Our readers speak out
Breaks visitors don't pay taxes I see in the Oct. 8 editorial that The Gazette has taken Rep. Rehberg to task for wanting to help the ranchers inside the Clinton monument. Just how will this tourist attraction and backpackers' paradise benefit the locals as the editorial suggests? Those visitors that The Gazette pictured pay little or no state tax and mainly travel in motor homes, carry their own food and want dumping stations. We need this? It would be interesting to know what percentage of Montanans have traversed that stretch of river known as the monument or even the CMR in depth or the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Has The Gazette editor? And now The Gazette wants the chance to use private land to make it (the monument) bigger?
Howard Pippin Saco
Congress should reject Rehberg's bill Once again Rep. Dennis Rehberg has introduced legislation to redraw the boundaries of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument in the name of private property rights.
The private property in question was surrounded by federal land prior to the monument designation, and it will remain surrounded by federal land regardless of the location of the monument boundaries. Either way, the private property will be bordered by a national monument or federal (BLM) land. The Antiquities Act of 1906 (the act authorizing the creation of national monuments by presidential proclamation) does not affect the rights of private property in-holdings in national monuments. So how does Rehberg's bogus legislation, H.R. 1629, protect private property rights? It doesn't. All it does is shrink the boundaries of a magnificent national monument - boundaries that were drawn to include and protect biological, ecological, recreational, historical and archaeological resources. By some accounts, the private property within the monument may even increase in value because of the designation, and analysis shows that 88 percent of Montanans and 98 percent of citizens from across the country support the monument.
The last time Rehberg introduced this legislation, Congress was wise enough to not act on the bill. Let's hope Congress has the good sense to do the same this time and move on to more pressing matters.
Margaret Webster Billings
Rehberg defends private landowners Not surprisingly, the liberal-lipped editorial staff of The Gazette has once again assailed the legislation (H.R. 1629) introduced by Rep. Denny Rehberg to remove the 81,000 acres of private land from the Breaks monument. The bleating is so loud one would think the entire monument system was about to be unraveled. Naturally, this hysteria is unfounded. Many monument boundaries have been changed in the past by presidents and Congress without any adverse impacts.
The Gazette acknowledges that the monument rules don't apply to private property. If that's true, then why are some people fighting so hard to keep the private land in the monument. The BLM has stated that these are properties they want to acquire from "willing sellers." That may seem innocuous but look at the 1993 Management Plan for the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River. In that plan, which is being rolled up in the monument plan, you will note in Appendix I that the BLM lists a number of private properties as "Priority Acquisition Interests."
If the government has "priority interest" in something, you can bet they can devise ways to create "willing sellers."
Landowners should have the right to declare whether they want their lands included on some government shopping list and whether their lands should be used to form the outer boundaries of a national designation. The Heggem family has property three to four miles from the canyon walls of the Missouri. This property is not visible from the river, however, this property is included.
The Rehberg bill is not about ranchers versus tourists. It is about protecting property interests of landowners. That is why landowners everywhere need to get behind Rehberg's bill and put an end to the land-grab controversy created by the Clinton administration. Even the Department of the Interior supports this legislation.
Judith Smith Heggem Winifred
Rehberg ought to withdraw Breaks bill I have been canoeing and hunting the Missouri Breaks for years now - one of the grandest landscapes in Montana. I anticipate my vacation time in the Breaks with great excitement. However, Rep. Rehberg's proposed bill (HR 1629) threatens the future of this spectacularly special place and the private property within the monument's boundary.
Without exception, the best change in recent years that has come to the Breaks is its designation as a national monument. This change will mean for me and many other Americans that the Breaks will change little from the public lands we enjoy today.
The current national monument allows the public lands (and only public lands) within the boundary to be managed as a single entity. Rehberg's bill would complicate that management. It would also stifle the ability of private landowners to sell their land to the people of the United States for inclusion in the monument.
Both the people and government must have the freedom to be flexible and resourceful. I fear that Rehberg's bill would do two things: 1) it would strip Americans of the right to sell private property, and 2) it would deprive America of the ability to conserve and protect an immensely important part of America's heritage.
Please write or call Rehberg and ask him to withdraw his ill-considered legislation, HR 1629.
Dave Hadden Bigfork
CMR impinges on private rights I must take exception to the letters and opinion that Rehberg is in the wrong in trying to exclude private land from the Missouri Breaks project. Private landowners do not necessarily have a right of access to their property. If allowed to stay as is, the private landowners could have a huge battle on their hands in the future. I predict the following problems:
1. The BLM will transfer the site to Fish and Wildlife Services (CMR). When this happens, private land becomes a whole new ball game.
2. When road repairs are needed, CMR will refuse to let anyone fix them with the threat of jail if they repair the road.
3. In a few short years, landowners will find the value of their property has dropped - considerably.
Why do I predict this? Well, I've been there, done that. I own 45 acres of lakefront property on Fort Peck Lake. I have owned some of this property since 1946. Until 1978, you could get to my place with any motorized vehicle, motor home, camper, Lincoln, Jaguar, etc. However, in 1976 CMR took over from BLM. In a few short years, the road became nearly impassable. Only four-wheel drive vehicles can now make it to my property. Yes, they threatened me with jail if I fixed the road. So, believe me, Rehberg is on the right track to take private property out of the Missouri Breaks project.
For 12 years I have written to all of the senators and congressmen for justice, but CMR replies with lies and half truths to justify their actions, and nothing gets done. Don't believe you will always have the right to get to your private property - the right doesn't exist. When you are surrounded by CMR, private property rights don't exist. Believe me, I know.
Charles Myers Billings
Northern Plains impedes CBM development The charges by Mark Fix in his Aug. 9 letter stating that coalbed methane operators can overrun private property situated over federal gas rights is utterly outlandish and completely without merit. Fidelity E&P is a subsidiary of MDU which is an in-state company that has been producing and delivering natural gas to its Montana customers since the 1930s. Fidelity is the CBM operating arm of MDU.
When a drilling permit is granted by the Board of Oil and Gas, the operator must notify the surface landowner at least 10 days in advance of the intention to stake a well location on the property. The operator must obtain written permission for access and must negotiate compensation for damages in good faith before entering the property. No water from the well can be discharged off the location without a permit from the state. Easements for pipelines and roads must be negotiated with the surface owner and compensation paid. Fidelity has negotiated and obtained surface agreements from every private property owner in their area of operations.
State laws protect private property owners regardless of the mineral ownership. There is no need for a federal law for the protection of the surface owner. The Northern Plains Resource Council wants the WORC Surface Owners Rights Amendment to the federal energy bill so they will have one more unnecessary law to use to harass and impede CBM developing in Montana. They don't care if it reduces revenues to K-12 schools, county government and further damages our economy. They protect no one.
Tom Keating Billings
Accountability for drunken driving I would hope that the view of Montanans and Americans is not parallel to the views expressed in an Oct. 7 letter to the editor concerning DWI (driving while intoxicated) laws. In this gentleman's letter, it is suggested that DWI laws are passed and their sanctions made more severe only to keep "government employees busy at taxpayers' expense." If that is a fact, then why is it that the government doesn't pass laws outlawing other "preventable acts" as outlined in the letter, such as "inattentive driving, driving while tired," etc., if they feel they need more workload? It is only obvious that the Legislature does not pass these laws and strengthen sanctions to keep busy. It does this to protect the public. In other countries and in the United States, it has been observed that tougher DWI penalties result in a lower rate of DWI-related accidents.
However, the notion that the government is making criminals out of "hardworking people" by punishing them for repeat DWI offenses does not make any sense to me. I would reason that those people are making criminals out of themselves by continually and willfully breaking the law. It is also implied in this letter that government is not making good use of taxpayer dollars by enforcing DWI laws and punishing the offenders thereof. Yet this gentleman proposes that the government and its law enforcers should offer a taxi service to people that are too inebriated to drive themselves home, outrageously suggesting that taxpayers should foot the bill for a transit system for the intoxicated and irresponsible. That doesn't sound to me like good use of taxpayer dollars.
It is the responsibility of the individual to make the right choices when drinking, not the responsibility of the police or government. Their only responsibility in this matter is holding the individual accountable when they make the wrong decision.
Ben Woods Columbus
Support Hein for Billings City Council On Nov. 4, the voters of Ward 5 will have a unique opportunity to elect a new City Council representative. If you want someone who will be fiscally responsible, will act fairly and intelligently in all matters that affect the citizens of Billings, someone who will be attentive to the needs of his Ward 5 constituents, someone who is a fast learner and will have the energy to study and understand the long-term effect of any council action, then you need to vote for Rod Hein.
Most importantly, do you want someone to represent you who advocates an economically strong city with a business friendly atmosphere and who truly cares? Then I urge you to vote for Hein.
I have known and worked with Rod for over 15 years. He is a successful and skilled businessman who, in my experience as a banker, always represented his clients with great care and concern. My only regret is that I do not live in Ward 5 so that I could cast my vote for him in the coming election.
Tim Powers Billings
Nation invests in war, not its people The Oct. 9 Gazette headline said "A change in tactics - downtown panhandlers get more aggressive."
Why should we not be surprised that we are tasting the results of at least three ways in which our nation is going/has gone wrong:
1. Massively decreased funding to mental-health facilities and prescription support which places the mentally ill at greatly increased risk and puts them back out onto the street.
2. A decade (at least) of massive incarceration of persons guilty only of nonviolent (that means "drug-related") crimes which tear them from their families, embitter and criminalize them and return them to society as "felons" in many ways unable to resocialize adequately.
3. Reduction or outright withdrawal of funds from the "safety net" of social agencies which is so cost-effective in providing prevention services. Instead, we now wait until crises occur and then spend many times more for jails and prisons.
It is one of the most ironic facts of history that our "Bible-based" administration is taking away those very components of government which enable us as a society to have "done it unto one of the least of these my brethren" (Matthew 25:40).
This country "under God"(!) shall indeed "inherit the wind" because we choose to invest in war instead of peace, killing instead of healing, alienating instead of building bridges, putting our faith in force instead of love. May God have mercy on our souls!
Edwin L. Stickney Billings
City must control panhandling I would like to respond to the Oct. 9 feature article on the apparent increase of aggressive panhandlers in Billings.
I say "apparent" because the panhandlers - aggressive and not - have always been here; they only seem to have become a problem once they moved north of the railroad tracks. As long as they stayed on the South Side, they weren't bothering anyone (well, other than the South Side residents - but who cares about them?)
Second, the city administration and police seem to be woefully ignorant of the existing law against loitering - specifically, Section 18-701 regarding loitering or prowling.
Finally, until and unless the city government and law enforcement decide to take definitive action - versus the usual meaningless platitudes and lame excuses - the situation is only going to get worse.
We can only hope that the problem is addressed before a particularly aggressive panhandler accosts an armed citizen, who responds to the apparent "threat" by shooting said panhandler. If such a situation arises, I would submit that rather than the citizen being tried for the "crime," it should be the City Council and chief of police for failing to do their jobs.
David Merriman Billings