By Ron VandenBoom
Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, said in a telephone conversation Wednesday that he will not push to have an amendment added to Sen. Sam Kitzenberg's four-lane highway bill (SB 3) that is currently awaiting a hearing in the Montana House of Representatives.
Jergeson made the comment after accepting the interpretation of Greg Petesch, code commissioner for the Montana Legislative Service Division, that language in SB 3 would not jeopardize any currently scheduled Highway 2 improvement projects.
"If that's how everybody says they are reading it then I guess I will not insist on the amendment," Jergeson said. "At least now we have a document in writing from the legal counsel of the legislature that we can fall back on."
But he made it clear he is still concerned about the bill's language.
Jergeson had proposed to amend the Kitzenberg bill because he felt its language could, after the bill was passed, be used to halt all currently scheduled improvement projects to Highway 2 while funding was sought from the Federal Government for a four-lane highway.
"The only reason that I wanted to get the amendment was so we didn't lose any money on construction," Jergeson said.
There are currently 140 miles of Highway 2 improvement projects scheduled to begin within the next five years. The projects include a widening of about 40 miles of highway in Jergeson's district between Harlem and Havre as well as about 15 miles of highway on either side of Chester.
Jergeson's proposed amendment was widely criticized by supporters of the Kitzenberg bill, and by Kitzenberg himself, who saw it as an unnecessary action that could jeopardize passage of the bill or at best only serve to inspire doubt in the bill and delay its passage.
Kitzenberg answered Jergeson's fears by sending SB 3 to Petesch for an interpretation.
Jergeson said there was never any doubt that he supported the concept of a four-lane highway and voted for passage of the bill when it came up in the Senate.
He said he doesn't understand why people would say he was against the project or that he has some kind of political agenda.
"This is my last term in the Senate before I'm term-limited out," he said "That's the end of politics for me."
He did suggest however that their may be people in Havre that do have a political agenda and could benefit by making him appear as though he's against the project.
Jergeson did not say who those people might be.