Saturday, November 29, 2008

ECP Board December 2008 Meeting

When: Monday, Dec. 1 at 5:30pm
Where: Gibson Room, Civic Center

Call to Order 5:30 PM
Roll Call

Financial Reports
Restated June 30, 2008
Year to Date
Historic Rate Comparisons, October 2004 – June 2008
HGS Status Update
Miscellaneous Reports

Blended Rate Recommendation

Accept Board Meeting Minutes from November 3, 2008
Resolution 2008.0001 Establishing a Five Minute Comment Period


Public Comment


January 5, 2009

Judge Rules In Favor Of SME

In today's Tribune, there is this article about the judge's ruling concerning spot zoning:
Montana District Judge Wayne Phillips of Lewistown ruled Friday afternoon that the County Commission's rezoning of the plant site did not constitute spot zoning in an agricultural area.

Tim Gregori, Billings-based general manager for the Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission Cooperative, which is developing the project, was buoyed by the decision.

"I think that it just underscores that the county was very thorough in their process," Gregori said. "We will continue to proceed."

"Basically, he ruled against us on all counts," said Anne Hedges, program director for the Helena-based Montana Environmental Information Center, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "It's quite likely we will appeal."

She said the group has lost before at the district court level only to prevail before the Montana Supreme Court. Some landowners near the project site also are in plaintiffs in the suit.

While Hedges was disappointed with the outcome, she praised Phillips for making a prompt decision.

"He acted expeditiously, as we asked him to do," Hedges said. "We just think he got it wrong."

Gregori praised the judge's conclusions.

Opponents of the coal-fired power plant, an $850 million, 250-megawatt facility, said in the filing that a power plant was not compatible with the area's rich agricultural nature. Phillips said the plaintiffs' best argument on spot zoning was that the rezoning would benefit one landowner at the expense of others. However, he said the project did not meet the other two criteria for spot zoning — that there was a change of land use and that the 668-acre site to be rezoned was a small part of the whole area.

Phillips said Cascade County's zoning already allowed electrical generation facilities in A-2 agriculture areas, as long as the project obtained a special-use permit.

Hedges said she believes that conclusion was reached through odd logic.

Gregori agreed with the judge's interpretation.

"We had reached the same conclusion," Gregori said.

Phillips said heavy industrial zoning was required so the project site would qualify for special tax-increment financing, where all property taxes generated by new development in the area would go into a fund to pay for new roads, water and sewer lines, as well as other improvements.

Early construction work began at the power plant site eight miles east of Great Falls along Salem Road in mid-October. Gregori said he was at the site Wednesday when concrete was poured. The state Department of Environmental Quality recently took SME to task for starting construction too soon, but added that work would be allowed beginning Wednesday. The project has until Sunday to meet construction requirements of a state air-quality permit, including poring a portion of the plant's foundation.

Phillips referred to the deadline in his ruling, noting "a serious and consequential deadline looms."

Power plant developers have taken a roller-coaster ride in obtaining permits and fighting various appeals and challenges at the court and administrative levels. Aside from those skirmishes, the project also continues to seek permanent financing.

Opponents claim the plant would pollute the air too much and contribute to climate change. Supporters say the plant would broaden the county's tax base and be one of the country's cleanest coal-fired acilities.

In his ruling, Phillips said county commissioners did not ignore public comments, but acted "clearly and convincingly."

In a series of decisions, he ruled against the landowners' and MEIC's motion for summary judgment that would have decided the case in their favor. Phillips also refused to authorize several writs, or formal documents, on the plaintiffs' behalf.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day October 3, 1863:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot ail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to he ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SME's Response

Hat tip: Gregg

Here is a press release from SME concerning the DEQ's violation letter.

Request For Hearing Explained

In today's Tribune, there is an article describing the reasoning for the filing of the BER Request For Hearing:
Four conservation groups are again taking aim at invalidating an air-quality permit for the coal-fired Highwood Generating Station in an appeal filed Tuesday with the Board of Environmental Review.

Jenny Harbine, an attorney with Earthjustice, said the plant lacks effective emissions controls to protect the public's health from fine particulate and hazardous pollutants, including mercury. Earthjustice is representing Citizens for Clean Energy, the Sierra Club, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the National Parks Conservation Association in the appeal.

The filing comes a day after Southern Montana Electric and Generation Cooperative, the plant's developer, stopped construction of the plant eight miles east of Great Falls. Work was halted following notification from the state Department of Environmental Quality that the terms of the power plant's air permit didn't allow work to begin until today.

SME broke ground on the site last month.

"SME has brushed aside public health concerns in its rush to construct the Highwood oal plant," Harbine said.

SME CEO Tim Gregori said construction would resume today, with crews pouring concrete.

The group of rural electric cooperatives needs to begin foundation work by Sunday or its air-quality permit becomes invalid. Dan Walsh, a DEQ air compliance supervisor, said the agency would be inspecting the site sometime after Sunday.

"We like to show up at these sites unannounced," he said.

The air-quality permit case will be on the agenda of the Board of Environmental eview on Dec. 5, said Chuck Homer, permitting and compliance manager in the DEQ's Air Resource Management Bureau.

"I'm disappointed they thought they needed to take this back into litigation," SME attorney Ken Reich said of the appeal.

It's the second time the permit has been appealed.

However, National Parks Conservation Association was not involved in the first filing, Harbine said. The group has joined the cause because it is worried about the power plant's footprint on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Landmark, she said.

In the first appeal, filed late last year, the groups asked for better controls for carbon and particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller, called PM2.5.

The board rejected the carbon argument, but in May it sided with the groups on the PM2.5 issue, ordering SME to look at better controls for the particulate matter.

Harbine said the technology SME came up following the ruling still falls short, leading to the new appeal. The groups also want the DEQ to set a limit for PM2.5 emissions.

"This is DEQ's opportunity to go back and get it right," Harbine said.

"It was a very thorough analysis," Reich said of SME's work on controlling PM2.5 emissions, which involved studying more than 100 types of technologies.

The groups also are asking the DEQ to set emissions limits for hazardous pollutants and to require a maximum achievable control technology review.

In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected an Environmental Protection Agency attempt to substitute a cap-and-trade program for a strict emissions-control program. The more stringent program, which was in place under the Clinton administration, requires "maximum achievable control technology" to limit hazardous pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants.

As a result of the court ruling, coal-fired power plants that emit a combined 25 tons of hazardous pollutants, or 10 tons of any individual pollutant, may have to install additional emission controls.

In its revised air-quality permit application, which the DEQ approved Nov. 10, SME said the additional controls it will use to limit PM2.5 emissions also will reduce the power plant's emissions of hazardous pollutants to 24.4 tons. If the plant can remain below the 25-ton threshold, it would be considered a minor source of hazardous pollutants, meaning it wouldn't be subject to the maximum achievable controls.

"We're seeing this across the country, where power plants are proposing these minimal emissions controls that benefit the plant by allowing it to avoid much more expensive controls of all of its hazardous air pollutants," Harbine said.

Reich said the revised permit is a significant improvement because the power plant could have emitted more than 25 tons of hazardous pollutants under SME's original permit.

"Rather than continue under the current permit, we decided to voluntarily limit our emissions to less than that threshold and we're accomplishing that by a new technology," he said.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BER Hearing

Here is the Request For Hearing filed yesterday to the Board of Environmental Review with regard to appealing the air-quality permit issued to SME on Nov. 10, 2008.

HGS Construction Photos - 11/16-11/24/08

Photos taken 11/16 and 11/24/08:

SME Stops Construction

UPDATE: Here you can find a copy of the violation letter from the state to SME: Thanks, Gregg.

According to this article in Tuesday's Tribune, SME voluntarily stopped construction Monday at HGS:

Construction at a coal-fired power plant east of Great Falls was halted Monday after the state alleged that developer Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission had jumped the gun in beginning construction last month.

"This violation letter is being issued based upon the department's initial determination that a violation has occurred," wrote Robert Gallagher, an environmental engineer specialist in the Department of Environmental Quality's Air Resources Management Bureau, in a letter sent to SME on Thursday.

With SME facing a Nov. 30 deadline to finish preliminary construction on the foundation or face losing its air-quality permit, the delay is significant, according to Ken Reich, an SME attorney.

SME officials, who contend it was not illegal to begin construction, said the decision to send workers home was voluntary.

"We're not going to buck the state," Reich said.

Up to 40 workers had been working on the site, and the final 15 to 20 guys were sent home Monday, SME CEO Tim Gregori said.

The DEQ letter alleges SME violated the law because a final permit must be on hand before starting construction on facilities that emit hazardous pollutants.

SME broke ground Oct. 15, but its air permit in regard to hazardous pollutants, approved by the state Nov. 10, isn't "final and effective" until Wednesday or 15 days after its issuance, according to the DEQ.

Construction could resume as soon as Wednesday, but that isn't likely because of the Thanksgiving holiday, SME officials said.

SME officials, noting Highwood will be a minor and not a major source of hazardous pollutants and therefore not subject to tougher rules faced by major-source emitters, questioned the state's position on the construction timeline and added state officials knew in advance when construction would commence.

"We were quite surprised," Gregori said.

DEQ could ask for a penalty of up to $10,000 a day but has yet to do so, the DEQ's Chuck Homer said.

The agency did not demand that construction be halted, he said.

The DEQ issued an air permit to SME to build the 250-megawatt coal-fired power plant in May 2007, but the permit at issue now is a modified version that covers just hazardous air pollutants and fine particulate.

When the original permit was issued in 2007, under Bush administration rules, coal-fired power plants were not subject to so-called "maximum achievable control technology" review for mercury and other hazardous pollutants. MACT is the toughest form of regulation.

But in February, a federal appeals court decision ruled coal-fired power plants should not be exempt, which raised the possibility of the reinstatement of the so called MACT rules, which had been in place under the Clinton administration.

The federal appeals court decision has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As result of the regulatory flux, SME asked for a modification to its original air permit. It proposed lowering its emissions of hazardous pollutants to fewer than 25 tons, which would make it a "minor source" of hazardous pollutants and not a major source, and therefore not subject to the MACT requirements.

Even though it will be only a minor source emitter of hazardous pollutants, the DEQ said SME still needs "a final effective permit to bring their potential emissions below major source HAP (hazardous pollutants) levels" before beginning construction.

"Therefore, construction activities at the SME facility are prohibited until at least Nov. 26," Gallagher wrote in the letter.

SME officials said the hazardous portion of the air permit could have been issued much sooner but was delayed because the DEQ processed its analysis of fine particulate matter. SME was ordered to do more work on controlling fine particulate by the Board of Environmental Review.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars"

What: A film screening featured by MEIC and CCE

When: Tuesday, November 25 at 6:30pm

: GF Public Library
A discussion follows the film. Admission is free.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of Nov. 24, 2008

No meetings are scheduled this week.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

National Park Service Letter

Here is the latest letter from the National Park Service to Montana members of Congress:

HGS Construction Photos - 10/20-11/08/08

More photos found here. Aerial photos will be added on a weekly basis as weather permits.

Aerial shot taken November 6, 2008

Blended Rate Vote

Here, I wondered how Mr. Doyon could vote in favor of a blended rate scenario, when the City Commission had not yet entered a decision regarding that.

Gregg has Mr. Doyon's response.

Can They, Or Can't They?

On December 12, the Cascade County Board of Adjustment will hear an appeal of the Zoning Administrator's decision that earth moving and construction activity at the HGS site does not require a location/conformance permit.

According to the agenda, see below, public comment is not allowed until after the board has made its decision. Mr. Jerry Taylor, taxpayer, has taken issue with this situation.

What follows are the e-mails sent between him, Brian Clifton, Cascade County Planning Director and Brian Hopkins, Cascade County Deputy Attorney. Mr. Taylor also cc'd the County Commissioners.

Why is Mr. Taylor was so adamant about getting clarification on this matter? Simply put, he was told, emphatically, by the legal team of MEIC that that part of the agenda that allows for argument in favor of the appeal (b) is strictly for them; their arguments and witnesses, not for the public.

I agree with Mr. Taylor's concern. For the attending public, all they will see is this agenda, which does not indicate the public has the right to comment before the board takes action on this appeal. Section b indicates: "Argument in favor of the appeal (appellant or agent)". Does appellant or agent sound like John Q Public to you? It doesn't to me.

Not only that, the board chair is not Mr. Clifton or Mr. Hopkins. Mr. Tim Wilkinson is the chair. Is somebody going to inform him that Mr. Taylor was told he could comment before the board takes action on this appeal? Is somebody going to tell him that Brian Hopkins indicated that Mr. Taylor should be able to respond. Note: "should" does not mean "can".

I am not at all convinced from this dialogue that Mr. Taylor or any other member of the public will be able to comment prior to board action. If they will be able to, as Mr. Hopkins seems to indicate, then the agenda needs to be amended to say that.

Let's get this situation clarified before the meeting, because otherwise, I have a feeling things could perhaps get uncomfortable for some.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Logo Poll

In my poll from a couple of weeks ago, 17 of you think the city should keep the current logo, while 5 of you think it should be changed. 11 of you don't care. Personally, I like the current design.

Next year marks the 125th anniversary of Great Falls, so it was mentioned that holding a contest for a new logo design next year would be very timely. The assistant city manager said the city would be open to helping with that.

If you are a graphic design artist, stay tuned.

Not Amusing

In today's Tribune, in The Edge section, there is this little ditty:

Cameraman cameo

"What a waste of time," said John Watts after recent comments at a county commission meeting by a Highwood Generating Station critic.

The critic, Ron Gessaman, had just told commissioners he wasn't pleased with the county's response to his request for every e-mail, from every department relating to Highwood Generating Station.

Watts, who records commission meetings for the cable access television channel, left his camera and walked to the podium, where he mockingly requested all information the county had relating to the parting of the Red Sea and the Kennedy assassination.

He wrapped up his unusual appearance in front of the camera by telling Highwood critics to "shut up."

Taking Aim

Here, you will find a letter from the National Trust For Historic Preservation taking aim at the Corps of Engineers for allowing SME to proceed with HGS even though the review process of Section 106 is not completed.

Hat tip: Gregg

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Power Plant Costs

Here is an article about the future of power plant costs written by the vice president of R.W. Beck. Remember them?

What is real interesting is the graph on page 4. For the folks who regularly hear Tim Gregori speak at city meetings, he usually infers that wind is more expensive.

Hat tip: CCE

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Animal Shelter Update

Last night, Greg Doyon informed the commission that he is working with the Animal Foundation, albeit slowly. He indicated they are discussing who would be responsible for what and are reviewing the existing plans.

Stay tuned.

Park & Rec. Survey Deadline

This survey is a painless way to get involved in city government. But time is running out. You have only until Monday, Nov. 24 to complete.

It takes only a few minutes to complete online.

Power Rate Worksheets

Below, you will find attachments from last night's slide presentation on power rate comparisions between SME and NWE. The ECP numbers reflect very closely what those customers paid for their power.

The 2009 numbers on page 5 reflect the numbers for July 2008.

According to Coleen, the figures paid to SME are exact. So why then does the July 2008 payment to SME on page 5 not agree with what has been reported on the consent agenda's $5,000 report?

According to the $5,000 report, the payment to SME was $855,058 (807,320 + 47,738) for July power. The report presented last night indicates a payment of $886,768. That's a $31,710.00 difference.

Does this represent a timing difference (some invoices are being received after the books are closed for the month) or are additional monies paying for something else?

Power Rates Explained

I attended last night's City Commission work session and thought the presentation from Coleen Balzarini on the electrical rates was one of the most disjointed and confusing explanations I've ever heard.

After all is said and done, the city has lost at least $150,000 by going with SME instead of staying with Northwestern Energy.

Gregg was there as well and his thoughts are here.

Oh, by the way, I was very surprised. Tim Gregori was not present. Maybe that's why Coleen just didn't seem, to me anyway, confident in her presentation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What Does His Vote Mean?

Here, Commissioner Jolley tells us that Greg Doyon voted "yes" at the SME board meeting with regard to blended rates and that the City Commission has to approve this blended rate scenario.

According to this article in today's Tribune, ECP is supposed to make a recommendation to the city about blended rates at its Dec. 1 meeting and possibly later in December the City Commission will vote on it.

A couple of questions:

* How could Mr. Doyon even vote on this deal when the city hasn't entered a decision?

* But since he has voted in favor of it, what happens if the City Commission doesn't approve this blended rate scenario? Are we going to end up stuck in some "agreement" that will take a law suit to straighten out?

I'm confused.

More Of The Same?

At tonight's work session, Coleen Balzarini is supposed to give rate comparisons between ECP, Northwestern Energy and SME.

I wonder if she is going to "provide the other commissioners and the ECP Board with the documents in the "Trade Secret Box' that make reference to this blended rate issue".

I'll be very surprised if Tim Gregori is not at this meeting.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Where Oh Were Has Our Little Dog Gone?

More than two months ago, on September 2 to be exact, Commissioner Rosenbaum appointed himself and few others to a "construction committee" to begin work on the new Animal Shelter. He was quite confident they could finish their work in "less than a month."

Well, here it is, 60+ days later and......nothing.

Anybody heard anything?

Blended Rates

Following are e-mails between Coleen Balzarini (red) and Mary Jolley (blue) concerning the blended rate discussion from the past two ECP board meetings. These e-mails were also sent to the other commissioners, the ECP board members, Greg Doyon and Cheryl Patton:

From Coleen:

Subject: Proposal to modify rate structure from Southern to ECP
Date: Fri, 7 Nov 2008 12:20:53
(Th)e attached information regarding change in rate structure has been discussed at the last two ECP Board meetings. Cheryl indicated the chart was helpful to her and suggested I distribute to the City Commission. Please let me know if I can provide additional information. If you have problems opening or reading the documents let me know and I will get a hard copy to you. Coleen

From Mary Jolley:

Sent: Friday, November 07, 2008 2:25 PM
Subject: RE: Proposal to modify rate structure from Southern to ECP

Re: ECP Energy expense and revenue comparisons

"The Southern board has already taken action approving the blended rate concept"

Please provide the documentation showing what the Southern Board approved. Did you vote Coleen? How did you vote?
Comparing the past rates paid is not a good comparison. We have never gotten the "cheap" power. You have said that our rates are cheaper now than SME's or Southern if that is what Company name we are using. In your rate comparison how have you accounted for the water credits.

Please provide the other commissioners and the ECP Board with the documents in the "Trade Secret Box' that make reference to this blended rate issue.

Mary Jolley

From Coleen, one week later:

Subject: RE: Proposal to modify rate structure from Southern to ECP
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2008 11:46:59 -0700
Commissioner Jolley,
Greg has asked me to reply to certain portions of your email of November 7, in regards to comparisons, water credits, and cheap power.

Rate comparisons
The comparisons between pass through, blended, NWE, and ECP customer rates that I distributed were prepared in response to a request of the ECP Board members at the October meeting. I indicated that using past consumption data, energy payments and receipts would allow me to provide the Board with a comparison that uses past consumption data applied to one estimated but still unknown variable (blended rate, yet to be established at a time when the Commission accepts the offer) against three known variables (payments to Southern, revenues from ECP customers, NWE tariffed rates),

I forwarded the comparison on to the City Commission at the suggestion of the Assistant City Manager. That is not to say that other comparisons cannot be made. In order to make other comparisons I will need to know what factors to use as the alternatives.

Water Credits
The accounting transaction related to water credits recognizes energy expense in the period it is consumed and the obligation to compensate Southern for that use in a future period in the form of raw water provided from City water sources to operate the plant. In my comparisons, expense related to the water credit is included in the amounts billed by SME.

Cheap Power
I am not sure if you are asking a question in regards to your statement on cheap power. If so, please be more specific on what you are asking.

Note: Coleen never did respond to Commissioner Jolley about her requests regarding what SME approved, whether or not she (Coleen) voted and how she voted.

Commissioner Jolley's response:

Subject: RE: Proposal to modify rate structure from Southern to ECP
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2008 22:38:11 +0000
Thanks for the response. I was not asking a question about cheap rates. Mr. Doyon mentioned something about the 1.4 million dollar deposit in reference to blended rates. I do not think you said anything about the deposit when you reported to the Board. He also said something about the inbalance payments. Do the imbalance payments have anything to do with the blended rates?
Is there information you are uncomfortable sharing with the Commissioners or Board because of "Trade Secrets"?

I know there is background information in the secret box about blended rates. I think the rate comparisons are not at all predictive of the future. I do agree with you on that.

From the October 2008 minutes .....

Ms. Balzarini provided background information when ECP first started receiving energy, wholesale rate plus imbalance charges, versus the other coop members’ blended rates. She explained the blended rate as a flat rate based on historical information and is more consistent. However, the potential of making more money exists if ECP keeps its own contracts. She believed the plusses of a blended rate outweighed the minuses of potential higher returns on imbalance sales. ECP now has the option of going to the blended rate, or continuing the status quo through 2011. Mr. Pancich inquired if the Board needed to make a decision now. Ms. Balzarini responded that the Board can wait until the contracts expire, but then customers will see a significant increase in 2011. The Board directed Ms. Balzarini to obtain a copy of the blended contract for review. An addendum would need to be added to the existing contract and a recommendation made to the City Commission to approve the amendment.

Blended Rate.
In order to explore the feasibility of going to a blended rate versus the status quo, John Gilbert moved, seconded by Bob Pancich, and approved by roll vote, that this Board review the blended rate contract and perform a review of additional numbers. Mr. Ebeling requested a graph of two different scenarios. Ms. Balzarini responded that she would provide six months for comparison with the existing customer base. Motion carried 4-0.

Public Comment.
Mary Jolley (address deleted) thanked the new Board members for serving. Commissioner Jolley suggested that the Board read the SME meeting minutes regarding the blended rates to help with their recommendations to the City Commission. From the minutes above you mention, "but then customers will see a significant increase in 2011." Would you be able to share with us how you have arrived at thye above projection, or is there a "trade secret" problem? I am glad the board will be able to look at the blended rate contract and provide some advice to the Commission.

Thanks again
Mary Jolley

Water Rights And A Second Opinion

It looks like finally the city will be getting a second opinion regarding the purchase of additional water rights. This agenda item will be voted on tomorrow night.

I cannot begin to tell you how often citizens have asked for this.

Since this water rights situation hit the big time, Water Right Solutions from Helena has been the city's consultant.

The Commission has been unrelenting in having absolute faith in Dave Schmidt of this company and not asking for a second opinion. As recent as the Oct. 21 meeting, commissioners were placing their total confidence in this fellow. This is well after Water Right Solutions indicated their principals, who include Dave Schmidt, have a conflict of interest. It seems that Mr. Schmidt and others will receive a fee from the sale of these water rights to the city.

After all this time, I wonder who's idea it was to finally get a second opinion?

Neighborhood Councils - Week Of Nov. 17, 2008

This is a very busy week for Neighborhood Councils. Four are meeting this week:
When: Monday, Nov. 17 at 7:00pm
Where: GF Clinic Speciality Center's conference room

Request by UGF to purchase land in Sand Hills Park
United Way presentation
Neighborhood concerns

When: Tuesday, Nov. 18 at 7:00pm
Where: Meadow Lark School library

Status of land east of Fox Farm road
United Way presentation
Bike path discussion
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, Nov. 20 at 6:30pm
Where: GF Prerelease Center's Women's Annex

United Way presentation
Bike path discussion
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, Nov. 20 at 6:30pm (rescheduled because of Thanksgiving)
Where: Heritage Baptist Church - 900 52nd Street North

Problem properties
Sheriff Dave Castle - update on Sheriff's dept.
Neighborhood concerns

Neighborhood Council 8 is still looking to fill a vacancy. If you are a registered voter and live in that neighborhood, call Patty Cadwell at 455-8496 or e-mail her at

I Hope This Doesn't Become A Habit

This is not a post about whether or not Council 7 is right to want the downtown police officer reassigned back to downtown.

This council perceives it to be a problem and they are working hard to accommodate what the neighborhood wants.

What I have a real problem with is Commissioner Bronson's statement that the council didn't offer "specific solutions" to their recommendation.

Wait just a minute.

Citizens have the right to complain about problems and suggest recommendations to the city. When all of a sudden did it become necessary that they also bring solutions along for the ride? Isn't that why we have a city manager, city staff and a city commission, who by the way, is supposed to represent the citizens of this fair city?

It goes without saying we have to be reasonable and realistic in our requests and work within appropriate parameters, but when city commissioners start telling citizens they have to also come to the party with solutions to their problems, something is terribly wrong.

Work with the citizens Mr. Bronson, not against them.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Remember Slinkies?

Council And Commission Clash

This past week, Neighborhood Council 7 sent a letter to the City Commission requesting the downtown police officer be reassigned to that area. The letter went on to say that funds should be taken temporarily from other departments to support this.

Evidently, this recommendation didn't set too well with the Commission. Commissioner Bronson was not happy with the suggestion that "you just find the money from somebody else" without offering specific solutions.

Well, Commissioner Bronson, you better get used to it.

Rather than get into a tussle with the neighborhood council, who by the way, does answer to the neighbors and not the Commission, you should instead find a productive way to explain to the citizens why there isn't any more money for public safety.

Please explain how it happened that there was at least $2 million available to throw at a project the citizens weren't given an opportunity to vote on, but how now, the funds don't exist to cover a couple of police positions vacated due to deployments.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gibson Park Lighting Explained

In today's Tribune, there was a letter to the editor talking about light pollution. The writer mentioned the proposed lighting for Gibson Park (see link below for letter).

Aaron Weissman, chair of Neighborhood Council 7, has a response:
Did you all see this letter to the editor, published in today's paper? As you may recall, we discussed this issue at our meeting on Monday. The globe lighting we want to install can be "capped" with a piece of metal, directing generated light downward.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Council 7 Meeting Location Change

NC7 and Council Volunteers;

Council 7 is moving its South Side location. Security concerns at Longfellow have made that location inconvenient to use.

As you know, we alternate our locations between the Lower South and North side of Great Falls in order to encourage resident attendance at our meetings. Beginning in January, our South side location will be the conference room at Neighborworks, 509 1st Avenue South.

Many thanks to Sheila Rice at Neighborworks for offering her conference room for our council's use!


The Udder Factory And Maria Louisa's

I normally don't post the goings on of the various eateries in Great Falls, but this memo was sent to me by Aaron Weissman, the chair of Neighborhood Council 7.

It's always good to see folks concerned about what is going in their neighborhoods even if the issue doesn't involve the city.

This memo is from Trina Knoche:
Hey Friends:
Just thought I should let all of you know what the scoop is with The Udder Factory.... We have had many changes in the last few weeks.

Sadly, Marie Louisa's Italian Restaurant closed on Friday 10/31. Jeff and I are planning to reopen the restaurant by January 2009. We are planning on gourmet burgers, fresh fries, soups, salads and bring back the Turkey Sandwiches! However, at this stage, we are open for any ideas from our friends. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Today we were supposed to start our coffees, lattes, espressos and homemade pastries ( Matt who helps with the Ice Cream is a Pastry Chef and everything is fabulous). We put in the coffee machine and it didn't work, replaced it and it didn't work.... needless to say, we won't have coffee drinks today, but planning on it tomorrow.

So sorry for the delay, however we think it will be worth the wait

We are very grateful to all of you and your continued support of The Udder Factory!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Neighborhood Council 7 Sends Letter To City Commission

Friends, Neighborhood Activists and Local Media;

Last night, Neighborhood Council 7 signed the attached letter in support of the reinstatement of the downtown police officer. While our city's budget constraints are severe, we believe that community based and oriented policing is one of the most effective ways to reduce crime in our neighborhoods.

Aaron Weissman, Chairman
Neighborhood Council 7

November 10, 2008
Dona Stebbins, Mayor
Bill Bronson, Commissioner
Mary Jolley, Commissioner
John Rosenbaum, Commissioner
Bill Beecher, Commissioner
City of Great Falls
PO Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Dear Honorable Mayor and Commissioners:

Neighborhood Council 7 writes today out of concern that budget constraints are forcing the city to abandon its commitment to community based policing. We are very concerned that staffing shortages in the police department have required that the downtown police officer be reassigned to patrol duties.

Our council is a strong believer in the efficacy of community based policing. Anecdotal reports from residents and local businesses have convinced us that the presence of an officer in the Great Falls Recreation Center was working to decrease petty crime; including thefts, vandalism and vagrancy.

In addition, we believe that his presence was beginning to have a real affect on the willingness of lower-income residents, mainly children, to trust enough in their police department to report issues before they became major crimes. Losing this asset is a real detriment to our public safety and the security of downtown neighbors and businesses.

We understand that city budgets are stretched extremely thin. However, we ask that funds be found to fund this position, even if they have to be temporarily cut from other departments. In the long-term, we look forward to working with you to take steps that ensure that our Police and Fire departments are fully funded for the foreseeable future.

Neighborhood Council 7

Aaron Weissman (Chair)
Erin Tropila
Jim Super
Donna Hartelius
Ole Johnson

Cc: Local Media; Business Improvement


Changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns:

DEQ Issues SME Permit

On Monday, Nov. 10, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality issued SME a modified air-quality permit which becomes final on November 21. Appeals can be filed up to that time.

MEIC has indicated they may file an appeal.

Here is the entire ruling:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Neighborhood Councils - Week of Nov. 10, 2008

Three Councils are meeting this week:
When: Monday, Nov. 10, at 7:00pm
Where: Longfellow School cafeteria

See here.

Special discussion will focus on the recent vandalism of the Vinegar Jones cabin and the need for lighting in the area. The city may be able to secure a federal grant to install lightening, if NC#7 can come up with $15,000 in matching funds. If you would like to donate, send your check in care of Council 7 to P.O. Box 5021, Great Falls, MT 59403. Write "Gibson Park Lighting" in the memo space of the check.

When: Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 7:00pm
Where: West Elementary School cafeteria

Park and Recreation survey
Proposed sex offender program at the Prerelease Center
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, Nov. 13 at 7:00pm
Where: Great Falls High South Campus, room 105

Conditional-use permit to allow a wall-covering and paint shop at 1308 6th Ave. South
United Way presentation
Neighborhood Concerns

NC#8 is still looking for a member to fill a vacancy. If you are a registered voter and live in that neighborhood, call Patty Cadwell at 455-8496 or e-mail her at

Friday, November 7, 2008

Neighborhood Council #7 - Nov. Agenda

Monday, November 10, 2008
Longfellow School Cafeteria
7:00 p.m.

Please note: This agenda format allows citizens to speak on each issue prior to Council discussion. We encourage your participation. In the interest that all parties can be heard, please limit your comments.



Police Advisory Board
City Commission
Other Reports

Gibson Park Lighting
Vinegar Jones Cabin
Weed and Seed Project-Wednesday Envelopes
Downtown Police Officer—BID
Problem Properties
Other Old Business

Neighborhood Concerns



Next meeting December 8, 2008—Community Recreation Center, 801 2nd Avenue North

Comments To The DEQ

The following folder contains comments from EarthJustice and others with regard to the air permit application 3423-01 filed by SME. Other background information is included as well.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

County Does Not Issue Stay Of All Proceedings

More coal plant business:
"...After reviewing the material and conferring with counsel, I am not issuing a stay of all proceedings in furtherance of the action appealed from as I believe that the applicant (SME) has provided specific facts demonstrating that a stay would cause imminent peril to property"...

Here you can read Tim Gregori's affidavit asserting imminent peril to property.

MEIC Files Second Motion

On October 28, 2008, MEIC filed a second motion with regard to the "privilege log", which identified various documents the city would not release to the public, because of confidentiality and trade secrets.

Thanks Gregg.

We Need A Break

Yes, I know. You probably don't want to hear the words "vote or poll" for a very long time. But, this next poll of mine has nothing to do with politics and the question is not about a life changing event.

As I mentioned here, the city recommended changing its logo. What do you think? Do you like the current one or should there be a change? See the poll at the right and cast your vote.

Last Night's City Commission Meeting

Last night's City Commission meeting was very pleasant and lasted only about 1 hour. There was no one agenda item that caused great controversy.

Tim Gregori was there and in response to a comment Ed McKnight made, once again explained why we have imbalances in the power market. I can't write fast enough to record what he said and I never took shorthand, so I can't tell you if what he said was just "smoke and mirrors" or not.

The one item that generated the most comment was city staff's recommendation that the city logo be changed to reflect the city seal. Commissioner Bronson made a motion to deny changing the logo, stating that the proposal to combine the seal and logo "does not really reflect what the city is about". The motion to deny changing was passed, 4-0. (Commissioner Jolley was absent). A member of the audience suggested holding a contest if the city still wants to change it. A good time to do this would be next year when the city celebrates its 125th birthday. Cheryl Patton, assistant city manager (Greg Doyon was out of town) thought this to be a good idea.

After all of the commotion of the election, it was refreshing to be at a city meeting that was relaxed and not confrontational.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Life Goes On

It's over. Thank goodness. Could the results have been better? Oh yeah.

But there was one bright spot for me on the editorial page this morning. And since letters to the editor are not posted online, here goes:

This morning at breakfast, my second-grade son recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

It reminded me that I renewed that vow last week at a political party dinner.

I am generally suspicious of vows and pledges spoken in unison in large crowds. Why, then, do I eagerly remove my hat and speak those words when the flag of the United States of American is presented?

Why do my eyes get watery? Was I indoctrinated growing up as a grade-schooler, Boy Scout, at football games, at rodeos? Is that bad?

The word indoctrination sounds bad.

It is often used to describe the beliefs of the opposition. Certainly the doctrine of this country as I have learned it through these years is good.

Reading the letters on this page morning after morning, I wonder, "What is the doctrine of "the republic for which it stands?"

Are we still "one nation under God" Or have we become primarily Democrats and Republicans, Christians and non-Christians, us and them?

The greatest threat to our country is not terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation or the banking collapse. It is loss of unity. Unity is not: destruction of the opposition, defeat of free exchange of ideas, restriction of religious beliefs, racism or sexism. It is a paradox: individuals of differing beliefs joining together to perpetuate a nation "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all".

Folks, turn off the TV, say the pledge, vote, shovel your neighbor's walk, change by example, not force. Enjoy America. Believe in her promises.

Peter Jennings,
Great Falls

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"When Challenger Flies"

Named in honor of the lost space shuttle crew.

My Voting Experience...

Went very well. I arrived at Expo Park shortly after 11:00am and was greeted with a short line into the building. It was moving very quickly and once inside, I made my way over to my precinct, which was very easy to find.

I sailed through once I got there. I didn't have to wait as my precinct had more than 60% absentee voting. In fact, looking around, I didn't see any lines at the precincts. I did have to look around though for a place to sit, as most of the tables and booths were full.

According to one of the election judges I spoke with, the wait for late registration and provisional voting at the time I was there was 2 hours.

When I left, the line outside was snaking down the sidewalk, toward Four Seasons.

My entire voting experience, and that included talking to a couple of election judges, lasted about 15 minutes.

And, if you want a flu shot, they have that going on as well.

An Illustrated History Of Voting

I thought it would be interesting to get a glimpse of how voting has worked over the years and the various mechanisms invented to cast ballots. Click on the photo for the story.

The County Election (detail) by George Caleb Bingham.

Monday, November 3, 2008

ECP Board Meeting Tonight

Tonight, Nov. 3, at 5:30pm in the Commission Chambers is ECP's monthly meeting. Their agenda:

Call to Order 5:30 PM
Roll Call
Financial Reports
Miscellaneous Reports
ECP Corporate Structure Discussion
Accept Board Meeting Minutes from September 8, 2008
Accept Board Meeting Minutes from October 13, 2008
Public Comment
December 1, 2008

Neighborhood Councils - Week of November 3, 2008

The following councils are meeting this week:

When: Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 7:00pm
Where: Sunnyside School music room, 1800 19th Ave. South

Park and Recreation survey presentation
United Way of Cascade County presentation
Neighborhood concerns
When: Thursday, Nov. 6 at 7:00pm
Where: Westgate Mall conference room

Park and Recreation survey presentation
United Way of Cascade County presentation
Neighborhood concerns

Council 8 is still looking for a representative who is a registered voter and lives in the neighborhood. If you are interested or need more information, contact Patty Cadwell at 455-8496 or at

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Our Water Rights And The Corps Of Engineers

On October 23, 2008, this article appeared in the Great Falls Tribune pertaining to a discussion at the October 21 City Commission work session with regard to water rights:

City may pay $10 million for water rights

Tribune Staff Writer

City government may consider spending up to $10 million to buy new water rights for future city use.

The City Commission at a work session Tuesday generally agreed to consider the idea, proposed by city fiscal officer Coleen Balzarini and David Schmidt, a water rights consultant from Helena.

Balzarini said if the city agreed to purchase the water rights, the "worst-case" effect on city water customers would be a total annual rate increase of 10 percent. The city decided about a year ago to raise water rates by 5 percent per year to improve the city's water system; a water rights purchase might increase city water rates an additional 5 percent through 2019. City growth could moderate such an increase, she said.

The plan drew some immediate questions from residents, including Ron Gessaman of Great Falls. "That's a lot of money," Gessaman said.

Schmidt said buying water rights is not the only thing commissioners can do to keep the city supplied with water. He said the city can dig individual wells to keep its parks watered, and new developers if land could be charged a water-rights fee, such as a $6,000 per acre-foot fee charged to developers in Bozeman.

Great Falls could charge a different amount than Bozeman, or not levy the fee, he said. "I think they're in a bigger pickle than the city of Great Falls," Schmidt said of Bozeman.

Earlier, Schmidt had recommended, and the city agreed, to abandon some of the city's water claims from the time of Paris Gibson, who founded the city of Great Falls in 1884. Schmidt said the city had not been using the water, so the state Water Court would not have looked kindly upon the city claiming water Great Falls had not been using.

Kathleen Gessaman of Great Falls disagreed at a later City Commission meeting. "I think we'd have an excellent chance in the Water Court," she said. The alternative of buying water rights is "awfully expensive," she added.

Schmidt said he would not get directly involved in a city of Great Falls purchase of water rights from the owner because his firm represents the owner, an agricultural user.

Commissioners may take up the issue of a water rights purchase this fall. Tuesday night, they disputed the notion that the city could successfully retain rights to water the city had not used.

"If you haven't used it, you don't have it," City Commissioner John Rosenbaum said. He added jokingly, "the only thing we haven't addressed in our water rights is evaporation."

Commissioner Bill Bronson said some of the city's critics appeared to be trying to say Montana's cities should receive special treatment for their claims to water. "It would totally undo 160 years of water law in the American West," Bronson said. He cited a decision, made by a Montana water master three years ago dealing with the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River, that flatly said Montana municipalities are not exempt from state water laws.

"I have total confidence in our consultant on water issues," Commissioner Bill Beecher said.

Perhaps the following correspondence from the Department Of The Army, Corps Of Engineers, dated July 2008 and April 2008 may have something to do with the urgency the water consultant, Coleen Balzarini and some of the commissioners have with regard to the city buying $10 million worth of water rights:

City Commission Meeting Change

Because Tuesday is Election Day and city offices are closed, the City Commission meeting has been rescheduled to Wednesday, November 5.

A New Program

The City Police Dept. has been working on a new program that will allow victims to report certain misdemeanor crimes online. According to the PD, it should be up and running on Thursday, Nov. 6.

This is being done to free up more time for patrolling when certain crimes do not require a police officer, such as those not immediately occuring and where there is no evidence. I suspect (pun intended) a good example would be waking up and finding that your lawn ornaments have been stolen.

It is voluntary, so if you're more comfortable with calling, you can do so. And never use it for an emergency. In that case, ALWAYS call 911.

KUDOS to the Police Department!

The Wait Is Almost Over

Thanks to all of you who voted in my "Who Do You Think Will Be The Next President" poll.

McCain came out on top with 35 votes and Obama with 21. Two of you were undecided.

Thankfully, we only have a few more days to wait.

Norovirus On The Increase In Great Falls

From Kristal Kuhn, Emergency Management Planner:

This information was sent to us by the CCHD (Cascade County Health Dept) so I thought I'd pass along the "good news".

Within the past weeks, we have seen an increase in norovirus activity in Great Falls. It can be very contagious. Symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramping usually last 1-2 days, however, most people remain contagious up to 3 days after symptoms have ended.

Please review the attached fact sheet. (See below)

Kristal Kuhn
Emergency Management Planner