Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pumpcast News

More Special Treatment For ECP

According to this memo, Yellowstone Valley Electric discovered in January 2009 that for years NWE has been charging a 4% "energy and demand loss" to SME.

According to YVEC, Tim Gregori did not know about this billing until they (YVEC) brought it to his attention after the January SME board meeting. (At the February SME meeting, Tim evidently told everyone that the issue was discussed in January).

Very interestingly, when YVEC asked if ECP would be charged this additional 4% like the co-ops, they were told no, because ECP is a "distribution customer". Needless to say, YVEC doesn't think that should make a difference.

In this memo, YVEC asked that there be a vote taken by the SME board at its March meeting on this matter.

I wonder if it was. Probably not.

Montana Newspaper Assoc. Supports MEIC's Brief

Here is the link to the 11 page brief by the Montana Newspaper Association supporting MEIC's Reply Brief (thanks Gregg).

Monday, March 30, 2009

MEIC - 2nd Motion For Summary Judgement

Below is the link to the 20 page 2nd Motion For Summary Judgement brought by MEIC against the City of Great Falls and SME, dated March 20, 2009. It is very interesting reading.

A few highlights:

* "The City and SME apparently believe that as soon as the City entered into a business transaction with SME, it lost its status as a governmental entity and instead became subject to laws that define the relationship between private corporations". (page 2)

* Many of the documents being withheld cannot justifiably be so. (page 3)

* The City does not have any Constitutional Rights. (page 6)

* The Confidentiality Agreement signed on August 15, 2003 by former City Manger John Lawton and Coleen Balzarini, non-elected officials, is illegal. (page 15)

* Between 2003-2008 SME did not indicate any documents given to the city were confidential. (page 16)

Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 30, 2009

Two councils meet this week:

When: Wednesday, April 1 at 7:00pm
Where: Sunnyside School music room, 1800 19th Avenue South

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, April 2 at 7:00pm
Where: Westgate east end conference room

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Council of Councils meeting will take place Tuesday, March 31 at 7:00pm in the Gibson Room at the Civic Center. See here for agenda.

SB88 Is Law

SB88, which defines and clarifies what a school zone is, was signed into law, Wednesday, March 25th.

According to George Littlefield, a former member of Neighborhood Council 4 who did the leg work to bring this issue to Helena, told me the governor signed the bill at 12:30pm.

I spoke with George last Thursday and asked him if he would do it again. He gave a resounding thumbs up!

Congratulations George!

"When Is Someone Going To Finally Drive A Stake Through The Heart Of This Beast?”

This is a very interesting assessement of the problems plaguing ECP and the derailing of HGS. It was written by the chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission, Greg Jergeson:

I have been asked to offer some observations about the causes and effects of the demise of the proposed coal-fired Highwood Generating Station. These observations are my own and do not reflect the position of the Montana Public Service Commission, since there is no legal context in which the Commission could approve or disapprove the project. Nothing in these comments should be mistaken as an argument that Montana abandon the legal framework that makes Cooperatives self-regulated member-owned business entities, and put them under the regulatory authority of the PSC.

I agree that it was green issues that did this project in. However, it was not environmental “green”, as seems to be the common wisdom on the matter, but rather financial “green.” A doubtful and flawed business plan has always been the Achilles heel of this project.

When the project first came to my attention, it was easy enough to not give it a great deal of thought. The ownership of the project was under the auspices of a cooperative and, therefore the PSC would have no jurisdiction over the matter. Second, siting authority is not with the PSC, but rather with the Department of Environmental Quality. Besides, the PSC had plenty on its plate dealing with the disastrous “electricity deregulation” regime enacted by the 1997 legislature, among other things.

Only when the peculiar membership structure of Southern Montana Electric (SME) became apparent, did I contemplate that the PSC might have anything to do with the matter. Unlike most “Generation and Transmission Cooperatives” which are cooperatives of cooperatives, SME was set up to have six members of which five were local cooperatives. The sixth member, Electric City Power (ECP), established as a power marketing entity by the City of Great Falls, was meant to operate under the legal framework of “electricity deregulation.” I privately surmised that this association of five cooperatives and one non-cooperative would not prove to be a marriage made in heaven. More about that later.

In any case, ECP was required, under terms of the 1997 “electricity deregulation” act, and amendments adopted by the 2003 legislature, to secure a power marketing license from the PSC. As I was contemplating whether those contested case proceedings before the Commission could or should become a referendum on the Highwood Station, leaders of cooperatives along Montana’s highline and Rocky Mountain front began to proffer their opinions to me that the Highwood Station was a flawed business proposition.

From those conversations, it became apparent that an enormous schism had developed among Montana’s electric cooperatives. Before SME, those five cooperatives were members of Central Montana Generation and Transmission Cooperative. When those five cooperatives couldn’t convince Central Montana G&T to build a coal fired plant to replace their expiring BPA contracts, they essentially seceded from Central and formed SME.

As I understand it, the assessment of the cooperatives that stayed with Central G&T was that the Highwood Station project would not provide low-cost power for their loads, and they were unwilling to obligate their memberships to an expensive and risky proposition.

As a consequence of those conversations, I began examining the economic and business issues at stake in the proposition for the Highwood Station. From that examination, I have concluded that Highwood Station proposal was, from the beginning, a seriously flawed business proposition and subsequent events have only proven that to be the case. If the membership of SME had been solely made up of cooperatives, my reaction would have been que sera sera. However, the inclusion of ECP was predicated on the notion that ECP would go out and capture customers from NorthWestern Energy (NWE) under the regime of “electricity deregulation.” SME needed ECP in order to develop a larger load that better matched the size of the Highwood Station since the member load of the five cooperatives was nowhere close to output proposed from Highwood.

Trying to match the characteristics of a base-load generation facility with a customer use profile given to peaking and troughing is like trying to drive a square peg through a round hole. It doesn’t fit. While there are technological reasons for a coal-fired plant to be operated as a base-load generator, the financial imperative is unequivocal. While the fuel, coal, is relatively inexpensive, the capital costs for coal fired plants are enormous. With enormous capital costs, a coal fired plant must be run near capacity 24/7 in order to achieve an amortized cost per unit of output, typically $/MWh, that anywhere matches the conventional wisdom that coal fired electricity is relatively inexpensive. Lets say for instance, that a coal fired plant could generate electricity for $50 per MWh when operated at capacity, that cost would nearly double if the plant were operated at 50% of capacity.

In order to understand why it is so important to match the characteristics of the generation resource to the customer load it is important to keep in mind that electricity is the ultimate in perishable commodities. Electricity electrons travel at near the speed of light, slowed only by the resistance of the wires over which it travels. Essentially it must be consumed as it is produced. If load is greater than production from a plant, the utility must secure other generation from resources flexible enough to ramp up in a timely manner. During those peaking hours, the cost of that electricity is typically quite high on the market. If load is less than production, surplus electricity from a coal fired plant will need to be sold on the market, typically at off-peak hours when prices are relatively low, frequently less than the stated cost of production for Highwood. The peak and non-pea k profile of the SME customers is very much in sync with the profiles of other customers in Montana and the northwest. As a consequence, these transactions will be a buy high, sell low proposition that will always have negative consequences for the member-owners of SME.

In the wake of the great 2003 blackout that hit the nation’s northeastern states, I have had occasion to attend several workshops and forums devoted to the issue of reliability. The professionals who work in this field get really antsy at the proposition that a single generating plant will be dedicated to serving a discreet load. With a single plant, the odds of “Murphy’s law” coming into play are enormous. When that plant goes down, the utility’s customers are either without power or the utility must scramble to bring alternative supplies on-line immediately. Going to the market for those kinds of emergency purchases is an extremely expensive proposition.

It always struck me as a bit curious that the public pronouncements from SME about the costs of power from the Highwood Station were always just a bit lower than the estimates Montana Dakota Utilities (MDU) was supplying to the PSC about their proposed construction of Big Stone II in South Dakota. When MDU suggested the cost from Big Stone II would be $47 per MWh, the proponents of Highwood claimed their cost at something less. Kind of reminds me of my neighbor whose crops, without fail, always outyielded mine by 5 bushels per acre and he always sold them for a dime more than I got. Keep in mind that MDU has a well deserved reputation for having one of the sharpest pencils in the industry. Maybe that is why they were able to go 20 years without asking the Montana PSC for an increase in customer rat es. Since their plan is to locate Big Stone II where a plant already exists, their siting issues are minimal. They already have a handle on coal supplies and the necessary rail and transmission infrastructure. Finally, Big Stone II would be just one plant integrated with all the other resources MDU owns and has at its disposal. Despite all these advantages MDU has with Big Stone II, the champions of Highwood always claimed less expensive electricity from their facility. Of course, one might just chalk this up to pure coincidence.

By the end of the 2005 legislative session, there was growing consensus that Montana’s experiment with “electricity deregulation” had proven disastrous. Consequently, the Electricity and Telecommunications Interim Committee of the Legislature and the Montana PSC began cooperating in drafting legislation to reverse the primary legal underpinnings of deregulation and move NorthWestern back into the paradigm of a vertically integrated utility owning its own generation assets with rates regulated by the PSC based on cost. That effort ultimately culminated in HB 25 which passed the 2007 session.

During the interim between the 2005 and 2007, various versions of the legislation were in circulation. The City Manager of Great Falls, John Lawton, asked for an opportunity to discuss that legislation with the PSC and request it be drafted in a manner that would not adversely impact their plans through ECP and SME to construct the Highwood Station. During that presentation, he laid out a very ambitious timeline during which ECP would consummate contracts with customers sufficient to match ECP’s ownership share of the project. Interestingly, later, as a spokeswoman for the City of Great Falls offered testimony to the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications committee (FRET) in opposition to HB 25, that testimony included information on ECP’s success in attracting customers. That testimony indicated that ECP was falling far short of the projections Mr. Lawton had presented to the PSC. Apparently, the potential commercial and industrial customers ECP was soliciting were not convinced that the product being offered them by ECP and SME was in their best financial interest.

While environmental challenges to the project have been blamed for the delays that made the project financially questionable, there were inevitable delays inherent in the role that ECP was to play in the whole project. While the cooperatives’ customer loads were locked in, ECP needed to lure their customer base away from other providers, primarily NorthWestern Energy. And as we have seen, by their own testimony on HB 25, ECP and the City of Great Falls were falling far short of their goals in attracting those customers. By the time HB 25 was heard in the Senate Energy Committee, the City was asking for a two to three year delayed effective date in HB 25 so that they would have that extra time to secure the customers they needed from NorthWestern. While the legislature did not approve that del ayed effective date in HB 25, the whole episode was further evidence that ECP and the City were unable to secure the customer load necessary for the project to proceed.

As it became apparent that ECP would be unable to attract customers representing load equal to their ownership share of output from the Highwood Station, ECP’s ownership share of SME and, ultimately, the Highwood Station, was reduced. Because new members could not be found to take up the ownership share no longer held by ECP, that burden shifted to the five Cooperatives. Like a bride’s dowry having been found to have been overstated, the marriage between ECP and the Cooperatives had been shaken.

Financing for the project was always problematic.

Reflecting this marriage not made in heaven, the financing arrangements would necessarily need to be bifurcated to reflect the status of the two kinds of owners of SME. The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) would be approached to finance the ownership share of the project represented by the Cooperatives, ECP’s share would be financed by the sale of tax free revenue bonds. RUS financing is limited to cooperatives, hence they could not be asked to finance the ECP share.

The assertion has been made by the leadership of SME that the RUS denied financing for the project due to pressure from environmentalists and Representative Henry Waxman of California. As I understand it, the truth of the matter is that the RUS could not be convinced that the SME business plan was sound since it carried all the features of a merchant generation plant. In order to capture economies of scale, the plant was sized well in excess of the current and anticipated load of the cooperatives’ customers. Since a base-load coal-fired plant has to be run as close to capacity as possible in order to minimize per unit costs, the Highwood Station would be generating surplus energy relative to their native load. That surplus would have to be sold on the market. Since the largest surpluses of electricity from the Highwood station would be generated during off-peak hours, there was enormous risk that that power would be sold during those periods when prices are lowest, frequently below the cost of production.

While conventional wisdom holds that government programs like USDA RUS might be relatively lax in their assessment of financial risk, I don’t believe that to be the case. When NorthWestern Corporation filed for bankruptcy in 2003, we had our PSC staff study the case histories of several utility bankruptcies around the country. Among those case studies, there were bankruptcies involving cooperatives financed by RUS. The outcomes of those bankruptcies were less than satisfying for those cooperatives, their members, and the RUS. Ever since, the RUS has been much more vigilant in their assessment of the business plans brought to them.

It is telling how Terry Holzer, manager of Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative, the one cooperative that has decided to terminate their relationship with SME, characterized the RUS denial for the loan. According to a story published in the March 18, 2009 Billings Gazette, at the annual meeting of the cooperative, Holzer cited financial unfeasibility as the reason for the RUS denial.

The ability of ECP and the City of Great Falls to sell revenue bonds in order to fulfill their financing obligation for the project was equally as problematic. These bonds would not be general obligation bonds backed by the “full faith and credit” of the City of Great Falls. Rather, as revenue bonds, they would be backed by the revenues of ECP from the customers they signed up for their service. Potential purchasers of those revenue bonds would only have to look at the inability of ECP to enroll the number of customers using the projected levels of electricity earlier projected to anticipate that ECP would similarly be unable to generate revenue sufficient to pay off the bonds. As if that were not bad enough, the commercial and industrial customers ECP had enrolled actually used less po wer than ECP had anticipated creating a whole new series of costs and losses, due, I believe, to the nature of their current power supply contract.

Late last year, the Great Falls Tribune reported that ECP and the City of Great Falls had discovered that, although their power supply rates per MWh were less than if they had taken their power from NorthWestern Energy, their power costs were actually more than if they had taken their power from NorthWestern. There appears to be only one logical explanation for this seeming contradiction. I believe their power supply contract was for a fixed amount of power, at per unit rates less than the NWE rate. However, when the ECP commercial and industrial customers, ever vigilant to guard their bottom lines, used less electricity than ECP had contracted for, ECP was still obligated to pay for the contracted quantity. Revenues from the customers fell short of the revenues needed to meet the ECP obligations i n the contract.

This last phenomenon lead to the final coup de grace that confirmed that the marriage between ECP and the cooperative members of SME was not made in heaven. Responding to grumblings from city leaders that the Great Falls operation would have been better off staying with NorthWestern Energy, SME suddenly announced a new, lower “blended” rate for ECP, which was readily accepted. However, I have seen no evidence that SME had suddenly secured a new, low-cost power supply in order to offer this new, lower “blended” rate to ECP. If they had, shouldn’t the benefits of such a lower cost supply been used to benefit all the customers of SME? Instead, it’s obvious they raised the rates on the cooperatives’ members in order to secure the cash to lower the rates for ECP. As confirmation of this observation, the March 18, 2009 Billings Gazette article reports “Holzer also railed against substantial cost breaks given to the city of Great Falls, at the expense of SME’s member co-ops. While the co-ops were hit with surcharges and rate increases, the city got a pass, he said.” “All of these (breaks) have added up to million and millions of dollars of subsidies (from the co-ops) to the city of Great Falls,” he said.

I also agree with Terry Holzer’s assessment of the gas-fired plant SME now says it is considering. While I described the coal-fired plant as akin to trying to drive a square peg through a round hole, this gas plant would be like trying to drive a round peg through a square hole. Again, the mismatch of the resource with the load profile would constitute a major flaw in the business plan and that flaw would constitute a huge obstacle for financing.

At this winter’s Council of Cooperatives meeting in Helena, a leader from one of the non-SME cooperatives asked me “When is someone going to finally drive a stake through the heart of this beast?” I agree that it is well past time to stop throwing good money after bad. However, there is no state government entity with authority to end the project, not the PSC, not the Legislature, nor the Governor. That authority rests solely with the voters of Great Falls and the members of the four remaining SME cooperatives. There are municipal elections in Great Falls this year, and cooperatives have annual meetings every year where their members elect some of their board members. To be sure, the incumbent power structure, in both the City of Great Falls and at each of the four cooperatives, is likely to resist. But an aroused and engaged electorate and membership can work their will.

Greg Jergeson, Chairman
Montana Public Service Commission

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Council Of Council Meeting - March 31 , 2009

This is a public meeting of all of the Neighborhood Councils in the city. Everyone is encouraged to attend.

What: Council of Councils Meeting
When: Tuesday, March 31 at 7:00pm in the Gibson Room - Civic Center

* Public Safety Levy - Fire Chief McCamley and Police Chief Grove - 45 minutes
* Great Falls Public Schools Budget Committee - 10 minutes
* West Bank Development plan and Great Falls Stimulus $s - 10 minutes
* Joint Land Use Study committee member - 10 minutes
* Council information sharing

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Keep Her Out Of It

As reported here, the city is planning to hire an independent consulting firm to determine the feasibility of ECP.

Isn't it interesting that Coleen Balzarini has already weighed in on this issue:

Balzarini said it's not likely to be EES Consulting, which did a report released last week for Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative. Yellowstone Valley has feuded with and sued SME and others in recent months; the consultant's report cast doubt on the viability of a natural gas plant in Great Falls. Balzarini said EES Consulting could have a conflict of interest representing the city as well.

Gregori's mouthpiece. Of course they don't want EES to do the consulting. They don't want to hear anything that disputes anything Gregori says or does.

There's a conflict of interest alright. Coleen has no business getting involved in hiring anybody to independently analyze anything to do with Tim's projects.

CYA Time

It's about time, although this action should have occurred about 5 years ago.

At yesterday's budget hearings, City Manager Greg Doyon suggested the city hire an independent consultant to review the feasibility of the city continuing down the road of "public" power. He is quoted as saying, "It seems to me that we've been struggling".

I commend Mr. Doyon for finally suggesting this action to the Commission, although it should have been them telling him what to do. (See organizational chart).

The Commission has been hearing for years that ECP has not been a viable operation, which is in violation of its own ordinance, 2925. All of them, except for Commissioner Jolley, have blatantly ignored this. Getting solid financial, as well as other information from the city's fiscal director and the executive director of ECP, Coleen Balzarini, has been nothing less than a nightmare since the beginning. And yet, the majority of them have sat idly by, being spectators to this financial debacle. No big deal.

Now Commissioner Rosenbaum is all in favor of this independent review. "Get it done". Commissioner Beecher, the same, "Let's do it".

It's a little late now guys to redeem yourselves.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time To Pay The Piper

In a somewhat interesting turn of events, it is not a given that an additional 16 firefighters will be hired.

As indicated here, the mayor and two other commissioners assured members of the fire department that regardless of whether the levy passes, any new firefighters would be able to be retained.

In an article in today's print edition of the Tribune (I could not find the article online), the city is still pondering whether they should go forward and hire 16 firefighters with the hope that the public safety levy will pass. If it doesn't, then the city has to come up with the $$s, which are not there, or give back the grant.

Fire chief Randy McCamley is not in favor of hiring new firefighters only to have to lay them off later. The City Commission has asked him to explore other possible income sources, such as: Charging homeowners to put out fires; increase the fees to inspect businesses; send a bill to people involved in car accidents at which the fire department responds.

You've got to be kidding.

Aside from the fact that many of us residents are already paying for fire services, providing fire protection is a core responsibility/duty of a city. Had the city not squandered millions on the HGS and ECP debacles, which had absolutely nothing to do with benefiting/helping the individual residents of this city, we wouldn't find ourselves in as dire straights as we are.

Chief McCamley said he would look into these options (what else could he say), but indicated these ideas would not generate enough income and would come with drawbacks.

Our so-called leaders don't have a clue, other than Commissioner Jolley, who was quoted as saying, "If we do hire the firefighters without a public safety mill levy, we'll have to chop the budget somewhere else. And that's a perfectly reasonable thing to do because every house in America is chopping their budget".

Monday, March 23, 2009

No School Levy

In an article in today's paper, the school board has said they will not move forward with a tax levy. This is the first time in 10 years they have decided not to ask voters to approve a tax increase.

Given the state of affairs of the economy and the fact the city has indicated they will be asking voters to approve a public safety levy, I think this is a good idea.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 23, 2009

Only one council is meeting this week:

When: Thursday, March 26 at 6:30pm
Where: Heritage Baptist Church, 900 52nd Street North

Committee reports
Beautiful Minds Walk
Emergency preparedness update
Park and Recreation presentation
Neighborhood concerns

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Senate Bill 88

We've been following the progress of SB88, which would define and clarify a school zone.

The bill continued to sail through readings and votes, and as of March 19, has been sent to the Governor.

Congratulations to Mr. George Littlefield, past member of Neighborhood Council 4, who initiated this bill.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natural Gas Maybe Not The Answer Either

Yellowstone Valley Electric Co-Op held their annual meeting yesterday and according to articles here and here, they do not think building a natural gas-fired power plant is the answer either.

According to an independent study YVEC commissioned, some co-op customers could see their rates increase by as much as 60%. Note the term independent. This is very important, because neither the city, which includes the majority of our elected officials, nor the other co-ops ever want to hear anything but what Tim says.

Coleen points this out very admirably when she said they (the consultants) "don't have access to SME's actual plans. It (the study) does not look specifically at the SME project". It's even more interesting these comments, because she evidently is Tim's mouthpiece when he's not available for comment.

I don't know about you, but I think it's about time our "fiscal service director" resign her position and officially go to work for Tim.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Always A Struggle

Why does everything have to be a struggle when dealing with Coleen?

Two weeks ago she said she would have the information posted online about what was on the March ECP agenda. To date, nothing.

This is a public meeting and as is always the case, the public can never fully participate because copies of the reports, etc. are never made available to the public at the meetings.

As far as I know, the board has never instructed her to do this.

And they wonder why the public has concerns about their credibility.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Revitalizing Downtown Meeting Reminder

Join in a meeting to discuss how we can revitalize downtown Great Falls using the Main Street Approach:

What: Downtown Development & Revitalization meeting
When: Thursday, March 19 from 5:30pm - 7:30pm
Where: Gibson Room, Civic Center

For more info., click here.

Don't forget to complete the downtown survey. Link is found on the flyer.

Work Session Meeting - March 17, 2009

What: City Commission Work Session
When: Tuesday, March 17 at 5:30pm - Civic Center, Gibson Room

1. CDBG Annual Plan - Community Development Council
2. Financial Indicators and Revenue Forecast – Coleen Balzarini and Melissa Kinzler (It's not known if this is for ECP or for the overall city)

Lots Of $$ Gone

In an article in today's paper concerning the city's financing of ECP, Coleen Balzarini took exception to claims made by local accountant, Larry Rezentes, that the city has lost $6 million in its venture into public power.

By the way, in all of the numbers that were presented, the $1.4 million security deposit to SME was not mentioned. (Thanks Mary for the reminder).

Coleen claims that he's "double-counting somewhere" and is evidently overlooking the company's assets. Yet, "she recently did the math and discovered that if Electric City Power...suddenly was liquidated, the city would lose about $4.75 million on paper".

So what is she saying? That no, $6 million is not the loss, but $4.75 million would be? Gee. That should make us all feel better.

And what's with the "the city would lose about $4.75 million "on paper" comment? What does that mean exactly? Usually, when the "paper" shows a negative number, that means $$ have been lost somewhere.

Suffice it to say, that if you have tried to follow the accounting of ECP since its inception, you are confused. At every ECP board meeting I have attended where Coleen discusses the numbers, it is one of the most convoluted diatribes I have heard.

That's the whole point.

No Worries

For the first time, the Tribune has published articles dealing with the monies ($2.3 million) invested in the coal plant, which has been placed on the back burner to focus on a gas-fired plant.

After reading this article, Commissioners Bronson and Rosenbaum don't have a clue:

But with a gas-fired plant in the works, "I don't see it as a loss situation," Bronson said. "All you're doing is you're just transitioning from one type of generation to another."

Rosenbaum said the city expects the Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission Cooperative, the plant's developer, to acknowledge investments in the project made so far. That might give the city the ability to buy electricity generated by the gas-fired plant, he said. "They all go into the expenses," Rosenbaum said. "We still should be in a reasonable position."

And they know this how? (They haven't even looked into the secret box).

Oh, I know. They talked to Tim.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 16, 2009

Three councils meet this week:

When: Monday, March 16 at 7:00pm
Where: GF Clinic Specialty Center's conference room

Appointment of a new member
Information on the Beautiful Minds walk
Great Falls emergency preparedness planning
Neighborhood noxious weed pull
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, March 19 at 6:30pm
Where: Great Falls Prerelease Center, Women's annex

Appointment of a new member
Information on the Beautiful Minds walk
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, March 19 at 7:00pm
Where: Campfire Office, 1925 2nd Ave. So.

Information on the Beautiful Minds walk
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Councils 5 and 6 are still looking for registered voters, who live in the respective neighborhoods, to fill vacancies. If interested, contact Patty Cadwell at 455-8496 or pcadwell@greatfallsmt.net

Friday, March 13, 2009

Public Safety Levy Poll 2

Thank you to those of you who voted in my second poll on the public safety levy.

7 of you think police and fire should be listed separately on the ballot;

3 of you think it should be combined;

1 is not sure and would like more info.;

23 of you do not plan to vote for the levy.

The city has not decided yet if they are going to list fire and police separately on the ballot. If my very unofficial poll is a harbinger of things to come, it won't make a difference.

Census 2010 Meeting

What: Community Meeting with US Census officials
When: Tuesday, March 17 at 5:30pm
Where: County Annex, County Commission Chamber Room

Dear Community Members,

The Cascade County Census Complete Count Committee would like to invite you to a community meeting with the U.S. Census Officials regarding the 2010 Census. Representatives of the U.S. Census will be meeting with the local Cascade County Census Complete Count Committee and members of its sub-committees on March 17th at 5:30 p.m. at the County Annex, County Commission Chambers Meeting Room.

The Census Crews will start address canvassing in the Great Falls area April 20. This operation ensures that all addresses will be in the Census database when the questionnaire is delivered or mailed in March 2010.

The Cascade County Census Complete Count Committee will be establishing sub-committees. Sub-committees will be created based on categories of Business, Education, Military, Ministerial, Rural Communities, Social Services, and more. These sub-committees will be important in regards to publicizing the importance of the Census to the community.

Additionally, the Census is planning on posting job announcements for the management team that they want to recruit for the Great Falls Local Census Office that should open in the Fall of 2009. They hope to recruit a diverse staff and the jobs that would be included are the Local Census Office Manager, Assistant Manager for Recruiting. Assistant Manager for Administration, Assistant Manager for Field Operations, Assistant Manager for Quality Assurance, and Assistant Manager for Technology.

Community members interested in serving on a sub-committee, or just wanting more information on how the census will be conducted or positions available, are invited to attend this public meeting. Also, if you know of any one that would be interested in serving, please feel free to invite them.

Please feel free to contact James Parker Shield or myself with any questions regarding the Census and/or the March 17th meeting.


Luke Walawander

James Parker Shield
Cascade County Census Complete Count Committee
1-406-590-1745 jpshield@hotmail.com

Luke Walawander1-406-529-8222luke.walawander@gmail.com

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Section 106

Section 106 deals with the effect that certain projects can have on historic properties. This review process has not been completed with regard to HGS. And now, even though SME has decided to move forward with a gasification plant and put HGS on the back burner, it does not mean this review process is over.

See here for the latest correspondence with regard to this issue.

(Click here and here for previous details regarding this situation).

More Secrets

Very recently, more documents, 59 to be exact, have been added to the "secret box". (You can also view the previous submitted logs in this same folder). According to an affidavit of the City Clerk, these e-mails were overlooked when the initial privilege logs were submitted.

These records go as far back as January 2006 with the most recent being July 2008. A few involve communications with Yellowstone Valley Electric Co-op.

Obviously, these e-mails were not produced initially when the judge ruled that citizens had the right to view public documents.

I'd like to know how these were discovered, who found them and how many more are still lurking around city hall.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Counterfeit $100s In Great Falls

An alert from the Chamber of Commerce:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The Secret Service Office in Billings, MT has confirmed numerous reports of counterfeit hundreds in the Great Falls and Helena areas.

These bills have the following characteristics:
* Series - 1999
* Check Letter and Face Plate Number- G24
* Back Plate Number - 29
* Check Letter and Quadrant Number - G1

The paper is texturized, but has no red and blue fibers.

These counterfeit notes are pretty sophisticated and still have a hologram and a security strip. They will also test "normal" with a counterfeit pen (don't rely solely on those).

Click Here to view a PDF of Know Your Money.

Revitalizing Downtown

Join in a meeting to discuss how we can revitalize downtown Great Falls using the Main Street Approach:

What: Downtown Development & Revitalization meeting
When: Thursday, March 19 from 5:30pm - 7:30pm
Where: Gibson Room, Civic Center

For more info., click here.

Don't forget to complete the downtown survey. Link is found on the flyer.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Neighborhood Councils - Week of Mar. 9, 2009

UPDATE: See council #9

Four councils are meeting this week:

When: Monday, March 9 at 7:00pm
Where: NeighborWorks, 509 1st Ave. So.

When: Tuesday, March 10 at 7:00pm
Where: Meadow Lark School library

Update on West Hill airport noise reduction project
Bicycle trails - John Juras
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Wednesday, March 11 at 7:00pm
Where: West Elementary, 1205 1st Ave. N.W.

Update on the southwest Great Falls noise reduction project
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, March 19 at 7:00pm (rescheduled from March 12)
Where: Great Falls High South Campus, Room 105

Info. on the Beautiful Minds walk
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

NC#s 5 and 8 are still looking for qualified members to fill vacancies. You must be a registered voter and live within the respective neighborhoods. Interested parties should contact Patty Cadwell at 455-8496 or pcadwell@greatfallsmt.net

Saturday, March 7, 2009

No Sunshine In Cut Bank Either

After reading this article in today's Tribune and more info. from Gregg, it seems Cut Bank is also having problems with a mayor/city council that doesn't like to give its citizens the right to be recognized and heard at public meetings either.

At least the folks in Cut Bank aren't being kept in the dark (no pun intended) about their mushroom status at city hall.

Neighborhood Council 7-March Meeting

Monday, March 9, 2008
NeighborWorks Great Falls, 509 1st Avenue South
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.


APPROVAL OF February Minutes

Police Advisory Board
City Commission
Other Reports

Beautiful Minds walk—Greg Hall
Mr. Jaason Goad—traffic problems
Proposed public safety levy--discussion
Neighborhood Concerns

Downtown Police Officer petition
Problem Properties
Other Old Business

Council of Councils meeting—Tuesday, March 31, 2009, Gibson Room


Next meeting April 13, 2009—Community Rec Center, 801 2nd Ave. N

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bad Bills Update

At the beginning of the legislative session, Badbills.com had a few that I mentioned here:

State Pancake - #LC0162 - missed deadline, probably dead.

State dog - #LC1194 - missed deadline, probably dead.

Juneteenth National Freedom Day - #LC1406 - missed deadline, probably dead.

State insect - #LC1890 - missed deadline, probably dead.

State love song - #HB184 - missed deadline, probably dead.

Revise stop requirements for bicycles - HB68 - missed deadline, probably dead.

It looks like the folks at badbills.com knew what they were talking about. But how much time and money was wasted on these that could have been spent on much more productive issues?

Maybe there should be a law....

Daylight Savings Time

How quickly time flies. This weekend is daylight savings time. We "spring" forward. The older I'm getting, the less I like it.

I was hoping SB177 would pass, but it missed its general bill transmittal deadline and is probably dead. Darn.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Be Afraid

At Tuesday night's City Commission meeting, I mentioned that Commissioner Rosenbaum responded that the reason he thought a poll vote to take the Public Service Commission to court was OK was because the issue was "ongoing".

After attending many City Commission meetings, I can tell you that a lot of what the Commission decides is from some "ongoing" matter. It may be listed as "New Buisness" on the agenda, but the core issue was from before. Think Animal Shelter, ECP, Water Rights, SME, HGS and now a gasification plant. And this list doesn't include the core functions of a city such as roads, sewers, water lines, public safety, etc.

So according to Rosenbaum's very telling statement, there are all kinds of decisions that could be made by a poll vote and one can't help but wonder how many have.

We can't always rely on Commissioner Jolley to know. She has said more than once that she doesn't always know what is going on, because she is kept "out of the loop". Heck. She wasn't even told how her fellow commissioners voted on the PSC suit. (We still don't know about Bronson).

As Mr. Liebert questioned the commission, why even have these meetings at all?

Rosenbaum didn't even try to redeem himself and Stebbins and Bronson made no comment. (Beecher was absent).

Small Victory

I've been advised that it was City Manger Doyon who directed one of the officers to don his uniform at the City Commission meeting Tuesday night.

Good call Mr. Doyon. But it's too bad it had to take a judge's ruling to enforce the people's will.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Public Safety Levy - Poll 2

For all intent purposes, the city will be holding a public safety levy vote in August.

It's still up in the air though if the fire and police will be listed as separate items on the ballot.

I conducted an earlier poll whereby the majority of you did not think the levy will pass. The Tribune conducted a poll too, and their numbers were against it passing as well.

Do you think separating the departments on the ballot will make a difference?

Let us know by participating in my second poll on this issue. I'm trying Polldaddy.com, which gives voters the opportunity to comment once they vote. Please share with us why you voted the way you did. And remember, I don't know who you are unless you tell me (us)!!

What Irony

Last night's work session focused solely on the public safety levy and the police department. Chief Grove did a good job outlining his department's needs, although his presentation did not mention costs and manpower associated with the animal shelter.

City Manager Doyon asked the commissioners what they were hearing from the public regarding the levy. Commissioner Jolley, as reported in today's paper, has heard that folks think the levy is only necessary because the city wasted money on energy ventures. The other commissioners and the mayor have heard positive things.

The meeting started at 5:30pm and was over by 6:30pm. There was still nearly a 1/2 hour to hear from the PUBLIC, the very people they said they wanted to hear from. Mayor Dona was ready to adjourn the meeting when Mr. Gessaman asked if she was going to allow public comment. She barked out yes at which time he asked if SB486 would have a bearing on Great Falls' levy. City staff didn't think so since that bill focuses on how a city spends public safety mill levies. (The Billings Gazette has an interesting article concerning the Billings city council voting no to support this bill).

I think it would be a very good idea to have another work session devoted entirely to public comment, because contrary to what some of the commissioners are saying, not everyone is hearing positive comments.

And after all, getting this levy passed or not has everything to do with the public.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Highlights of Tonight's City Commission Meeting

At tonight's meeting, one of the officers was in uniform. This is no doubt due to the very recent ruling by Judge Macek. A couple of citizens remarked on the positive change. During the Commissioner comment time at the end of the meeting, Commissioner Bronson made it clear that "this body" (City Commission) is not in charge of the dress code. If people wanted to say something about it, they should have spoken to the officer.

Mr. Richard Liebert, an advocate of open government, asked the Commission why they didn't hold a public hearing before they decided, by poll, to file suit against the Public Service Commission. Commissioner Jolley said she agreed with the statements Mr. Liebert made and was not in favor of the way it was decided. Mr. Liebert, well within his five minutes, continued to wait for the others to answer. After several seconds, the mayor piped up and asked Mr. Liebert if he understood what representative government meant. He said yes. He also said that he understands what an open, transparent government is. Mr. Liebert was still within his five minutes, so he continued to wait. Finally, Commissioner Rosenbaum spoke up and said that in his mind it was an ongoing thing and he didn't think there needed to be a meeting. The mayor agreed with him. Conspicuously quiet was Commissioner Bronson. He said nary a word on this issue tonight or here. (Commissioner Beecher was absent).

At the Commission work session on Feb. 17, City Manager Doyon said that "several funds are bleeding". He did not elaborate. Tonight, Mr. Ron Gessaman asked for a list of those "bleeding funds". I'll post them as soon as they are made available.

At the ECP board meeting last night, Coleen said she would be in Helena today to hear discussion at the Public Service Commission meeting. Commissioner Jolley asked her what they decided to do. They are going to respond to the complaint.

And so it goes.

Community Legislative Forum

When: Friday, March 6 at Noon
Where: Campus of MSU-COT, Room B-133

Plan on joining fellow Great Falls residents March 6th, at noon, for the next Community Legislative Forum. Visit ‘face to face’ with our area legislative delegation via METNET interactive television system to discuss the issues affecting Northcentral Montana.

Also plan on joining us for the following dates:

March 16th
March 30th

Forum times are at 12 PM and will run approximately to 12:45 PM.

Please call 771-4412 for any questions or additional information.

All sessions are broadcast as a public service free of charge by METNET Interactive Television System.

Brought to you as a community service by:
Interactive Television System
Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
Great Falls Tribune
AAF—Great Falls (Ad Club)
City of Great Falls
Great Falls Development Authority

Monday, March 2, 2009

ECP Power Board Meeting - March 2009

When: Monday, March 2 at 5:30pm
Where: Gibson Room, Civic Center


Call to Order 5:30 PM
Roll Call

Financial Reports
Blended Rate Status Update
Cogeneration Billing Procedure
Year to Date Financials
Energy Consumption Charts
HGS Status Update
Miscellaneous Reports
YVEC vs. SME, et al. (Cause No. DV 08-1797)
The City of Great Falls, et al. vs. The Montana Dept. of Public Service Commission and NorthWestern Energy (Cause No. CDV 2009-127)

Pilot Program

Accept Board Meeting Minutes from February 2, 2009

Public Comment

April 6, 2009


Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 2, 2009

Two meetings are scheduled this week:

: Wednesday, March 4 at 7:00pm
Where: Sunnyside School music room, 1800 19th Ave. So.

Beautiful Minds Walk
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, March 5 at 7:00pm
Where: Westgate Mall conference room

Beautiful Minds Walk
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Councils 5 and 8 are each looking for a resident to fill vacancies. To qualify, you must live be a qualified voter and live in the respective neighborhood. For more information, contact Neighborhood Council coordinator, Patty Cadwell at 455-8496 or by e-mail at pcadwell@greatfallsmt.net

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Learn About Your Property

Property tax appraisals are conducted by the Montana Department of Revenue. Currently, the legislature is working on this issue.

To find out what the Dept. of Revenue knows about your property, follow these steps:

1. Go to mt.gov
2. On right side of screen, under state government, click on state agencies
3. Scroll down to Revenue, Department of
4. Scroll down to Online Services, click on Montana Cadastral Mapping
5. Click parcel search
6. Click owner. You must choose a county and entering just your last name will work.