The Oakland Cos. and ZooMontana have come to terms on a five-year sponsorship deal of the Zoo’s North American River Otter exhibit. The sponsorship will aid in the care and upkeep of the animals and their exhibit.
Funding will also allow for new signage and exhibit improvements. Zoo officials hope to add several features to the exhibit, such as a new otter slide and den.
Gary Oakland, the Oakland Cos. chairman and chief executive officer, is a longtime zoo supporter. ZooMontana Executive Director Jeff Ewelt said he was is looking forward to a long-term relationship.
The Oakland Cos. has committed $42,000 over the next five years.
Last Updated on Friday, 03 August 2012 12:11
Last Updated on Sunday, 29 July 2012 19:27
The dreams of another 90 Montana World War II veterans to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C. will take flight in September.
Organizers for Big Sky Honor Flight announced last week that the second group of Montana World War II veterans will make their trip to the nation’s capital on Sept. 23-24 as a tribute to their service to America. Thanks to continuous support from corporate, family and individual donors, Big Sky Honor Flight is able to make its second flight in less than four months. The first flight was June 15-16.
“Our first trip was such a total success, thanks to the donors and volunteers,” said Big Sky Honor Flight Committee Vice President Bill Kennedy. “Because of them, we will continue to bestow this honor on more of our World War II veterans.”
Big Sky Honor Flight’s mission is to recognize World War II veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by flying them to Washington, D.C., — at no cost to them — to see their memorial. Top priority is given to terminally ill veterans. A total of 97 veterans took first trip and nearly 300 have applied to be a part of the program.
The second flight will leave Logan International Airport on Sunday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 a.m. and return on Monday, Sept. 24, at 9 p.m.
On the chartered jet will be about 90 veterans, 38 escorts, four members of a medical team, six media representatives as well as members of the Big Sky Honor Flight committee, who help the veterans on the trip.
A pre-flight meeting is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 9 in Billings where more specifics of the flight and the agenda will be discussed with the veterans.
The trip will include stops at memorials and landmarks in the Washington area, including Arlington National Cemetery. The highlight, however, will be a stop at the National World War II Memorial, which was opened in 2004 as a tribute to the millions of Americans who served and died to protect the freedoms still enjoyed today.
All donations are tax-deductible.
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 23:58
With the continuing hot and dry conditions, Stage 2 fire restrictions are still in effect on private, state and federal lands in Big Horn, Carbon, Musselshell, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Treasure and Yellowstone counties.
Also due to fire danger, Shepherd Ah Nei and South Hills recreation areas near Billings are closed to motorized use, and the 17-Mile area is closed to target shooting.
Under Stage 2, all campfires are prohibited. Smoking is allowed only within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials. Stage 2 also prohibits the operation of any internal combustion engine, welding or operating a torch with open flame, and using explosives from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. A two-hour patrol following cessation of work is required. Additionally, motorized vehicles must stay on designated roads.
Exemptions include fires fueled solely by liquid petroleum or LPG, or other activities for which there is a permit or written authorization. Yellowstone and Stillwater counties have also exempted activities associated with harvesting and other agricultural operations, but encourage farmers and ranchers to keep equipment in good working order to prevent sparks, provide spark arrestors, and carry firefighting tools.
Aan exemption does not absolve an individual or organization from liability or responsibility for any fire started by the exempted activity. Anyone who causes a wildland fire intentionally or through negligence will be held accountable for damage and suppression costs.
To report wildfires, call 911, a fire department, or the Billings Interagency Dispatch Center at (406) 896-2900.
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 23:56
Saturday and hot, probably not unlike the day of Aug. 14, 1872, when, during the previous night, Lakota and Oglala Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho decided to attack a U.S. Army bivouac a few miles downstream on the Yellowstone River from Billings.
It was the young braves who started it all; the older and wiser men knew they didn’t have enough ammunition to engage a well equipped Army unit.
One young brave sneaked into the sleeping Army camp and attempted to steal a rifle leaning against a tree near its sleeping owner.
Unfortunately, the latter was an old fox on the dangerous frontier and saw the attempt. He shot the warrior, arousing the whole camp; the battle started.
This is the site that some men came from all over the country to see on a recent tour led by Neil Magnum, former superintendent of the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
A local historian and crusty Army veteran of a later era, Harold Hagen, explained the battlefield to the men, who had also been to the Little Bighorn and Canyon Creek battlefields as part of their tour.
Very near Billings, this battle site is largely neglected except for the efforts of men like Hagen, the Frontier Heritage Alliance, and the more than noteworthy caretaking of the landowners, the Michaels.
As Richard Upton, publisher and Custer historian, said recently, “All things turn on Custer!” None of this would be important without him.
The Baker Battlefield site is important for several reasons. Some historians feel it was the first skirmish that finally ended with the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Secondly, major players were involved: Crazy Horse, the almost mythic warrior who’s personae is largely unknown and still being explored, although his name is familiar to most Americans. In 1872 this young and restless warrior rode back and forth across the battlefield in front of the Army, daring soldiers to shoot him; they tried.
Then there is Sitting Bull, old for a warrior by this time – and wise as he needed to be. He knew the futility of the coming fight but was unable to control the young men in his war party.
Finally, Sitting Bull laid down his weapons and, taking only his pipe and tobacco, went out a hundred yards in front of his companions. There he sat and smoked as the dust from the heavy 50-70 caliber bullets of the Army kicked up around him.
When done with his smoke, he got up and calmly ambled back to his warriors, who now were more than willing to listen to him.
Hagen, an old 10th Special Forces paratrooper, is more than qualified to explain the battle. He, David Eckroth and the Frontier Heritage Alliance have pulled together every single bit of data about the site.
Eckroth, a master at metal detecting, was the first to investigate the site. Because the Army had standard deployment locations during battle, he was able to determine such locations by the empty cartridges found. Once he found the Army positions, he went to where they were probably shooting and found the bullets themselves.
Each shell casing has a unique firing pattern. The Indians used a different rifle than the Army, and some of the Indian shell casings had been recycled four and five times. Little wonder Sitting Bull was concerned.
The commander of the eight troops of the 2nd Cavalry and 7th Infantry was Major Eugene Baker, a battle-hardened soldier probably suffering post-traumatic stress from his bloody experiences in the Civil War.
He drank a lot, the only medicine available for a mental illness gotten in service to his county.
He had been drinking and playing cards late the night before. So when the shout went up, his command abilities came into question.
Two years earlier, Baker had been ordered to teach a lesson to a recalcitrant Piegan chief who had killed a settler. It was January and 40 below zero on the Marias River.
Fueled by alcohol (for the cold) and guided by an untrustworthy scout, Baker attacked the wrong village.
Of the 173 known dead, the Blackfoot superintendent later reported that, except for 15 men, all killed were sick or women, children and old men; all able-bodied men had been far away hunting buffalo.
Baker lost one man as he did here on the Yellowstone (Sgt. McLarren). Indian dead are unknown, but historians are sure that Indian weapons and warriors from this fight showed up later at the Little Bighorn. Baker died at 48 from cirrhosis of the liver.
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 22:33
Last Updated on Monday, 23 July 2012 14:38
HELENA – Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer is siding with the oil and gas industry in its fight against federal drilling regulations that some say could devastate Montana’s economy.
The Bureau of Land Management, a bureaucratic subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Interior, is eyeing new regulations for hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, on all federal land nationwide.
Fracking is the process of pushing a chemical mixture thousands of feet below the earth’s surface to break apart geologic formations to release oil and gas. Most of the chemical compound returns to the surface, along with the fossil fuels.
U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his agency wants national uniform standards for safety’s sake.
“There are some who are saying that it’s not something we ought to do; it should be left up to the states. That’s not good enough for me, because states are at very different levels. Some have zero, some have decent rules,” Salazar said in a June 25 Reuters interview.
Others, including Schweitzer, say the rules would be redundant, onerous and burdensome.
“While I can appreciate BLM’s role in regulating industry activities on public land, I believe BLM is well advised to accept the regulatory process developed by each state and limit implementation of a new regulatory scheme to the jurisdictions and states that have not already adopted rules,” Schweitzer wrote in a June 18 letter to Salazar.
BLM rules could be in place by year’s end and would force additional disclosure and testing changes for drilling companies.
The public comment period on the rules was slated to close July 10, but was extended two months after industry officials requested more time to review the regulations.
So far, oil and gas companies don’t like what they see.
Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association Inc., a trade nonprofit that represents oil and natural gas producers, said the new rules are designed to regulate oil and gas companies out of business.
“It’s horrendous what the administration is doing to the oil and gas industry,” Galt said.
The state regulates fracking through administrative rule and the federal government has a compact to abide by those regulations.
Galt warns that adding a new layer of red tape, even if only on federal land, would drive business out of the state.
“It’s just an example of too much government and some people not having enough to do,” Galt said.
Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Northern Plains Resource Council and Montana Environmental Information Center, have fought against fracking, because they say the fluids used in the process are dangerous to human health and can contaminate drinking water.
On MEIC’s website, the group lists four chemicals used in fracking known to cause health problems in humans, including heart issues, blindness and dizziness. Other chemicals, the group said, are harmful to some animal life.
Derf Johnson, an MEIC analyst, said all drilling operations need to go to great lengths to guarantee the safety of drinking water and applauds the new federal rules – mostly.
“They are a step forward in addressing the rules we’ve seen with fracking,” Johnson said Tuesday morning. “We need to proceed with extreme caution.”
Johnson sees a gap in the new federal rules in that they don’t require companies to inform adjacent landowners of fracking operations, thus denying the opportunity for pre-fracking water testing. That testing is critical, Johnson said, because it provides a baseline for post-fracking contamination tests.
The state rules aren’t good enough either, Johnson said, because drillers can hide fluid combinations, if the information is deemed “proprietary.”
“It’s a loophole you can drive a truck through,” he said.
But Schweitzer and Galt fired back against environmentalists’ claims that fracking is tainting the water supply.
“We have had no cases of groundwater contamination reported, discovered, or even suspected,” Schweitzer wrote in his Salazar letter.
“The facts just aren’t there,” Galt told Watchdog.org on July 2.
Carl Graham, president of the Bozeman-based Montana Policy Institute, a free market think tank, said the anti-fracking push is simply an effort by environmental radicals to cut off access to cheap energy.
“More than 99 percent of the fluid used is water and sand,” Graham said of the fracking fluid.
While Graham pushes for the fossil fuels fracking provides, he’s also concerned with the economic slowdown the state would experience, if federal regulations scare off drilling companies.
“It’s a huge tax hit, if we shut it down,” said Graham, who is also publisher of Montana Watchdog.
Fracking has unlocked Bakken Formation drilling development in eastern Montana and western North Dakota. Galt said fracking is cheaper than conventional drilling and allows wells to turn a profit.
“Everything going on in Bakken would not happen without fracking,” Galt said.
Drilling, fracking included, is big business for Montana, particularly in the state’s eastern slice.
Galt said the federal red tape could affect as many as 12,000 workers. Natural gas wells provide more than $53 million in royalty payments to the state and federal governments.
The industry as a whole, Galt said, generates more than $9 billion in economic activity for the state annually.
Last Updated on Friday, 20 July 2012 10:24
Just because the U.S. economy is lagging doesn’t mean the same holds true in Yellowstone County.
Speakers at a Community Leadership meeting last Friday were mostly optimistic about prospects for the local economy, but Dave Irion of St. Vincent Healthcare said people here tend to become emotionally attached to what’s going on in the rest of the country. An effort is needed, he said, to foster a positive spirit and turn attitudes around.
It’s not surprising that community leaders would put the best possible face on how well they are doing their jobs, but about 50 representatives of business, nonprofit and government groups who met at the First Interstate Bank Operations Center had some reasons for optimism.
Tops on the list was the prospect for continued energy development. Steve Arveschoug, director of Big Sky Economic Development, said that Billings is the business hub of energy development not only in the Bakken oil fields but throughout the region. He said that Billings needs a large industrial park to compete with the business-friendly Western states.
“We need to be constantly evaluating strengths and weaknesses in the community,” he said.
Several speakers called for improved transportation in part to boost energy development. Billings City Administrator Tina Volek said the city is focused on downtown vehicle and rail traffic and the proposed inner belt loop. Parking is a related concern, she noted.
Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund said the county is looking at the Northeast Bypass, which could ease traffic around MetraPark and could begin construction in six or seven years, and a connection between Bench Boulevard and Sixth Avenue North.
Lisa Harmon of the Downtown Billings Alliance said the Montana Avenue area is developing an urban neighborhood feel, and traffic on Montana Avenue needs to be “calmed” to enhance that feeling. She also said that downtown rail traffic creates both a perceived and a physical barrier downtown.
John Brewer of the Billings Chamber of Commerce cited goals that include increased tourist visitation, recruitment of sports events and an enhanced trail system.
Dan Carter of Montana State University Billings said local priorities include a $4 million science building. He said the change of name for the College of Technology to City College will be not just a name change but a change in how higher education does business here, noting the addition of a branch library and a 9-11 memorial.
Michael Mace, president of Rocky Mountain College, said he has worked to expand the Frontier Conference to 12 members, making it the largest conference in the NAIA. The college hopes to add lights to its football field, at a cost of $330,000, in part to add a venue for high school teams in the area, he said.
Not everything was flowers. Ms. Volek noted that federal revenues to the city of Billings are declining, and the city remains restricted by its charter from raising taxes without a vote of citizens. Mayor Tom Hanel said the recent decision to cancel one of two daily flights to Helena from Billings will have a negative impact.
Commissioner Ostlund said that commissioners are concerned about unfunded mandates and favor a loser-pays requirement in lawsuits. Jail overcrowding, with up to 450 inmates in a 270-bed jail, and $30 million in tax protests also are concerns, he said.
School board member Connie Wardell said schools in the next legislative session have the best opportunity in 20 years to get “almost adequate funding.”
The Chamber’s Bruce MacIntyre said Yellowstone County’s low unemployment rate may actually reduce the workforce as employers go elsewhere to find workers. He said Billings needs to work with smaller cities and rural communities on legislative initiatives.
“We’re the 800-pound gorilla when we go up to Helena,” he said, which can fuel resentment. Those attending the meeting agreed to meet again on Oct. 12 to plan legislative strategy.
Last Updated on Friday, 20 July 2012 10:22
Last Updated on Sunday, 15 July 2012 19:56
Don Williams' performance scheduled for Monday, July 16, at the Alberta Bair Theater has been rescheduled for a later date.
Black Diamond Entertainment regrets to announce that the Don Williams concert, scheduled for July 16 at the Alberta Bair Theater is Billings, Montana, has been postponed/rescheduled due to Don Williams’ medical condition. The rescheduled date is Saturday, Oct. 27, said Dana House a spokesperson for Black Diamond Entertainment.
All tickets to the July 16 show will be honored for the Oct. 27 show. No ticket exchange is needed; keep your tickets and present them at the October performance. “We are pleased that this is a rescheduled event, and because of this, refunds will not be issued,” says House.
For additional updates or for more information, ticket holders should go to wwwbdetickets.com.
Last Updated on Saturday, 14 July 2012 09:11