PSC approves settlement, rate hike for NorthWestern, customers

Originally published in the 7/28/17 print edition.

HELENA – The Montana Public Service Commission voted 5-0 last week to approve a natural gas rate increase for NorthWestern Energy customers.

The Commission largely accepted a settlement presented by the parties, which included consumer advocates. However, the Commission modified a proposal by NorthWestern to embed several gas production fields located in northern Montana into rates paid by customers.

“The settlement before us was mostly good, but we discovered a few problems that needed our attention,” said Commissioner  … Read full story online or by subscribing here.   

Billings airport receives $1.5 million for terminal work

Originally published in the 7/28/17 print edition.

BILLINGS — Billings Logan International Airport will receive $1.573 million in federal funds to expand the terminal building.

The Billings financial award is part of nearly $5 million to upgrade airports in Kalispell, Billings, Butte and Glendive.

The funding comes from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program, which provides grants to airports across the country in order to expand and improve America’s air travel infrastructure.

“This grant will go toward the design of our terminal renovation project, a project that will provide ... Read full story in print or by subscribing online here.  

Custer School to build $3 Million Gym

Originally published in the 7/28/17 print edition.

CUSTER — Custer Public Schools is preparing to build a new gym after voters approved a $3 million bond in May.

“It will be very functional for a school this size,” said Superintendent Dr. David Perkins of the new gym. The new gym will be in a 14,070 square foot metal building attached to the west side of the existing school building.

Custer school district voters passed a bond in the May election to cover the costs of the gym and a few additional improvements. The vote came after a long educational process during which the school board tried to explain to voters why a new gym is so important the school and community.

Voters approved a $3 million bond, which will cover building a new gym, improving the physical plant and repairs to the existing gym, which will remain in use.

“The town has been divided over this for a long time,” Perkins said. But “the days of the gym were numbered” and they had to take steps, he said.

One major problem is that the gym’s foundation is sinking in spots, leaving the floor uneven and dome-shaped, he said. The sides have slumped as much as 5 inches in some places, he said.

The new gym will have a full-size basketball court with about 10 feet on each end. Perkins didn’t know the exact square footage of the existing gym, but it’s cramped.

“The end line is a foot, foot and a half off the end wall,” he said. The floor isn’t regulation size. People sitting on the bleachers find their knees in people’s backs.

The new gym will have …  Read full article online or in print edition by subscribing here.  

Obituary: Claude “Snuffy” Billman

Claude “Snuffy” Billman, 90, of Billings, Montana, passed away on July 16, 2017.

Snuffy was an avid hunter and fisherman, always looking for that elusive big buck or a majestic bull elk. He spent his life doing what he loved most.

Snuffy is survived by daughter Jo Billman, son Jim (m.p.) Billman, grandson Steve Miller and great-grandchildren Jared, Kyra and Callie, all of California.

He is also survived by his extended family, stepson Skip (Bobbie) Christman of Roundup, Montana; grandchildren Chad of read more

Lockwood Irrigation battles ‘green slime’


Sago Pond Weed is forcing the closure of the Lockwood irrigation system beginning Aug. 1. The slimy green plant chokes off water supply channels. (Courtesy photo)

Originally published in the 7/21/17 print edition.

LOCKWOOD — “It’s a banner year for green slime.”

So declares Carl Peters, manager of the Lockwood Irrigation District, in making the announcement this week about the closing of the irrigation canals to kill the plant growth more accurately called Sago Pond Weed. Irrigation water will be shut off from Aug. 1-7 to allow the weed to dry out, which kills it.

The “slime” thrives on sunlight and water, said Peters, and it’s been thriving very well this year, “because of the  … Read full story by subscribing to the Yellowstone County News online or in print.

McNiven Meanderings 7-21-17

Jonathan McNiven

Well, folks, we are ready to announce a new addition to our weekly columnists. I’ve had a good number of readers ask me why there is no Democrat viewpoint in our paper each week, to which I’ve replied that I haven’t found the right person and fit for our publication.

It’s not that I haven’t put out the call for those interested in getting their viewpoints out to the masses. However, many have other obligations and time restrictions that don’t allow the commitment to a weekly column of this nature. However, I’ve found the next person and platform that we will be providing to the masses.

Jennifer Merecki, a progressive Democrat, will have a platform in our newspaper to explain her points of view as do our other columnists, like Krayton Kerns, Carl Wolf and Brad Molnar. As Krayton Kerns is from the conservative viewpoint, Carl Wolf has an outdoor perspective with his own twist and Brad Molnar has a constitutionally independent view, each has a viewpoint that has a valuable and intriguing input into the national debate of politics and state of our union, whether it be locally or nationally.

We welcome Jennifer Merecki as our newest columnist to the Yellowstone County News. I’ve met with Jennifer, and I believe she has a lot of experience and insight that will add to our conversation.

As I was formerly a Republican state legislator here in Montana, that does not mean I read more

Yellowstone County News features new columnist

Originally published in the 7/21/17 print edition.

Jennifer Merecki

HUNTLEY — The Yellowstone County News has a new columnist.

Jennifer Merecki will write a column, “Progressive Pioneer,” which will appear in the newspaper beginning this week. This week’s introductory column is on Page 4.

Merecki has an extensive health care background. She earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and biology and is a license massage therapist and body work specialist as well as a licensed personal trainer a holistic and fitness nutrition practitioner

Merecki’s columns will feature the viewpoint of the Democratic Party. Her political resume includes working on the grassroots campaign of Bernie Sanders, where she was a spokeswoman, rally presenter and speark. She was elected Yellowstone County Democrat delegate and represented Montana at the national Democratic Convention.

She has also worked on Montana legislative campaigns and was a candidate for both Yellowstone County Commissioner and Senate District 25 in 2016.

She has worked as a lobbyist for several organizations and received the Billings Business Association “Top 40 under 40” Award in 2007.

Check for her weekly column each week in YCN newspaper.

Sen. Conrad Burns buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Originally published in 7/21/17 print edition.

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY — Sen. Conrad Burns was buried in a small family ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday.

The Montana Republican was a longtime Billings resident and former Yellowstone County Commissioner. He died at his Billings home on in April 2016.

His family delayed his burial at Arlington to schedule a time when they could all travel to Washington, D.C., to attend the service, said Yellowstone County Commissioner Denis Pitman.

Burns was a Marine who served in East Asia.

At his funeral at Rimrock Auto Arena in May 2016, his son Garrett, noting that his father would be buried at Arlington, said, “even in death, my father gets a really good parking..”... Read full story in print or online by subscribing here.  

Commissioners set hearing on safety mill levy

Originally published in the 7/14/17 print edition.

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County Commissioners approved a resolution on Tuesday that sets a public hearing to be held Aug. 1, regarding a request of voters, on Nov. 7, to increase the Safety Mill Levy to help relieve pressure on the budget for the County Attorney’s office.

The proposal would increase property taxes by 8 mills, which would generate about $2.75 million, annually, in perpetuity.

Not only would the levy help meet the needs of the county attorney’s office, where felony cases have doubled in the last six years, it would also relieve pressure on other parts of the county general fund and reserve funds, which have been subsidizing the county attorney’s office. The county needs all those funds to address increasing costs in other county departments, associated with the same increase in crime.

County Attorney Scott Twito said that since 2000, his office has seen filings triple from unprecedented escalating crime, which is being driven by illegal drug use, primarily from methamphetamines.

The increasing caseload faced by the county’s judicial system prompted the state Legislature to approve two new district court judges for the county, which while important to alleviating the backlog of cases, puts even more pressure on Twito’s office. With the addition of two new judges, “it is going to be frightening,” said Twito.

Ideally, each judge should  …  Read full story on line by subscribing online here.

5.8 magnitude Montana earthquake felt in Billings

An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 rattled residents of Western Montana Thursday morning about 12:30 AM with after shocks persisting afterwards being felt many hundreds of miles away.  As many residents were sleeping, the earthquake startled enough residents to the point that many posted to Facebook online to see if others felt the same thing.

The epicenter of the earthquake occurred just south of read more

Neal McCoy, Chancy Williams, Bucky Beaver Ground Grippers slated for Friday Homesteader Days concert

HOMESTEADER PARK — The Friday night Homesteader Days concert features a veteran country singer and an up-and-coming Wyoming band, along with perennial crowd favorites Bucky Beaver Ground Grippers.
Chancy Williams and the Younger Brothers Band open the show at 7 p.m. Gates open at 5, and food sales start at 6.
Chancey Williams grew up near Moorcroft, Wyoming, on the western edge of the Black Hills. His band now includes five performers, and Williams has earned the distinction of being one of only two people to perform onstage at Cheyenne Frontier Days as well as compete in its rodeo. (The late Chris LeDoux is the other.)
The band promises a “rowdy, racous” read more

Proposed Billings smoking ban draws ire from business owners

Originally published in the 6/30/17 newspaper print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — Business owners testified at a public hearing last week that a proposed rule by the city-county health department – RiverStone Health — could have a devastating impact on businesses in the City of Billings and Yellowstone County.

Many of those business owners lined up to object to second-hand smoke read more

Huntley Project Museum celebrates past and looks to the future

Dignitaries from Yellowstone County and Senator Steve Daines office were present at Huntley Project Museum’s 110th celebration last weekend.
Dignitaries-L to R-Commissioner John Ostlund’s grandson, Commissioner John Ostlund, HP Museum Director Kelli Maxwell, Jenna Pearson McKinney, representative from Senator Steve Daine’s office, Commissioner Denis Pitman (Photo by Brian Biggers )

Originally published in the 6/30/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

HUNTLEY PROJECT — About 80 people turned out on Saturday to celebrate both history and progress.

Saturday’s events marked the 110th anniversary of irrigation on the Huntley Project, the transformation and dedication of the Mercantile and opening of the Dassinger Building.

Kelli Maxwell, director of the museum, said nearly 80 people attended. She said the celebration

The museum board of directors received a $10,000 read more

Judge Russ Fagg mulls U.S. Senate run

Judge Russell Fagg

Originally published in the 6/30/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County District Judge Russ Fagg, who recently announced his retirement from the bench, has formed an exploratory committee to consider a Senate race in 2018.

Fagg is one of several Republican candidates who have announced their intent to challenge Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, in the 2018 election.

In a release, Fagg said read more

Paid parking at MetraPark to continue

Originally published in the 6/30/17 print edition of YCN.

BILLINGS — Paid parking at Metra Park events is likely to become more common, according to Steve Solberg, president of the MetraPark Advisory Board.

Expansion of the available paid parking for the Garth Brooks concerts proved to be very well received and was a plus for Metra Park’s bottom line at a time that the county-owned facility needs read more

Guest Column: Tester’s Hypocrisy on Dark Money

Austin Knudsen, Montana Speaker of the House

Originally published in the 6/30/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

In April, Sen. Jon Tester joined an unsuccessful partisan effort to filibuster Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. To justify his actions, Tester said at the time, “With Judge Gorsuch on the bench, I am deeply concerned that dark money will continue to drown out the voices and votes of citizens.”

It seems Tester has changed his tune on “dark money” just a few months later.

While the liberal “dark money” group Majority Forward has been pummeling Montana’s voters with Television ads on Tester’s behalf – Sen. Tester has remained silent.

The blatant hypocrisy of bemoaning “dark money” in attempt to score political points and then willfully accepting it when it benefits him personally is appalling.

Here’s the truth: Majority Forward is the read more

Lockwood sewer customers have two years before rate hike kicks in

Printed in 6/30/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

LOCKWOOD — Lockwood residents who are part of the Phase 2 sewer district will have two years in which to take advantage of system development fees (SDF) at their current rate, before a proposed increase in the fees will be implemented. The Lockwood Water and Sewer District (LWSD) Board compromised on the length of delay, after discussion revealed that some board members wanted to extend the current fees one year and others thought they should be extended three years.

Board members took up the issue at their regular monthly board meeting, last Wednesday, after Lockwood citizens pointed out read more

Roundup is a place to be the week of the 4th of July.

Originally published in the Yellowstone County News 6/30/17 print edition, This story was released online early due to the upcoming holiday.

ROUNDUP — Roundup Independence Days Extravaganza (RIDE) is putting on a celebration in Roundup July 2-4.

There are two days of community parades on the 3rd and Fourth, two rodeos on the 3rd and Fourth at the Musselshell County Fairgrounds, and RIDE events July 2-4.  There will be lots of vendors, free RV parking across from the stage, and lots of friendly folks.

The 2017 RIDE will begin on Sunday, July 2 at the Ridge Riders Arena with Cowboy Church with Dave Collins and the Buttons and Bows Youth Rodeo.  Once again this year, a Civil War Experience Encampment will be near the stage starting at 10 a.m. and continuing throughout the day. The experience is read more

Thieves break into Little League concession stand

Originally published in the 6/30/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

WORDEN — A group of people who broke into Project Little League’s concession stand at Hansen Park are still on the lam with a large, red plastic box and dozens of snacks and drinks.

Marla Cole, Little League president, said their maintenance man discovered the concession stand had been broken into on Sunday night, June 25, but the break-in probably occurred between Tuesday, June 20 and Friday, June 23.

“It’s a tough loss for us,” Cole said. Damages to the door and lock could cost $750 to $1,000, she said.

“We do have some insurance, but it’s unknown at this point how much they’ll pay.”

She said the sheriff’s deputy who responded thinks the suspects are older teenagers or young adults.

“They obviously had read more

Lockwood group organizes to support Lockwood high school vote

This story will be printed in the 7/7/17 print edition as the meeting completed after going to press last night.

An organizational meeting was held by the Lockwood Community Education Committee, last Wednesday evening, at the Lockwood School Administration Building. About ten people attended, all interested in launching a campaign to get voter approval to expand the Lockwood School District to include high school.

A core group of about ten very dedicated and passionate people is what is needed for a successful campaign, said Bob Reihl, who heads the Lockwood Steering Committee, and who voiced his support of the group and the cause. But, it will take more volunteers to do the work that will lead up to the November vote, unanimously called for by the Lockwood School Board, said Chad Hanson, who will continue as chairman of the Education Committee.

Other officers of the group will be read more