By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
An appropriations bill approved by Congress included more than $8 million for north-central Montana, but did not include money to start the process of fixing the St. Mary Diversion, which supplies most of the water in the Milk River every year.
The St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group, headed by Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs, had requested $9.5 million to set up at $5 million emergency repair fund and pay for a study of the proposed renovation. Right now, irrigators who use the water are responsible for paying for any repairs to the aging system.
"We're a little disappointed but it makes us more resolved," Ohs said this morning.
J.P Donovan, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said Burns and the other two members of Montana's delegation - Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg - tried to get the money into the omnibus bill, but couldn't raise enough support to include it.
He said they will try to include it in some other bills this year but that funding for fiscal year 2005, which began in October, is unlikely.
"We're going to try some other options," he said.
The bill included money for the Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water System, renovation of the Havre City-County Airport terminal building, technology upgrades at Montana State University-Northern, homes for workers at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation health services, and housing and medical center projects at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
Ohs said the working group knew in spring, when it made the request, that it was late in the process to get funding, but hoped it would be pushed through.
"When you start a project like this, there will always be setbacks," he said, adding that it often takes more than one try to get federal funding for a project.
The appropriations bill included more than $1.3 million for management, operation and maintenance of Milk River irrigation projects by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The money is part of the bureau's standard annual funding.
The state and local governments and private groups have budgeted more than $200,000 for a preliminary study to be done in advance of the main study.
The bill appropriated $1 million for the Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water System, which will provide water from Lake Elwell south of Chester for about 20,000 people in north-central Montana. The total cost of the project is estimated at more than $200 million.
Annmarie Robinson of Bear Paw Development Corp., who is coordinating the water project, said the next step will be for the steering committee to decide whether the appropriation is enough to start construction. That will probably be discussed at its Dec. 21 meeting.
The omnibus spending bill also contained money for an upgrade of the Havre City-County Airport terminal. Congress appropriated $150,000 for the project, much less than the $600,000 members of the airport board had hoped for.
"We have enough for a start. That's where we're going to have to get creative," Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said Friday.
Bessette said the new $150,000 appropriation and close to $300,000 in FAA entitlements the airport will accumulate this and next year will help cover the estimated cost of $600,000. The county might be able to make up the difference by borrowing FAA funds from another county that is not using its funds. Hill County could repay the loan with future FAA funds, she said.
Congress appropriated $200,000 for Montana State University-Northern to pay for equipment at the new Applied Technology Center.
Congress appropriated $5 million to build new housing for the 102 federal employees who work at the hospital at Fort Belknap Agency and the tribal clinic at Hays.
The bill included $350,000 for a housing project at Rocky Boy and $250,000 for purchasing equipment and upgrading the telecommunications infrastructure at the Rocky Boy clinic.