Intake funding bill advancing in legislature Councilors ask residents to write lawmakers

By: 
KATHLEEN GILLULY
Outlook managing editor
Councilman Tom Nelson, left, spearheaded the effort to get the state to cover its 25 percent match for the Laurel intake after spending many hours researching state and FEMA regulations. He and Mayor Mark Mace were part of a group that traveled to Helena to testify on HB 586, which would appropriate the funds for the project.

One more step was taken at the Montana Legislature towards paying the state match for Laurel’s water intake. At the Senate Finance and Claims committee hearing Friday, March 31, a contingent of Laurel city officials along with state lawmakers recommended the passage of HB 586, which would provide the city with $2,542,055 from the natural resources projects state special revenue account.
The Laurel area along with many miles of Yellowstone River frontage was declared a disaster by then Gov. Brian Schweitzer and President Obama after the 2011 flood caused habitat degradation, bank erosion and many other related problems. Near Laurel, the flood changed the depth of the river bed at the water intake site. Since the flood, Laurel has relied on temporary weirs to keep the water in the channel at the intake high enough to provide water for the city and the CHS refinery every winter. With the disaster declaration, Laurel was approved for FEMA funding to replace the intake upstream three miles.
According to Laurel city Councilman Tom Nelson who has researched the issue in-depth, for every declared disaster in Montana, FEMA has provided 75 percent of the cost of restoration and repairs with the state paying a 25 percent match. The only exception to-date is Laurel’s intake project. With Gov. Steve Bullock refusing to pay the match, the city was forced to get a loan from the state’s revolving fund. Laurel has no further bonding ability, has spent its reserves on the intake and is still in debt from the installation of the old intake in 2003, according to Nelson and Bethany Keeler, the city’s clerk-treasurer, who also testified at the hearing.
HB 586 aims to correct that. Sponsored by Rep. Dennis Lenz and Rep. Vince Ricci, the bill passed through the House almost unanimously. As it has wide support, it is expected to get through the Senate as well.
“Then we hope the governor signs it or lets it go through without his signature,” Nelson said at Tuesday evening’s council meeting when he gave a recap of the hearing.
In addition to Nelson, Mayor Mace and Keeler, Laurel Fire Chief Brent Peters spoke on behalf of the bill for the city. Rep. Lenz, Rep. Ricci, Sen. Tom Richmond, Tim Burton, Executive Director of the Montana League of Cities and Towns and Jeremiah Theys from Great West Engineering, the city’s engineer, also urged passage of the bill. The sole opponent was Andrew Huff, legal counsel to Gov. Bullock.
Councilman Tom Nelson has created a sample letter Laurel residents can use to urge legislators to pass the bill. He has also provided physical and email addresses for the governor and legislators. The information will be posted at laureloutlook.com and on the Outlook’s Facebook site.

Write a letter to the Governor
Office of the Governor
PO Box 200801
Helena MT 59620-0801

Email the Governor
http://governor.mt.gov/Home/Contact/shareopinion
You will need to fill out the required information highlighted with a red bar. If you are uncomfortable with entering your phone number enter any phone number.

Letter to copy and paste below:

Dear Governor Bullock,
I am writing you to ask that you please support the House Bill “HB 586” to have the State’s share of the FEMA approved Laurel water intake project total paid out of the 16 million emergency funding once the legislature appropriates those funds. Please do not make us spend money we have earmarked for desperately needed infrastructure projects in our city.

Thank you,

Or click on the links below for more options. 

Click here to email your support of HB 586 to the Governor

Click here to get the 2016-2017 Legislative Contact info.

Click here to copy and past a email to the local representatives.

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