, energy and tourism.
“The Highway 2 Corridor sits smack in the middle of all the activity. Yes we can make a case for major upgrades to Highway No. 2,” he said.
Sivertsen cited Phase 1 of the Multi-Corridor Operations and Management study that looked at the capacity of rail service in Montana and other northern states, and along both segments of Hwy. 2, which extends from Washington to Michigan and from upstate New York to Maine. About 40 million people live along the corridor, which has a $2.5 trillion GDP.
The 1,300-page highway and transit construction package received final approval in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 83-16. The House of Representatives previously approved it by a margin of 359 to 65.
It is intended to make up for a long-standing shortfall in the highway trust fund, which is funded from an 18.4 cent per gallon federal tax on gasoline, which has not been raised in 20 years. Lawmakers reauthorized the 18.4-cent tax without increasing it.
Since 2005, lawmakers have not passed a highway spending bill lasting more than two years.
Sivertsen recently cited funding for the Export-Import Bank of the United States as a major problem with the highway bill.
A controversial provision of the measure revives the charter of the EX-IMP Bank, which expired earlier this year.
Republican lawmakers have called the EX-IMP Bank, which is backed by Democrats, a waste of government money. GOP members of the House and Senate have said its revival could cause job losses in the U.S.
The FAST Act contains several riders addressing numerous related and unrelated issues. They include: lowering the minimum age for interstate truck drivers to from 21 to 18, but only for veterans and current military members and reservists; and requiring automotive dealerships and rental car companies to fix vehicles that are subject to safety recalls before renting, loaning or selling the vehicles to the public.
Written by John Plestina
The creation of junior DUI task forces was proposed for Wolf Point, Culbertson, Poplar and other area high schools during the monthly Roosevelt County DUI Task Force meeting Wednesday, Dec. 2.
Currently in place in schools in Three Forks and Bozeman, task force member Janice LaCounte of Wolf Point said she is acquainted with a 14-year-old girl who attends high school in Three Forks and is an active member of a junior DUI task force.
LaCounte said she believed the girl’s mother would allow her to travel to Wolf Point to make presentations as a peer to local high school students.
Roosevelt County Commissioner Gary Macdonald said a grant could be written to fund the girl’s travel expenses.
Culbertson High School teacher Mary Machart said the students would own it.
“Instead of adults telling kids, ‘don’t drink,’ it’s the kids doing it,” she said.
LaCounte said the concept of the junior DUI task force could begin at the fifth and sixth grade level.
“If ever we are going to make a positive impact in the community, it’s though the schools,” Macdonald said.
The county commissioners approved a resolution that formally established the task force in April 2014. A group had held organizational meetings since late 2013. The task force meets monthly and includes representatives of the Wolf Point Police Department, Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office, Montana Highway Patrol, Fort Peck Tribes and members of the community.
Written by John Plestina
The Roosevelt County Commission took no action on a tax abatement for the expansion of the United Grain elevator facility in Culbertson Tuesday, Dec. 8, but expressed a willingness to revisit the request once a new commissioner is appointed from the east end of the county.
Since former commissioner Allen Bowker of Culbertson resigned in August, the seat representing the eastern portion of the county has remained vacant.
Commission presiding officer Duane Nygaard said he was opposed to abatement because the county did not grant an abatement to Columbia Grain. He said the commission could revisit the issue in the future.
Commissioner Gary Macdonald said Columbia Grain was denied because the request was made after construction.
The Culbertson City Council made a second attempt to abate city taxes for United Grain the previous day, but a motion died for lack of a second.
Culbertson Mayor Gorden Oelkers said one council member who supports the United Grain request was absent from the council meeting on Monday. Oelkers said the council will address it again in January.
The tax break would only be for the expansion of the elevator and not for other properties United Grain owns in Culbertson.
Oelkers said it is a shame that the county has not supported the abatement. He also called it “frustrating” and not a positive business attitude.
In other business, the commissioners appointed Michelle Isle of Wolf Point as aging coordinator.
The commissioners also approved $3,750 for a software purchase for electronic fingerprinting for the Sheriff’s Office.
The commissioners approved $83,000 for Interstate Engineering for design work for a new hangar at the Wolf Point Airport for Cape Air. Ninety-five percent of the cost is funded by an FAA grant. The remaining 5 percent is a split between the county and city.
The commissioners approved the purchaser of a new Dodge 3500 pickup for the weed department for $40,448 from Northern Prairie Auto Sales. It will replace a pickup that was wrecked during the summer. The commissioners sold it for $7,000 as salvage during the same meeting.
The commissioners also accepted the resignation of Wolf Point Museum summer employee Evan Bartel.
In other business, the commissioners approved a security camera system for the jail at a cost of $5,209. The new jail that will be built during 2016 and 2017 will include a new security system. The cameras the commissioners approved Tuesday will be used in the courthouse once the new jail is completed.
Written by John Plestina
A federal grand jury recently indicted a Wolf Point woman who was accused of embezzling money from the Fort Peck Tribal Credit Department.
Monica Vernette Campbell, 52, pleaded not guilty to a single charge of theft from an Indian tribal organization during an arraignment before Magistrate Judge John Johnston in U.S. District Court in Great Falls Monday, Nov. 23.
The indictment alleges that Campbell caused thousands of dollars in tribal checks to be made payable to herself and others while she was assistant loan manager for the tribal credit program in Poplar between Dec. 18, 2014, and June 25.
A conviction would carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release.
Johnston ordered Campbell released.
The Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice and Department of Interior Office of Inspector General investigated the case.
Written by Herald-News
Wolf Point High School students (from left to right) Dani Vine, Haley Jackson and Brandin Kolski assemble one of five teepees in Sherman Park Thursday, Dec. 3, the eve of the Wolf Point Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture’s second annual Christmas Stroll. Several students assembled the teepees after elder Albert Foote talked with them about the history of the teepee to local tribes. The teepees were lit up with lights for stroll. The Wolf Point Lions Club and Junior Optimists provided refreshments in the gazebo during the stroll. (Photos by John Plestina)