The Billings Outpost

Red flag warning issued

 

From Duane Winslow, director of emergency and general services for Yellowstone County:

Below is a National Weather Service Red Flag warning which will be in effect from noon Monday, Aug. 6, through midnight. The weather conditions will create explosive fire growth potential. If there are any questions concerning this, please contact me. Please urge everyone to use EXTREME caution during this critical period! Thank you.

..RED FLAG WARNING IN EFFECT FROM NOON TODAY TO MIDNIGHT MDT TONIGHT LOW HUMIDITIES...HOT TEMPERATURES...AND INCREASING THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY FOR ALL OF SOUTH CENTRAL MONTANA AND PARTS OF NORTH CENTRAL WYOMING...

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BILLINGS HAS ISSUED A RED FLAG WARNING...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM NOON TODAY TO MIDNIGHT MDT TONIGHT. THE FIRE WEATHER WATCH IS NO LONGER IN EFFECT.

* WEATHER PATTERN...HOT TEMPERATURES AND VERY LOW RELATIVE

  HUMIDITY VALUES WILL BE OVER SOUTH CENTRAL MONTANA TODAY. A

  STRONG UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE WILL MOVE THROUGH THE REGION THIS

  AFTERNOON AND WILL BRING SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS TO THE AREA.

  THESE STORMS WILL HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO PRODUCE GUSTY WINDS

  ALONG WITH FREQUENT LIGHTNING...THUS GENERATING CRITICAL FIRE

  WEATHER CONDITIONS.

* IMPACTS...GUSTY WINDS AND ERRATIC OUTFLOW WILL HAVE AN IMPACT ON

  ANY CURRENT FIRES OR POTENTIAL FIRE STARTS DUE TO LIGHTNING ACTIVITY.

* WIND...WEST 5 TO 15 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 25 MPH. OUTFLOW WINDS

  FROM THUNDERSTORMS MAY APPROACH 40 MPH OR HIGHER OVER SOME LOCATIONS.

* HUMIDITY...IN THE LOW TO MID TEENS.

* TEMPERATURES...MID TO UPPER 90S.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW...OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF STRONG WINDS...LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY...AND WARM TEMPERATURES WILL CREATE EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 06 August 2012 08:53

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Sarpy Creek fire partly contained

 

Most wildfire on the Sarpy Hills complex today consisted of isolated smokes burning in the interior of the fire.  Massive numbers of engines are mopping up burning material that could possibly threaten firelines.  The 82,000 acre fire is 65 percent contained.

Some of the 701 personnel on the incident are working in the northeast corner of the Crow Reservation on fires that have become part of the Rosebud Complex.   They have relieved Big Horn County resources who worked several days on those fires.  At night about 300 people are “spiked” (camping out) at a cow camp on Sarpy Basin Road.  Heavy equipment is staging on firelines and at the Multipurpose building in Crow Agency to respond speedily to any running fire.   

The National Weather Service again predicts critical fire weather Monday through Wednesday for three days of possible lightning on the Reservation without rain.  High temperatures in Crow reach 97 to 102 degrees the next four days, through Thursday.

The fire did not harm the landscape in the pine highlands of Castle Rock or south of US Highway 212.  It burned on the ground beneath the ponderosa pines, fertilizing the forest floor without killing too many trees.  Ponderosa pines do not mind gentle fires.  They carry thick bark as an adaptation to fire.  This landscape will be green again soon after rain. 

 

Crews will be beginning a process of rehabilitating firelines in some areas where grass fires are cold.  They will be pulling dozer berms back onto scraped areas, partially recovering dozer lines with topsoil.

Managers visited a public meeting Sunday in Lame Deer to listen and share with Northern Cheyenne residents, who have dealt this week with smoke and evacuations from fires.

For photos and more info, visit Inciweb on the internet:  http://inciweb.org/incident/3081/ .


Last Updated on Monday, 06 August 2012 06:34

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'American Idol' auditions here

The Billings Chamber of Commerce is "American Idol"'s point of contact for the Small Town Audition Bus Tour stop on Monday, Aug. 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.at ZooMontana!

So here's what you need to know:

No one will be allowed into the area until 9 a.m. Contestants must show photo identification proving they are between the ages of 15 and 28. After ID's are checked, contestants will be given a number and will need to wait in the outdoor audition line.

The Tour is kicking off this weekend in Idaho Falls, Idaho. From Billings, the crew will head south to Casper, Wyo. For more information, check out  www.visitbillings.com.

As the Billings Chamber/Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) announced last week, "American Idol" is shaking things up for their latest season with a new "Small Town Tour" and a flashy, new bus. In keeping with the fresh recruitment efforts, these tryouts will be scaled down from what has been seen in years' past. The judges will not be part of these tryouts and the producers are looking more for raw talent than crowds. 

More details are available on AmericanIdol.com. Or, on Twitter via #IdolBus. 

Last Updated on Monday, 03 June 2013 21:59

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Coalition organizes against Affordable Care Act

By PHIL DRAKE - Montana Watchdog

HELENA – An organization that promotes limited government joined with a group of doctors on July 31 and announced a coalition to oppose the oncoming Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, saying it would be costly and not deliver on promises.

Americans for Prosperity and the Montana Medical Free Choice Coalition held a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol in Helena, an event that organizers said was attended by about 30 people. A few signs, such as “Obamacare ... Just say no” and “Give us Liberty, not mandated health care!” peppered the area.

According to a news release, the MMFCC opposes government-run health care, the president’s health care law, commonly called “Obamacare,” and supports “market-based and patient-centered reform.”

Joe Balyeat, the state director for AFP and former state lawmaker, said Obamacare would create “a whole new class of serfs in Montana.”

“People with incomes all the way up to $92,200 will have a portion of their insurance paid by the feds,” he said, adding it would put the majority the state’s residents on “the government dole.”

He that in 2010, Medicaid cost taxpayers $400 billion and provided insurance to 54 million people. He said 17 million Americans would be added to Medicaid because of Obamacare and by 2020, Medicaid will cover 85 million Americans at a cost of $870 billion annually.

He also quoted studies that said surgical patients on Medicaid are 13 percent more likely to die than uninsured patients and 97 percent more likely to die than privately-insured patients.

The coalition, which Balyeat said comprises so far about a dozen doctors and members of the health care field, will begin offering opinion pieces to newspapers and speaking out against Obamacare.

Annie Bukacek, an internist who said she would come up with a way to not participate in Obamacare, said the law would “dramatically slash the quality of patient care, especially those who need it most.”

“Government-run health care won’t take care of you,” she said. “The ones that need it the most are left by the wayside.”

Jean Branscum, executive vice president of the Montana Medical Association, which represents 2,200 physicians in the state, said her organization has not taken a political position on Obamacare.

She said the association is, however, educating physicians about what they will have to do to comply with laws and how the laws will impact them.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office came out with a report that the health care overhaul would provide health insurance to about 3 million more low-income Americans. It also said the cost of expanding coverage will be $1.68 trillion.

Obamacare requires people to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. It was upheld on June 28 by the U.S. Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote. The court ruled the individual mandate to buy health insurance was a legitimate exercise of congressional taxing authority.

The court also made it optional for states to participate in the expansion of Medicaid. According to information posted by the Montana Policy Institute, a Bozeman-based think tank and publisher of Montana Watchdog, depending on participation rate assumptions, by 2019 Obamacare’s impact on Montana will be seen in additional Medicaid enrollment increases in the range of 57,000 to 79,000, with an additional cost burden for the state budget ranging from $100 million to $155 million.

While the individual mandate drew most of the attention in the Supreme Court debate, the biggest issue for state governments is the expansion of Medicaid coverage, which is now mandated for everyone up to 133 percent of the poverty line.

Medicaid until now has been for poor families with children, pregnant women, the blind, the elderly and a few other groups. The new law would cover every person with income below the established level.

The Supreme Court found that Congress cannot strip current Medicaid funding from states that refuse to go along with federal expansion of the program.

While the federal government is covering the initial costs, some of the burden over the long run falls to the states.

In March 2010, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, now the Democratic candidate for governor, refused to join 26 states in opposing Obamacare, saying their lawsuit lacked merit.

In February, 71 Montana GOP lawmakers and organizations became part of a “friend of the court” brief filed by the Cato Institute that urges the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the 11th Circuit Court ruling that the law passed in 2010 exceeds Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce. The 11th Circuit Court ruling was appealed by the Obama administration.

The health reform law also mandates creation of state-based health exchanges, but again gives states the decision to opt out. Exchanges are online health insurance markets designed to streamline coverage purchasing.

In Montana, lawmakers rejected two attempts to set up the exchanges, thereby setting the stage for the exchanges to be operated by the federal government.

 

Phil Drake can be reached at (406) 442-4561 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Montana Watchdog is an online news service published by the Montana Policy Institute, a Bozeman-based free market think tank.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 12:57

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Students hurting for money, Cruzado testifies

MSU News Services

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Montana State University President Waded Cruzado testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on higher-education tax incentives and the need for tax reform last week in Washington, D.C.

Cruzado was invited to testify, along with four other witnesses, by Finance Committee Chairman and senior Montana Sen. Max Baucus. In her written remarks, Cruzado focused on the mounting challenges students and their families have in paying for college and how tax policy can play an important role in making higher education more accessible.

“Overall, a dramatic decline in the finances of students and their families has forced them to borrow more,” Cruzado said in her written remarks. “Today’s students are tomorrow’s innovators, small business owners and employers. So when rising tuition costs keep families from affording college, it hurts our whole economy. We have a responsibility to give our future job creators all the tools they need to succeed, and giving working families tax breaks to send their kids to college is part of that effort,” said Baucus, whose Finance Committee has sole jurisdiction over the tax code. 

The cornerstone form for applying for all federal financial aid for higher education is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, which allows students to qualify for loans, grants and work-study. At MSU, the number of FAFSA forms received has grown 43 percent in just three years and shows no signs of slowing down, Cruzado said in her testimony.

“When students and their families use the FAFSA form, those students with the greatest financial need qualify for Pell Grants. As such, Pell Grants are a good indicator of the financial stress students and their families face,” Cruzado said. “The number of students receiving Pell Grants has jumped 65.6 percent (at MSU) in just three years.”

Another trend corresponding to the recession is the amount of debt students have when they graduate. From 1999-2007 the average amount of debt for MSU graduates who borrowed remained relatively flat at between $17,000 and $18,000, Cruzado said. 

With the recession, student debt grew dramatically - by 35.7 percent - so that now, of students who borrow at MSU, their average debt is $25,682.

Sixty-six percent of all MSU graduates borrow.

“Anecdotally, I am meeting more parents who are sending their children to college while still trying to pay off their own college debts,” Cruzado said.

The federal tax code and financial aid plays an important role in helping students afford college, but needs to be simplified, Cruzado said.

“The No. 1 one obstacle to students and their families taking full advantage of federal financial aid and tax benefits is the complexity in understanding and applying for these programs and tax advantages,” Cruzado said. “Even tax accountants find the tax credits and deductions for higher education confusing.”

At MSU, Cruzado has instituted a number of programs to help students avoid debt. In April, Cruzado appointed an executive officer to oversee financial literacy training for new students and their parents, an expansion of tutoring and advising services to help students graduate, and a renewed effort to help students graduate more quickly.

In June, Cruzado also launched the “Freshman 15” an effort to encourage students to take a minimum of 15 credits each semester. At MSU, there is no cost for additional credits after a student pays for the first 12. Also, a minimum of a 15-credit-per-semester load is required to complete most degrees in four years at MSU. A resident student will save $816 per semester by taking 15 credits.

Cruzado is also helping students graduate by creating the MSU Office of Student Success, which offers tutoring, advising, study-skills training, and incentive programs to help students stay in college. More than 560 students utilized 6,500 hours of tutoring during the past academic year.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 12:55

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River group markets its own beer

The Yellowstone River Conservation District Council has announced plans to market its own private label beer with proceeds going toward conservation projects on the Yellowstone River.

Don Youngbauer, chairman of the YRCDC, arranged collaboration with Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. of Billings who will produce the beverage named “692-No Dam Brew.” Jerry Hanson of Billings and a member of the Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) for the river group worked out the details with Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.’s owner, George Moncure. 

Hanson said the project has been in the works for over a year with extensive tasting and naming exercises in hopes that the marketplace will enjoy and try the No Dam Brew. The number 692 represents the number of miles the river is long. The Yellowstone is the longest free-flowing, or dam-free, river in the lower 48 states.

Mr. Moncure, the creator of the No Dam Brew, describes it as session ale with body from generous Munich malt yet low enough in gravity to please a wide range of beer lovers.

692 No Dam Brew is now available at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. in Billings, but soon it will be available on tap at beer parlors and restaurants all the length of the Yellowstone River corridor.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 12:52

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Natural food outlets rise to 5 in Billings

By JUDITH WILLIAMS - For The Outpost

When Natural Grocers opened last month at 304 S. 24th St., the number of organic markets in the city expanded to five. All are located in downtown or the West End. None are in the Heights.

“When a business hopeful wants to put up $100,000 or more for building and inventory, then there will be a health food store in the Heights,” said a staffer at one health food store.

Billings’ natural food stores are Bonanza, Good Earth Market Cooperative at 3024 Second Ave. N., Mary’s Health Foods at 2564 King Ave. W., Montana Harvest at 1710 Grand Ave. and Natural Grocers.

Main line stores such as Albertsons and IGA are beginning to stock an increasing number of organic foods. Also, Yellowstone Valley Outdoor Farmers Market opened July 21 at Skypoint at Broadway and Second Avenue North. The seasonal open air market runs until Oct. 6.

The five most commonly purchased food items in the United States are non-alcoholic beverages, proteins (meats, poultry, fish and eggs), dairy, cereals and bakery, fruits and vegetables, according to Aaron McNary, an economist at the Montana department of Labor and Industry in Helena.

A Billings specific market basket using the five items from the Federal Consumer Price Index was created Wednesday, July 11. Prices ranged from 39 cents a pound for ripe organic bananas to a high of $9.29 for a frozen boneless chicken breast one-pound package.

The Organic Prairie brand from Wisconsin contained no added salt water, according to labeling. No one natural foods store was consistently cheaper than any of the others. 

All sell bulk foods including spices, herbs, grains and cereals. These tend to cost less than in the main-line grocery stores since the consumer can buy exactly the amount desired, rather than a box or carton with a much larger supply.

Bonanza and Mary’s carry only limited amounts of fresh or frozen foods, with Bonanza carrying only a few items in its cooler. Mary’s specializes in locally grown meats from surrounding ranches. Dairy items in most of the stores are long on the supply of yogurts and short on cottage cheese and some types of milk, due to low demand and rapid expiration dates. Buyers planning to fill their complete shopping list at one store would be wise to call about specific items.

Each store has unique customer benefits. Good Earth Market Co-op charges a membership fee, which includes a monthly 15 percent discount on all items, plus a 15 percent discount for seniors. GEM provides bicycle racks and loans out a bike pump. It is the only store in Billings to offer free electrical charging while the car owner shops.

Deli soups, sandwiches and salads may be eaten in comfortable dining accommodations, in the midst of frequently changed original art. The co-op hosts various small meetings and supports various social causes with a lengthy bulletin board and publications.

Bonanza offers a purchase card with the fifth purchase 20 percent off.  Montana Harvest on Grand makes shopping a quick “in-and-out” with a lot of customers stopping in on their way home from work.

Natural Grocers has an enormous inventory and an abundance of newly hired employees eager to please.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 12:51

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Groundbreaking postponed

Ernest Health Inc. has postponed the ground breaking for Montana Rehabilitation Hospital, which had been scheduled for July 26.

In a statement, the company said, “In the spirit of community and value for our healthcare partners, we are postponing the ground breaking in order to revisit communication and information for the support of this valuable project. During this time, the company is committed to addressing concerns by some community members of creating competition among current healthcare providers in Billings.”

The statement added, “Our goal for this project has always been to offer complementary services to the existing rehab providers in this community and reflects the tremendous bed need for Billings, the state of Montana as well as northern Wyoming. Ernest Health, Inc. continues to be very excited about this project and is committed to serving the needs of the community.”

The company has proposed a 17,000-square-foot, 20-bed hospital at 3528 Gabel Road, adjacent to its existing Advanced Care Hospital of Montana.

Ernest Health Inc., an Albuquerque, N.M., based healthcare provider, owns and operates post-acute care facilities New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and South Carolina.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 12:50

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Fishing access site closes at night

A new set of gates at Duck Creek Bridge Fishing Access Site near Laurel on the Yellowstone River will keep the day-use area closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Duck Creek Bridge FAS, a popular boat-launch site in the Billings area, has recently suffered from a rash of nighttime vandalism.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials, at the request of local property owners, recently installed the gate to discourage vandals and protect public safety. Complaints have ranged from  late- night parties to illegal campfires. Duck Creek Bridge FAC is located in Yellowstone County, which has been under Stage II fire restrictions since June 29.

Recreationists should expect the gates at Duck Creek Bridge FAS to remain locked from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.

Check the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov for information on additional site restrictions or closures.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 12:48

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School supplies sought for soldiers

Operation Homefront, the national nonprofit that provides emergency financial and other assistance to military families and Wounded Warriors, has announced its annual Back-to-School Brigade program to collect school supplies for military kids.

Operation Homefront, and its organizations and volunteers across the nation, will begin collecting donated school supplies, along with monetary donations, that they will distribute to the children of service members at the beginning of the school year in the Fall.

This year marks the sixth annual campaign by Operation Homefront to give the children of military families the opportunity to start school with all the supplies they need to be successful. Anyone interested in helping military kids can log on to OperationHomefront.net/backtoschoolbrigade or Facebook.com/OperationHomefront to learn more about how to volunteer or make a donation.

“Military families, especially those in the lower and mid-grade enlisted ranks, can see a real money crunch at back-to-school time,” said Jim Knotts, President and CEO of Operation Homefront. “People in the community who want to say thank you to military families can make a real contribution by being part of the Back-to-School Brigade program.”

At a recent Operation Homefront event honoring military kids, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey said, “It’s incredible to watch the young men and women of our military families grow up. We have a lot to be thankful for, and military children are probably right at the top of the list. Our kids have the unique opportunity to be whatever they want to be.”

In 2011, the Back-to-School Brigade program raised more than $2 million in monetary donations and school supplies nationwide for military kids. Through the generosity of individual and corporate contributors, Operation Homefront provided 30,000 backpacks to fill with school supplies for children of military service members.

Local Billings area Dollar Tree stores are doing their part to be active with this program. Locations can be found at Grand Avenue Shopping Center on 1212 Grand Ave., Suite 4, Marketplace Commons at 896 S. 29th St. W., Suite C, and Four Seasons Shopping Center at 1327 Main St., No 7.

Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 12:12

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