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ExxonMobil on Tuesday gave $51,000 to the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department for a new boat.

Dale Getz, ExxonMobil’s community relations manager for the cleanup of the oil spill into the Yellowstone River on July 1, announced the gift during the county commission’s meeting, saying the company wanted to ensure that the sheriff’s department had the right equipment to respond to emergencies.

Getz commended the sheriff’s department for its professional response to the pipeline break, which spilled about 1,200 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone near Laurel.

Sheriff’s deputies assisted ExxonMobil with traffic control in the weeks after the spill, but the department’s jet boat was unavailable because it was under repair, Sheriff Mike Linder said.

The department has had to borrow boats for rescues during recent floods and for searches, Linder said. About 80 miles of the river flow through the county.

Linder said that while he was out with two ExxonMobil security officials for traffic control, he talked about the department’s rescue operations and how it needed a backup boat.

“Today was kind of a surprise,” Linder said after the presentation. “This will definitely enhance our abilities.”

The department is buying a cargo jet boat capable of hauling equipment, like a four-wheeler, Linder said. ExxonMobil is using its own cargo jet boat in its cleanup work, he said.

The new boat will be ready this fall, Linder said.

The commissioners also got an update on the oil spill cleanup from Duane Winslow, the county’s disaster and emergency services director.

A major decision, Winslow said, will be “where the end point is” for the cleanup.

The company has 1,015 people, including 897 contracted workers, working on the river, Winslow said. Thirty percent of the workers are Montanans, he said.

Air, water and soil sampling so far have shown no impact from the spill, Winslow said.

Getz said ExxonMobil will open a community outreach office at 2345 King Ave. W. later this week or early next week. The company will have information available about the spill and cleanup and help for people making claims.

ExxonMobil will staff the office “until the job is done,” he said.

In other business, MetraPark General Manager Bill Dutcher said an emergency response plan is in place for Friday’s opening of MontanaFair, which will run through Aug. 20.

MetraPark officials met Monday with state and local fire marshals and others to review an emergency response plan in case of a storm or other disaster, Dutcher said. A tornado in June 2010 severely damaged the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.

The carnival operator also has a protocol for addressing potentially dangerous situations, like strong winds that may call for rides to shut down, Dutcher said.

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Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.

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