By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre Mayor Bob Rice told the City Council on Monday night that if Havre wants to join the authority overseeing the creation of a regional water system in north-central Montana, the city can afford the $6-per-customer fee required to join, which would total about $20,000.
"If the council votes to pay $20,000, we have the money to do that," Rice said during a special meeting about the regional water system. "That's not a problem."
Rice said the city can use its reserve water fund to pay the fee needed to join Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water Authority.
The City Council held the meeting at the urging of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, which wants the council to reconsider an earlier decision not to participate in the project.
If Havre joins the project, it still would have to find a way to cover its share of the construction cost, estimated in 1997 at $34 million just for Havre. The federal authorization for the $229 million project does not include Havre.
Rice made no recommendation to the City Council on whether the city should join the water project. The City Council took no action Monday night.
The system will treat water from Lake Elwell at Tiber Dam and pipe it to Rocky Boy and to water systems in an area from the Sweet Grass Hills to Dutton, east to Loma and to the region north of Havre. The system will provide treated water at wholesale prices to the water districts, which will then distribute and sell it to their customers.
Havre opted out of joining the water authority in 1998, Bear Paw Development Corp. deputy director Annmarie Robinson said during Monday's meeting.
Havre Mayor Phyllis Leonard sent a letter to the project's coordinating committee on Dec. 22, 1997, saying the city declined to pay a $1-per-hookup initial fee, an additional $6-per-hookup fee and other possible annual assessments as the project moved forward. The city decided to move forward with needed upgrades to its water treatment plant instead of waiting for connection to the regional system at an uncertain date, the letter said.
Robinson made a presentation to the council Monday about the system. She said a deadline to give final notice about which communities will be in the system is fast approaching. The deadline had been set for October to coincide with the federal fiscal year, she said, but communities may have until November to decide.
The regional water authority has requested a $15 million federal appropriation to design the intake system and treatment plant at Lake Elwell and start construction. The number of users has to be known before the design can start, she said.
The U.S. House did not add the appropriation to President Bush's proposed budget, despite several attempts by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., she said. There is still hope the appropriation can be added in the Senate once Congress reconvenes, Robinson said.
Robinson said she expects that Congress will fund the project, although how much it receives at a time is in Until next week the plant can be found behind M&M Salvage, along the railroad, where it will remain until Turner can show it to members of the Hill County Weed Board.
In New Mexico and other regions of the Southwest, saltcedar has spread to the point where it cannot be eradicated, affecting the state's already waning water supply. In Montana, the shrub is considered a category two weed, meaning it has been introduced and has a chance of spreading. A category one weed is an established weed, and a category three weed is one that has not yet entered Montana.
Dave Burch, noxious weed coordinator for the state Department of Agriculture, estimates that there are now 10,000 to 15,000 acres of saltcedar in the state of Montana, most of which are found along the Big Horn, Yellowstone and Musselshell rivers.
"In Montana, ours are a smaller plant. In New Mexico, they have gotten to be the size of cottonwood," he said. The efforts of the noxious weed coordinators are focused on limiting the spread of category two weeds and keeping sharp watch on category three weeds, those that have not yet entered the state.
In western Montana, saltcedar was introduced as an ornamental plant. Now it can no longer be sold in nurseries, a big step in stopping its spread. The shrub found Saturday is estimated to be 2 to 3 years old.
The State Weed List contains 27 plants, 23 of which can be found in the state of Montana. One way to stem their spread is through the Noxious Weed Seed-Free Forage Program. The county weed coordinators send out inspectors to inspect and certify hayfields that do not contain any noxious weeds or their seeds. Certified hay is then wrapped in a specially produced orange and blue twine. But there is no way to guarantee that people buy certified hay.
"Hill County does have a few local producers" of certified hay, Turner said.
Certification costs $1.50 per acre, with a minimum total charge of $15. Certified hay can be sold at a premium price of an additional $1 to $5 a ton, Turner said.
Many people buy uncertified hay from Canada, where the dollar has more buying power, Turner said.
Even more "scary," Burch said, is hay coming from Idaho. Idaho has been found to harbor the noxious weed yellow starthistle, a plant that is poisonous to horses and that has been not yet been found in Montana. Another weed to fear is the rush skeletonweed, a plant that goes to seed 14 days after appearing. This is another weed found in Idaho and in Montana, though not yet in Hill County. The weed is often carried in by boat, and is found near fishing access sites. Montana has set up a task force to find and eliminate this weed, the cost of which has now reached $40,000.