While Congressman Steve Daines stopped in several towns in Northeastern Montana to focus on economics and energy, he focused half of his visit to Glasgow on issues with the city's Levee issue. He arrived for an hour in Glasgow on Friday, May 16 around 2 p.m.
Glasgow Mayor Becky Erickson opened up the meeting expressing her wish to voice her concerns on the Levee issue over energy and economics.
“My time here is to hear your concerns,” Daines said at the meeting. “This is your time, not my time.”
Committee members from the Levee committee, including Dan Carney, Larry Meiers and Mike Kaiser, expressed their concerns on the WRDA Bill that would be voted on Tuesday, May 20. Carney started the discussion by giving a brief overview on the history and where the city was in the process to send out a plan to bring the Levee up to the Army Corps standards. He explained how they've worked well with the corps but hoped that in a time of need they might be able to call on Daines to help.
Kaiser said he searched historical records of the Levee. He said there are issues with the encroachments on private property, and there would be an expense for relocating a portion of the Levee. He also explained how the corps standard of 10-feet for the right-of-way has expanded to 15-feet, which has caused more encroachment issues.
Daines asked if the issue was a projected $1.2 million cost. Meiers explained that the reality would probably add around $5 million to meet the standards. Some of those standards, Meiers said, were unrealistic, moving houses that have been in the same location since the 1920s. Meiers had more concern for the WRDA bill, which could create a national Levee safety committee that may turn out to be another large federally run program, creating more hoops to jump.
“It's a great idea with the best intention,” Meiers said. “But sometimes the best intentions cause the biggest conflicts.”
He went onto explain issues with jurisdiction of the national Levee committee that would cause issues with the local irrigation canals. He mentioned policies that would affect the local area and encroach on more landowners. Carney added that the Levee concerns are also an economic issue, as flood insurance could be required for residents in from the south side all the way up to 2nd Avenue North.
Daines explained that he would get Glasgow contacts to keep informed on the WRDA vote and help with contacts with Col. Joe Cross, head of the Omaha District for the Army Corps. Meiers explained that they were in contact with the predecessor, but they haven't had as much contact with Cross.
After the Levee issue was discussed, Erickson touched on housing needs for lower income and the work on a housing plan in hopes for more funds and resources. She also brought up mental health issues.
Sheriff Glen Meier explained that the mental health problem was an issue for the state. He explained to Daines that committing people 438 miles away and transporting them by vehicle was sometimes a dangerous issue that needed to be treated like any other medical emergency. He said that some, not all, people in such a situation should be transported by air to get them help more quickly. He explained that with the Bakkan they've seen a large jump in commitments.
The county has spent $63,000 this year on commitments to Warm Springs, when generally in the past they only transported a few each year. The budget for transports to Warm Springs is $60,000, which has already been surpassed. They went from two or three commitments in a year to 20 last year. County Commissioner Bruce Barstad explained that the state has talked about expansion of Medicaid, and the Montana Association of Counties was working on legislation to help.
Meier added that more education on drugs was needed, that the campaign against meth a few years ago helped them see a decrease in drugs but now a huge increase is being seen in the area. Meier said he wanted Daines to do something nationwide on education of drugs and to stop the glamorization of drugs, such as marijuana. He explained that Montana needed more federal government support.
“I've heard similar feedback in Richland and lots of the areas surrounding,” Daines said.
Meier added that they've seen an increase in human trafficking through the area and drug-related crimes. While the local agencies are working on catching up with the rapidly growing problems, the issues are expanding faster than some of the local jurisdictions are able to keep up.
As the meeting wrapped up, Daines explained that he's making use of his listening sessions across the northeastern part of the state. He said that he's heard a common theme among many of the communities on the overreaching of federal agencies. He also said he had read an article about the fourth branch of government, the encroaching agencies that aren't checked.
Daines added that President Obama's “war on coal” will have a direct and negative effect on Montana, creating a loss in jobs and higher rates on coal. Erickson brought up the Keystone Pipeline at this point, and Daines said that six years to make a decision was a mistake. He said $60 million in revenue for the state of Montana would be a boost and that it would reduce impacts on infrastructure and free up some of the railroad traffic, as well as help the country become more energy independent.
“I don't know if President Obama is yielding for the extreme environmentalists' support at the expense of everyone,” Daines said.
He added that he wished he could give better news on the project and that the majority of environmental reports showed a benefit to the pipeline.