Written by Herald-News
Old and classic rides were put on display at the Wolf City Rods and Rides Car Show at the Stampede groounds, Saturday, June 14.
(Photos by John Plestina)
Written by Herald-News
The second annual Wolf Point Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture Brewfest was held at the Stampede grounds, Saturday, June 14. The first photo is Dennis Heser (left) and Duane Kurokawa tapping a keg. The second is Old Town Grill’s (from left to right) DeeDee, Lindsay and Brad Iwen serving food to the crowd. The third is Überbrew of Billings was one of the brewers who brought their microbrews to the second annual Brewfest. The last photo is Cleo and Kelly Cranford. (Photos by John Plestina)
Written by John Plestina
The board of county commissioners said Monday, June 16, that the unsuccessful public safety bonding measure that would have funded a replacement for the aging Roosevelt County jail will reappear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
The bonding issue failed at the polls Tuesday, June 3, after receiving 57.93 percent [986-716] of the votes cast because it did not receive a minimum of 60 percent, a state requirement when voter turnout is between 30 and 40 percent of registered voters. The voter turnout was 34.88 percent.
The county commissioners have clarified that they were incorrect by previously saying a minimum of 35 percent of registered voters must cast ballots for passage.
“Without a doubt, we will run it again,” commissioner Gary Macdonald said.
He said one problem he saw with the language on the primary election ballot was that it did not explain the cost of the new jail to voters.
Instead, Macdonald said, “We went out and explained to them what it would cost [at several public meetings]. It wasn’t on the ballot.”
The bonding measure asked voters to authorize the commissioners to issue and sell $11.86 million in general obligation bonds to be repaid within 20 years with an estimated annual fixed interest rate of 10 percent.
If the June 3 bonding measure had passed, the costs to taxpayers for construction-related costs would have been $46.06 per year for residential properties valued at $100,000 and $11.18 annually for operational expenses.
Macdonald said the commission will hold public hearings earlier than during the month leading up to the election, which is what was done before the primary election.
“We might have to do evenings,” he said.
“[Previous meetings prior to the election were] in the middle of seeding and farmers aren’t going to come out during seeding,” commissioner Jim Shanks said.
With the bonding measure not approved June 3, the county is at risk of being forced to close the aging jail because of potential liability and the cost to the taxpayers could be substantially higher than a mill levy increase that would be necessary to fund construction and operational costs.
All three commissioners said they are expecting a larger voter turnout for the general election.
The commissioners must file with the county clerk’s office for a new jail bond measure no later than Aug. 11.The proposal is to remodel the existing sheriff’s office and jail facility behind the Roosevelt County Courthouse with an addition, a less expensive option than building a completely new facility at a different site because it would reduce construction expenses and eliminate site acquisition costs. It would also retain the jail in close proximity to courtrooms, minimizing transportation costs.
The addition would provide a 60-bed jail that would be compliant with all standards.
The bonding includes the costs of designing, building, equipping and furnishing the jail and office space for the sheriff’s office that would be included. The proposed facility would include an “eyes-on” master control center, booking area, medical isolation area and several Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant cells. An E-911 communications center would be included in the facility.
The larger jail could generate revenue by accepting inmates from other counties and would be large enough to handle a much higher volume of local offenders as increases in crime are projected.
The current 17-bed jail has a rated jail capacity, per state standards, of only 11 beds. The jail averaged 15 inmates per day in 2012, with occasional peaks as high as 20.
Written by John Plestina
The burned-out former site of Gysler Furniture and Appliance moved a step closer to being cleaned up this year at no cost to the City of Wolf Point with authorization by the city council to move forward with a cleanup plan, Monday, June 16.
The council voted unanimously to proceed with a buy-sell agreement with the property owner, John Gysler.
The city would purchase the property for $1 and Gysler would retain liability that would include covering injuries at the site and spreading of contamination.
Gysler signed an agreement Wednesday, May 28, for the city to purchase the property for $1 [pending the city council approval that came Monday, June 16] and to indemnify the city for any liability.
During a meeting between a special committee appointed by the council, Great Northern Development Corporation and environmental consultant Newfields, of Missoula, Monday, June 2, the city sought ways to cleanup the site by late this year without liability to the city.
During that meeting, GNDC executive director Martin DeWitt told the council the site could qualify as a designated Brownfield site where expansion, redevelopment or reuse of the property might be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. The designation could make the city eligible for funding through a revolving loan fund and/or federal grant funding for remediation and clean-up of the site.
DeWitt said it was first assumed that asbestos would not be present since the substance that is now considered hazardous was mostly used in construction during the 1960s and the two Gysler buildings are much older. However, remodeling of the structures during the 1960s included roofing and flooring materials made of asbestos. DeWitt explained that the fire created a situation where the half-century old asbestos materials have become what is called friable asbestos, which is any building material containing more than 1 percent asbestos that could be pulverized or powdered by hand pressure, including asbestos that is damaged by fire, and is subject to federal regulation.
A commitment from Gysler for a 20 percent match of the cleanup cost is required to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement. The cost of site cleanup, including asbestos remediation, is estimated at $243,080. The agreement Gysler signed in late May states that Gysler would pay $20,000 to the city at the time of the purchase to be used as a match for a Brownfield program loan that GNDC would make to the city and an additional $20,000 to hire a consultant to complete an asbestos inspection of the site, develop a cleanup approach and cost estimate, and install a dedicated water source at the site that is necessary for the cleanup. Gysler also agreed to provide proof of insurance coverage for demolition and cleanup.
“The end result would be no cost to the city. It sounds like a win-win thing. We would be able to get that eyesore on Main Street cleaned up. We would not be left holding the bag for anything,” councilman Rollie Paulson said Monday, June 16.
What has been said to have been the largest fire in Wolf Point in a decade, leveled both early-20th century Gysler building at the corner of Second Avenue South and Anaconda Street, Monday, March 10.
A public meeting concerning city involvement in the cleanup is likely to be scheduled.
Written by John Plestina
Although the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole announced Wednesday, June 11, that it rejected a clemency application from former Poplar resident Barry Beach, his attorney said the fight for Beach’s freedom is not over.
The decision by the three- member panel that heard testimony about Beach’s clemency application, Tuesday, April 29, seemingly dashed Beach’s hopes that the full seven-member board would hold a full clemency hearing and commute his 100-year sentence with no eligibility for parole.
“Although the [parole] board suggested this is the end, it’s not the end. We are not going to give up on freeing Barry. This is not over by any means,” Beach’s attorney, Peter Camiel, of Seattle, Wash., said. “There are a number of court options we are exploring.”
He did not elaborate except to say he is considering options with the Montana Supreme Court and the federal court system.
“While we are done with the parole board, we are not done,” Camiel said.
“We were profoundly disappointed. We think the reasoning of the board is illogical. We feel it is outside the statutes for clemency,” he said. “This exercise was in my mind a charade.”
Wolf Point attorney Terrance Toavs served as a co-council with Camiel during the clemency proceedings.
Accused of the 1979 slaying of Poplar High School classmate Kim Nees and dumping her body in the Poplar River, Beach, now 52, was 22 years old when he was convicted in 17th District Court in Glasgow in April 1984 of a crime that occurred when he was 17.
His recent clemency application was partly based on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that juvenile offenders can no longer be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The board rejected that position, saying the Supreme Court decision did not apply in this case.
In his latest application, Beach did not argue his innocence. Instead, his attorneys argued that circumstances had changed since his last clemency application was denied in 1979. The recent bid for clemency marked the fourth time since 1994 that the panel declined to hold a full clemency hearing for Beach.
An offender whose application previously was denied may apply again only if there is a substantial change in circumstances, parole board executive director Fern Johnson said.
People supporting clemency for Beach have said he showed model behavior in prison and when he was free for 18 months and living in Billings after a judge ordered a new trial in 2011.
“[The parole board] seem to be saying there is no changed circumstances no matter what,” Camiel said. “I think the decision was disrespectful of the people who support Barry,” he said, and added that he felt the board viewed Beach’s supporters as ignorant.
Gov. Steve Bullock wrote a letter in April asking the board to focus on Beach’s worthiness for parole and not on whether he is guilty or innocent.
The parole board received about 500 letters from people supporting clemency
with approximately 25 letters opposing Beach’s release. Numerous people from Wolf Point and Poplar have called for clemency.
The New Jersey-based prisoner advocacy group Centurion Ministries also has worked to free him. Camiel is affiliated with Centurion Ministries.
Twenty of the more than 60 people who attended the April 29 hearing testified in favor of clemency for Beach, citing that he was a productive member of society and displayed good character during about 18 months that followed when he was freed in 2011 awaiting a new trial. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 overturned a Montana District Court decision allowing a new trial, sending him back to prison.
Bullock would have made the final determination on clemency had the board made a recommendation to him. He said in a statement that he was disappointed with the panel’s decision.
“Gov. Bullock was very courageous and we commend him,” Camiel said. “He did all he could do and he is legally powerless even if he wants to.”
He added that Beach is very appreciative of Bullock’s support.
“The board ignored [Bullock’s letter]. They treated the governor’s letter like any other supporter,” Camiel said. “People who support Barry tend to be conservative business folks,” he said.
In their two-page decision, board chair Mike McKee and board member Pete Lawrenson wrote opinions opposing clemency. Board member John Rex signed the decision but did not issue statements.
Parole board director Fern Johnson told The Herald-News Thursday, May 29, “I think we’ve gotten two of the three [individual decisions]. We got one last night.”
Beach has maintained for 30 years that he was innocent of the murder, not present when Nees was killed, and wrongly convicted.
Beach told the Great Falls Tribune after the parole board decision: “In January 1983, I was coerced into making a confession to a crime I did not commit by aggressive interrogators. In a lot of ways [the board’s] statement is the same sort of coercion. They’re saying, ‘We’re going to hold your freedom over your head until you confess.’ I have not ever accepted responsibility for this crime, and I never will. I did not kill Kim Nees.”
Questions linger over accounts of several people, who say they were witnesses, that several teenage girls killed Nees. An evidence room in the Poplar Police station was broken into and evidence compromised shortly after the murder. A then police officer, who is the father of a young woman who some people have claimed was involved in the murder, admitted to breaking into the evidence room.
Beach could be eligible for “good time” credit leading to early release due to the law that was in effect in 1979. That would put a possible release date in October 2036. Beach would be 74 years old.