Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Two bills directly affecting north-central Montana are working their way through the state House of Representatives after passing the Senate. The bills, sponsored by Sen. Ken “Kim” Hansen, D-Harlem, address the widening of U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes and finding funding to rebuild the St. Mary Diversion that supplies much of the water in the Milk River each year. Hansen said he is hopeful both will pass out of committee soon. “I just can’t believe it would go down,” Hansen said about the Highway 2 bill in a telephone interview Monday. That bill removes stipulations put into the original bill directing the state Department of Transportation to widen U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes across Montana. In 2001, Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, R-Glasgow, sponsored the bill with the intent of increasing the safety on the narrow two-lane highway and increasing the economic impact of the transportation route. In negotiations with other legislators and the Department of Transportation, Kitzenberg agreed to amendments that included requiring the state to find special federal funding for the bill with no state money to be expended. The amendments required that the Highway 2 funding could not impact any other state highway projects. Hansen’s bill removes those stipulations. “All I want is Highway 2 to be on the same playing field as any other highway in the state of Montana,” he said. Hansen said the special requirements actually make it more difficult to work on the highway. The first proposed project, studying the impact of widening the highway between Havre and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, failed to meet the requirements. That project is planned to be for a “super-two,” a highway with wider shoulders and lanes and intermittent passing and turning lanes. The first four-lane project for Highway 2 is under way, a plan to widen the highway from the North Dakota border to Culbertson, improving the Teddy Roosevelt Expressway that comes from Canada and cuts east across Highway 2 before turning south. Hansen said the special requirements hurt the chance to widen the highway. “It segregates us out,” he said. “We are not on the same footing as any other highway in the state,” Hansen’s bill passed out of the Senate 28-22, and Hansen said he expects the bill to pass out of the House Transportation Committee any day he expected it to be voted on Monday, although there was no record of a vote on the bill this morning. Hansen said when the bill was heard in committee in the House, two proponents spoke for it MDT Director Jim Lynch and Highway 2 Association President Bob Sivertsen and no one spoke against it. “When I delivered it over on the House side, absolutely nobody opposed it,” Hansen added. The other bill grants the creation of a water authority that could find its own funding to help with projects like the rehabilitation of the St. Mary Diversion. “What it will do is give us the authority to go after bonding, (give us) bonding authority,” Hansen said. The diversion, a 29-mile system of dikes, canals and siphons on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation just east of Glacier National Park, transfers water from the St. Mary River to the North Fork of the Milk River. The river flows into Canada before returning to Montana, where it supplies irrigators, people looking for recreation and also cities including Havre, Chinook and Harlem with water. Parts of the system are more than 100 years old. Under the original authorization of the project, the costs of repairing it are assessed to the irrigators. Hansen said if the system failed, the Bureau of Reclamation would come in and fix it, but would charge the irrigators. “They would assess the irrigators the next year and it would be disastrous,” he said. He said that even with the congressional authorization of the repair project, the local users need to come up with a 25 percent match about $38 million. “This is an easy way for everybody to be involved and to do this,” he said. The bill was scheduled to be heard in committee today, and Hansen said he is confident it will pass out of the House committee. “It came flying out of the Senate,” he said, adding that it passed on a 49-0 vote.