On March 2, I along with the other members of St. Mary’s Rehabilitation Working Group, met in Chinook with Montanans from all across the Hi-Line to hear their concerns, to hear their frustrations, and to discuss where we are at currently with our progress on the rehabilitation of the St. Mary’s river diversion and conveyance system.
In our meeting we spoke with farmers, ranchers and folks whose lives and businesses are directly connected to the water from St. Mary’s River. In attendance was Blaine County Commissioner Dolores Plumage, she voiced to us her frustrations with the lack of progress in the rehabilitation of St. Mary’s.
I know that she is not alone in her frustrations with the lack of progress and the lack of funds; this is a serious matter to many in our state.
As you may know, in 2007, Sen. Max Baucus secured $153 million dollars in authorized funds, with a cost-share of 75 percent from federal and 25 percent non-federal in the Water Resources Development Act for the SMRWG. Unfortunately, there were no matching appropriations from the U.S. House of Representatives. Without federal and non-federal funds, the cost and responsibility would be on the people who use the water. However, despite this set back, the 2005 Montana Legislature gave the SMRWG $10 million in bonding authority to use towards the non-federal cost-share in the rehabilitation of the St. Mary’s River.
As Montana’s lieutenant governor, I was chosen by the governor to chair the working group, to state the administration’s support to finding solutions for an issue that affects 14,000 people and 660 farms. I am writing you today to reaffirm our commitment to the people of the Hi-Line, to work with our neighbors and our congressional delegation, to do all we can, because inaction would lead to catastrophic consequences both economically and agriculturally.
(John Bohlinger is lieutenant governor of Montana.)