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Region in brief

State considers grain elevatorThe Montana Board of Environmental Review is expected to decide Friday whether to send back for further analysis an air quality permit that would allow a high-speed gain elevator to be build close to Pompeys Pillar National Monument.

Last month, hearings officer Kelly O’Sullivan concluded the Montana Department of Environmental Quality failed to adequately consider the effects of a proposed grain-loading operation near the national monument, 28 miles east of Billings along the Yellowstone River.

O’Sullivan’s findings and recommendations will be considered by BER, which can endorse or reject them.

BER’s meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the Metcalf Building, Conference Room 111, 1520 East Sixth Avenue, Helena.

O’Sullivan said an environmental impact statement, not just an environmental assessment, is needed to properly measure the effects of permitting the grain-loading facility next to the national landmark. She said the DEQ acted arbitrarily and capriciously by issuing the air-quality permit that United Harvest LLC needed for building the loading facility.

United Harvest’s facility, a joint project of United Grain Corp. and Cenex Harvest States Corp., would enable 110-unit car trains to be loaded in about 12 hours. While the silos would be three-fourths of a mile south of the pillar, the boundaries of the monument site and United Harvest property are just 340 feet apart.

The Pompeys Pillar Historical Association appealed the permit raising concerns about visual, aesthetic and environmental effects of the project, including increased traffic and noise.Senate brings $50 million to stateThe U.S. Senate Thursday passed the Interior Appropriations bill, which contains more than $50 million for Montana.

The bill, H.R. 2271, was approved by unanimous consent and is for fiscal year 2002.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., a ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said money for Montana covers a wide spectrum from conservation to infrastructure in Montana.

“This bill holds a lot of good investment in our state,” Burns said.

Burns opposed the Durbin Amendment, which was added to the bill. The amendment will block oil and gas exploration on national monuments. Burns said the amendment would hurt jobs and energy in Montana.

The Interior bill now returns to the House for reconciliation. The bill is one of 13 spending bills that Congress adopts every year.

Some of the Montana projects include: $2.9 million for a visitor center at Pompeys Pillar National Monument near Billings; $2.5 million for a visitors center at Fort Benton; $2.3 million for an Indian memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield; $2 million for the Rocky Mountain Technology Foundation to expand its health care and educational programs; $2 million to establish and Electrochemical Energy Conservation Center at Montana State University-Bozeman’s Engineering Department; $1.2 million to study wetlands filtration methods in the treatment of water associated with coalbed methane production; $1.2 million for brucellosis monitoring in Yellowstone National Park; $1 million for Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge to acquire Taylor’s Ridge in cooperation with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; $1 million for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem project in the Gallatin National Forest; and $950,000 for continuation of the Native Coldwater Fisheries’ whirling disease research program, which is affiliated with MSU-Bozeman. Heavy rains wash out roadMISSOULA — A thunderstorm rolling from the southern Bitterroot Valley to the Seeley Lake area dumped hefty loads of rain and damaged one road south of Darby on Sunday afternoon.

The North Fork of Rye Creek Road suffered washout damage at a bridge where it crosses Rye Creek, according to Jim Leverton in the Bitterroot National Forest dispatchers office. The storm dumped between 0.4 inches at the Deer Mount ain Lookout west of Darby to 0.9 inches at the West Fork Ranger Station south of Darby. Areas in the storm’s path picked up around an inch of moisture per hour.

The storm prompted a flash flood warning from the U.S. Weather Service about 4 p.m. Sunday. The same area received a flash flood watch alert last week for a similar storm, although no damage was reported. A watch is less severe than a warning.

Leverton said several people lived above the washout on the Rye Creek Road, and that Ravalli County sheriff’s deputies were assessing the trouble. The road was still passable Sunday evening, but would need repairs soon to protect the bridge.

While the storm produced quite a bit of lightning, fire lookouts in the Bitterroot National Forest reported no new smoke or flames as of Sunday evening. Leverton said given the amount of rain that came with the storm, it’ s possible that a lightning-caused fire might smolder for a day or two before drying out enough to become visible.Doctor celebrates birthday in mountainsBOZEMAN — For the last 14 years, Bozeman physician Ralph Berry has celebrated his birthday with a hike to Sacajawea Peak for a sunrise breakfast in the Bridger Mountains.

And turning 80 wasn’t about to change the tradition.

Berry, with his walking stick in hand and backpack over his shoulders, reached the 9,665-foot summit of Sacajawea Peak early Saturday as his friends burst into a chorus of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

“I normally did it on my birthday,” said Berry, the former director of the Montana State University Health Center, whose birthday is July 17. “But to get the group together, you can’t do it on a Tuesday.”

Fourteen people woke up at 3 a.m. to join Berry for the hike and elaborate mountaintop breakfast of French toast, biscotti, strawberries with Grand Marnier sauce and coffee.

Berry, a Philadelphia native who moved to Montana 30 years ago, said he has loved to hike since early childhood. He and his two bird dogs hike almost every day of the week — weather permitting.Sheep producers to meetMILES CITY — A national sheep producers organization is planning a show and sale in Columbus.

The U.S. Targhee Sheep Association is holding its 2001 National Show and Sale, sponsored by the Montana Targhee Sheep Association.

Events begin Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Stillwater Mining Company, and include a county weed board tour, a river raft trip and a barbecue sponsored by the Stillwater County Chamber of Commerce.

Sifting of sheep begins Thursday morning, with on-the-hoof wool judging scheduled for that afternoon. The national show begins Friday, with the annual meeting at 3 p.m. and a banquet and benefit auction at 7 p.m.

The national sale is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.mMeeting planned in Wolf PointHELENA — The Montana State Organic Certification Advisory Committee is planning to host its second meeting Friday in Wolf Point.

Spokesman Keith Lutnes said the newly formed committee is charged with gathering opinions from across Montana to draft an organic program for the state. Lutnes said the program would offer a production option to farmers, processors and handlers.

The committee held its first meeting in late June in Great Falls, and Lutnes said the draft program is already taking form. Because the plan will ultimately affect many parts of the production process, the committee is seeking suggestions from the public as well, officials said.

The committee includes producer representatives from around the state, as well as farmers, retailers, inspectors and others.

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