Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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Author Archives: Travis Koch

Federal Stimulus Money Trickling into Missoula

Signs along the streets in Missoula now tout "Recovery -- Reinvestment," a reminder that much of the current road work around town is being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill. Some projects, such as the $680,000 roundabout at the Higgins-Beckwith-Hill intersection that's scheduled to open next week, seem like the kind of thing the stimulus bill was meant to support: transportation infrastructure that local governments don't have the money to build themselves. Dave Zinke, VP of Knife River’s Missoula office, said the company hired no new workers to complete the Higgins project, but it did put to work many of its 150 employees, 95 percent of whom had been laid off last fall. But other road projects seem to underscore the limitations inherent in the way the program was structured. Read More »

Missoula Considers New Law Against Street Sleeping

The Missoula police department is pushing for stricter laws that would make it easier for the city to regulate people who rest on, or otherwise obstruct, public walkways. In a Public Safety and Health committee meeting this morning, Police Chief Mark Muir answered questions about the necessity of a more explicit pedestrian obstruction ordinance, and its potential effect on homeless people and other citizens. Muir began the discussion by claiming that the ordinance was, in part, designed to protect people who were found sleeping on the street. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think that a sidewalk is a safe place to lie,” said Muir. He cited recent cases where street people were abused or robbed while sleeping outdoors. But several city council members voiced opposition to the proposed ordinance, saying, among other things, that it seemed unnecessary and wrongly singled out and attacked one segment of the population over others. Read More »

Health Care Sound-Off: Tester Holds Meetings With Missoula Doctors

Sen. Jon Tester sat down at two Missoula hospitals this morning to get a second -- and third, and fourth ... and 25th -- opinion on the state of the nation's health care system and what to do about fixing it. He got an earful. “We’re doing more tests and procedures than necessary to prove that a problem we know doesn’t exist isn’t there,” said Chriss Mack, a neurosurgeon at Saint Patrick Hospital and one of 25 health care professionals who attended two roundtable discussions organized by Sen. Tester. Read More »

Western Montana Fair’s Future is Fair Game

It's a beloved Missoula tradition -- one of the most anticipated weeks of summer by the kids' set. It's also in deep trouble. Front gate admissions at the Western Montana Fair were down about $16,000 from last year. Fair manager Scot Meader blamed bad weather -- including rain and cold -- during several days of the event. “Thursday, Friday and Saturday were really slow,” said Meader. “Kids’ Day [Thursday] really hurt us this year with the rain.” But there are deeper problems than mere weather overshadowing the fair. The dilapidated buildings that house the event have reached the end of their useful life. If the 48-acre facility doesn't get a substantial upgrade in the near future -- something far more drastic than another coat of white paint -- it will soon be an unsuitable (as well as unsafe) site for the fair. Read More »

All Four Missoula County Judges Pass On Zoning Suit

In a rare move, all four judges in the Fourth District Court of Missoula have declined to hear the lawsuit that three Missoula City Council members filed against the city last month. The case was brought by city council members Dick Haines, Renee Mitchell and Lyn Hellegaard, who have asked the court to order the city to stop its zoning ordinance update, arguing that the city is not following local and state procedural guidelines. The matter can now be offered to a district judge from a neighboring district -- or even to a retired judge -- who can either accept or decline the invitation to hear it. Eventually, a home for it will be found, officials said. City Attorney Jim Nugent said he has only seen about six civil suits or political cases in his 30-year career where local judges have recused themselves. Typically, it's done because the case involves a contested community issue that judges don't feel comfortable deciding, he said. Read More »

Windmill Ban Proposed for Missoula

The Missoula City Council will likely pass a ban on wind energy conversion systems – aka windmills in your backyard. The ban would be part of the zoning ordinance update, which is being reviewed by the Plat, Annexation and Zoning committee. An earlier draft of the zoning ordinance update contained detailed standards for small windmills that could be installed on residential lots to provide supplemental energy. Now the Planning Board is recommending that the installation of windmills be disallowed until further research and discussion can take place. Mike Barton, senior planner at the Office of Planning and Grants (OPG), said that there has been no push to build windmills, and much opposition to the idea. “The idea of wind systems was demonized right out of the gate. We decided to take it off the agenda for now, and if the City Council sees a particular urgency later on, they can deal with it then.” Read More »

Inside Missoula’s Newly Passed Panhandling Law

The Missoula City Council passed an emergency, citywide ban on aggressive solicitation last night in the latest effort to curb what many Missoulians view as a growing panhandling problem. The ordinance, which passed 7-4, is effective immediately and prohibits all acts of "aggressive solicitation," as well as other more passive forms of panhandling. The new law outlaws panhandling in a variety of places -- such as within 20 feet of an ATM machine, outdoor patio where food is served, and public bathroom. It bans it within 6 feet from an entrance to a building, which essentially prohibits the practice all along Higgins Avenue. And it makes it illegal to ask for money or objects of value -- with words, placards or even gestures -- in Missoula at night, anywhere. The passage of the ordinance -- and the wording of it -- means different things to different groups. Read More »

Steward Extraordinaire: Jim Cusker’s Long Commitment to Missoula Farmland

In 2005, the Missoula Board of County Commissioners appointed 18 rural landowners to the Open Lands Working Group, a new committee to help preserve rural Montana traditions, conserve open space and protect treasured landscapes from unwise development. The members were asked to go to the areas of the county they represented and take photos of what was so special about the land. Naturally, they brought back pictures of mountains and meadows, rivers and birds, wildflowers and children, elk and trees –- all of the things Montanans love and want to save for future generations. But one representative from Grass Valley brought back something different. Every single picture in Jim Cusker’s slideshow featured … irrigation pipes. “If you just saw Jim’s slideshow, you’d think there was nothing but irrigated land out there,” says Wendy Ninteman, the western director of the Land Trust Alliance who shared the story. “Jim didn’t think there was anything more beautiful than that.” Read More »

Signs of Frustration Among Missoula City Council Members Over Zoning

Picture a dozen politicians skating aimlessly around a frozen pond. Occasionally two collide, possibly exchanging words, sometimes cordial, other times heated. The remainder of the session consists of repetitious questions, poorly framed proposals, demands for clarification and declarations of confusion, all in a tone of general exasperation because no one seems to be listening to anyone else. Now you have an image of Missoula’s Plat, Annexation and Zoning (PAZ) committee meeting this morning. Read More »