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Regional resilience summit meeting held

 

August 14, 2018



Montana Department of Commerce held a regional resilience summit meeting Monday in Havre to discuss what the area’s largest threats are and possible solutions.

More than 20 people from local communities including Havre, Rocky Boy’s Indian Resrvation and Chinook showed up for the two-hour meeting in the Havre-Hill County Library.

The meeting was part of the Montana Department of Commerce’s Montana Ready Communities Initiative, “a program to help individuals, communities and businesses to survive, adapt and grow in the face of challenges and barriers,” the Department of Commerce’s webpage on community development says. The approach is meant to create long-term resilience in the states communities and align projects and priorities across state agencies.

Havre was the eighth stop in the 19 planned summit meetings, said Americorp Vista member Blake Sexton.

He said the meetings are being held to gain local insight into major changes in Havre’s economy and environment and to identify current resources and identify stressors and shocks. Sexton added that the goal is to create resilient communities around the state.

Community stressors are what weaken the fabric of a community such as poverty, economy, environmental issues and social activity, Sexton said, while shocks are usually individual events that magnify the community’s stressors creating a high impact such as natural disasters or an economic crash.

Sexton said the group’s goal of community resilience is based on the definition of resilience on the Rockefeller Foundation.

“Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it,” he quoted from the foundation.

During the meeting people in attendance identified by vote local major stressors. The top six were aging infrastructure, drug use, mental health issues, affordable housing, public transportation and poverty. The group agreed that the main hurdle to overcoming these issues is a lack of funding.

The largest recent shocks to the community were severe winter weather, drought, wildfires, flooding, business closures and failing infrastructure, the group agreed.

The topic of the new Burger King and other businesses in Havre was brought up and discussed. One of the issues the community is facing, audience members agreed, is that the community has many entry-level jobs but is unable to fill them due to a variety of reasons including a lack of public transportation between communities.

Audience member G. Bruce Meyers, Republican candidate for Montana House District 32 who will be facing off against Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, in the November election, proposed transportation be set up between Havre and Rocky Boy to provide jobs for the reservation.

He added that the reservation struggles with having no infrastructure in Rocky Boy and tourism attractions for Rocky Boy or Native culture are not utilized as an economic resource.

Meyers said both communities of Rocky Boy and Hill County need to come together to discuss the racial divide between the two, adding that there is a lot of resentment on both sides. He said in order for the communities to do well economically, financially, the communities will have to work together.

Some people at the meeting discussed the transportation available between Havre and both Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations through their transit systems and North Central Montana Transit, and that the systems need to be expanded and improved.

The audience discussed that housing prices are rising but wages are not, in addition to not having many developments or lots available for housing. The region also has large decayed, abandoned, structures standing all over the area that can’t be developed because owners don’t want to spend the money to have to tear the structure down.

During the meeting the audience was broken up into smaller groups to discuss further the topics such as watershed, infrastructure, health and social issues, and economy.

Watershed

Kristi Kline’s group looked at the watershed. She said the shocks that the group discussed were the extreme weather conditions, wildfires, drought and flooding; with the stressors being lack of funding, an aging flood infrastructure and businesses leaving.

“If you have those shocks on a water system the entire community will lose because the water quality is lost,” she said, adding that it will also cause businesses to leave.

She said the local leaders, such as the local municipalities, constantly regulate and monitor water quality to meet with EPA standards, which must be maintained at all times, as well as monitoring the supply and planning for the future.

Kline added that the issues that need improvement are communication techniques and to access more funding for improvements to infrastructure.

Infrastructure

The group discussing infrastructure said the shocks and stressors there ripple throughout the communities’ funding, population and lack of affordable housing as well as other items.

The community leader are working on improving and fixing the problems through local, reservation and state, the group said, but need to apply for and receive funding.

The group added that agencies are established but have no funding.

The group encouraged tax breaks be established to stimulate and encourage businesses to grow.

Health and social issues

Rocky Boy diabetes educator Laurie Harvey’s group discussed health and social issues facing the communities. She said some of the stressors they agreed on were drug use, lack of mental health care facilities and providers, public transportation and funding of health care, along the shocks of extreme weather and communicable diseases.

Harvey said that last winter patients did not have access to safe transportation and were unable to receive health care or receive medication. She added that some patients were in drug recovery and could not receive medications that were needed and risked a relapse.

She said that all of the problems, stressors and shocks are all cyclical.

Harvey said her group believed these issues have not been appropriately addressed by local, state or federal leaders.

The group also believed that there is competition between health providers rather than a collaboration, which poses a problem for communities.

“We’re just not working together, I think, for solutions in that particular area,” Harvey said.

The gaps for improvement, the group agreed, are communication and funding, as well as education, she said.

Think earlier, Harvey said, and promote preventative health care.

Economy

The group that discussed the economy said the shocks and stressors were everything previously listed, such as aging infrastructure and the difficulty recruiting and retaining a workforce. With fewer people, less money is being spent in the local economy, which makes housing more expensive and ripples out across the state, the group said.

The local community leaders working to address these need to do more to promote education and higher education. High schools are promoting workforce training, the group said.

They also agreed local businesses should buy locally to keep the money in the local economy, such as the crops and beef being farmed or ranched in the area not being utilized in the communities and that trained professionals graduating from Montana State University-Northern should be hired locally.

The region should do more to facilitate companies, such as manufacturers, to open plants in town to utilize a trained workforce, they said, adding that transportation is another topic that affects the desirability of a community, they said.

Americorp Vista member Betsy Miller said the information learned in these summit meetings and the online surveys will be analyzed to find the biggest stressors and shocks in communities across Montana. Each input will be assessed and considered, she added, with the data available either at the end of this year or early next year for the community to review.

Miller said this is done to help communities come together to make a plan of action and fix the problems they see with state or federal aid.

For more information or to fill out the surveys visit http://comdev.mt.gov/Programs/MontanaReadyCommunities/.

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Source: Rockefeller Foundation definition of resilience http://www.resiliencetools.org/node/14/.

 

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