MTPR

Nicky Ouellet

Flathead Valley Reporter

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter. Nicky returns to the Flathead Valley after wrapping up her graduate studies at the University of Montana's environmental science journalism program.

603-568-6155 or 406-730-2264

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Lake County Sheriff Don Bell.
Courtesy Lake County Sheriff's Department

The jail in Lake County is so overcrowded that there are more than 800 people on a waiting list to serve. The Lake County Sheriff’s Department is trying something new to deal with a shortage of cells.

Online voter registration is no longer available for the May 25 special election, but voters can register in person at local county election offices.
Eric Whitney

With less than a month left until Montana’s special election to replace former Representative Ryan Zinke, some voters are casting their ballots early.

Fire experts are predicting a slower than normal start to wildfire season in Montana this year, but by July and August the potential jumps up to normal, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho.

Fire experts are predicting a slower-than-normal start to wildfire season in Montana this year, according to a Northern Rockies fire season outlook released Monday afternoon.

Night sky over Logan Pass in Glacier National park.
National Park Service/Jacob W. Frank

Most visitors go to Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park for the vistas and wildlife watching they can do during the day, but today, the pair of parks were recognized together for their exceptionally dark night skies.

Lee Rademaker says one of the best parts of his job is hearing people see the Milky Way for the first time.

The Roaring Lion Fire near Hamilton on August 1, 2016
Inciweb

For Flathead Valley resident Charlotte Chrisman, wildfire on her private land is not a question of if, but when.

"It's like, you know, have you hit a deer? Well not yet," Chrisman says.

Outside of th CFAC Superfund Site in Columbia Falls.
Nicky Ouellet

Shannon Stringer has an opinion that’s not entirely popular in Columbia Falls.

“I do. I've gotten into heated discussions with other people in the community, including fellow co-workers, that are totally opposite,” he said.

Stringer thinks it’s a good thing that the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Company was listed as a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency last September.

Glacier National Park entrance sign.
Flickr user photommo (CC-BY-ND)

A company proposing to develop a new campground just outside Glacier National Park’s western entrance is facing opposition from the park, some local residents and agencies.

The company Glacier Park, Inc, plans to build a campground with 25 rental cabins and 102 recreational vehicle spaces near the village of West Glacier. GPI says it will also build a new water and sewer system for the development.

An undated image from Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Co-op page
Flathead Lake Cherry Growers

With the Trump administration working toward tougher enforcement of America’s immigration laws, some cherry farmers in Montana wondering what that may mean for this year’s harvest.

There are some 6oo to 800 acres of cherry orchards on the eastern shore of Flathead Lake. Marilyn Bowman owns one of the biggest and oldest. Each year is different, she says. 

Bringing bison back to the Blackfeet Reservation and their historic range on land that now belongs to the U.S. Forest Service, like the Badger-Two Medicine and Chief Mountain, is a vision eight years in the making.
(PD)

Last fall, the Blackfeet Tribe announced plans to reintroduce free-roaming bison to federal land outside its reservation. On Wednesday, the tribe met with state and federal agencies for the third time this year to hash out what that would look like.

A firefighter on the Bierny Creek Fire near Lakeside, MT.
Patrick Record/Inciweb

Larry Anderson arrived early for a meeting last Friday morning at the Flathead National Forest supervisor’s office in Kalispell. It was unseasonably sunny and warm outside, but he’d spend the next three hours listening to presentations in a conference room because of something that happened last summer.

Last year's Copper King fire burned more than 27,000 acres outside Thompson Falls
Inciweb

Fire season is, for many people, a single season. But a team of resource managers and homeowners in the Flathead Valley is trying to change that.

FireSafe Flathead is a group of firefighters, emergency planners, state and federal resource managers, and homeowner association members who meet monthly to plan a more proactive, community-based response to the threat of wildfire.

Jim Elser, director of the Flathead Biological Research Station, answers questions at a public meeting on aquatic invasive mussels.
Nicky Ouellet

Zebra and quagga mussels are aquatic invasive species, quick to colonize and very difficult to get rid of. They’ve caused millions of dollars of damage since they started popping up in Great Lake states in the 1980s, and they have a lot of people in the Flathead Valley concerned right now.

More than a dozen Fort Peck tribal members and veterans plan to traverse nearly 100 miles across the reservation to raise awareness about the potential dangers of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Courtesy Marina Starr

Hours before the Trump administration issued permits to resurrect the Keystone XL pipeline Friday morning a group on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana set out on a prayer walk to protest the pipeline.

The Environmental Protection Agency designated the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Company as an official Superfund site in September 2016.
Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

The company responsible for cleanup at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company Superfund site released results of their site evaluation on Thursday. 

The evaluation confirms that groundwater beneath the former aluminum smelter facility has elevated levels of cyanide, fluoride and other contaminants, leached from legacy landfills used from 1955 until 1980. The studies also indicate that the contamination is not moving toward wells used for drinking water in nearby neighborhoods.

Belinda Bullshoe says her Blackfeet tradition and culture guide her designs.
Nicky Ouellet

On a normal weekend, the inside of the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls is a cacophony of referees whistles, sneaker squeaks and raving basketball fans. But this past weekend it transformed to house the annual Great Western Living and Design Show. Instead of high school pep bands, old-timey western music plays over loudspeakers. The room smells like leather softener and wood. At the far end of the arena — past booths of silver and turquoise jewelry, paintings of horses and aspens, and vests made of the softest furs — a woman with a long, black ponytail sells blankets and bed sheets in iconic, geometric Pendleton designs. Then she pulls dresses out of a garment sheet. One after another, her colorful designs draw stares from ambling shoppers.

This is Belinda Bullshoe. She recently showed her dresses at New York Fashion Week, and may be the first Native American designer to do so. I pull up a chair, and she tells me her story:

Sen. Tester hears constituent concerns at Helena town hall, March 17, 2017.
Nicky Ouellet

Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester was in Helena Friday afternoon for an in-person town hall. You can listen to the full meeting at the bottom of this post.

Tester spoke for a little over an hour to a friendly crowd of 200 people at Helena Middle School. Town halls nationwide have become confrontational events for many members of Congress. Recently, Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines has taken heat for not meeting face-to-face with constituents back home. He hosted a so-called “tele-town hall” two weeks ago, which he says allows him to interact with more Montanans because people don't have to travel to participate in them.

Pastor Shahram Hadian addresses a packed house at an event in Kalispell hosted by ACT for America's Flathead County Chapter
Nicky Ouellet

A Kalispell Republican club says it wants to hear from an organization that some on the left say engages in hate speech. The Glacier Country Pachyderm Club is a Republican education group. Recently, it has invited speakers like local legislators, law enforcement officials and real estate agents to address its weekly meetings.

Rob Quist speaks during a campaign event in Whitefish, MT March 13, 2017.
Nicky Ouellet

Candidates for the upcoming special election to fill Montana’s lone house seat have hit the campaign trail. Democratic candidate Rob Quist held a campaign kickoff in Whitefish Monday night.

Casey’s Bar and Grill in downtown Whitefish is usually a weekend night club, but on Monday night, more than 100 people fill the dance floor to hear hometown candidate Quist at an event hosted by the Flathead Democratic Party.

People from across Montana came to the state basketball tournamnet in Great Falls, we asked some for their thoughts on the upcoming election
Nicky Ouellet

As of today there are 76 days until the special election that will choose a replacement for former Montana Representative Ryan Zinke’s House seat. It will be a quick campaign for Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist, one that political junkies say will rely heavily on name recognition.

To get a sense of what Montanans from across the state are thinking about the election, I went to the State Class Double-A basketball tournament in Great Falls.

If you happened to be looking at the Whitefish Lake web cam last night, you may have seen a patch of red in the fading sunlight from the Whitefish Big Sky Rising First International Women’s Day celebration.

(PD)

Health officials in the Flathead Valley are reporting that in January, five long-term care and assisted living facilities experienced an outbreak of influenza or norovirus. The Flathead City-County Health Department worked with all five facilities following the outbreaks, and says none broke any health regulations.

Joining us now is Katheryn Houghton, the local newspaper reporter who broke the story.

Racers sprint out the gate at the start of the women's snowshoe race.
Nicky Ouellet

Special Olympians arrived at Whitefish Mountain Resort Sunday for the 22nd annual State Winter Games, which wrapped up today.

The crowd of spectators is deafening as racers in the 50-meter snowshoeing event sprint up the slight incline of the Bunny Hill. Half of the slope has been transformed into a track, with lanes lined in blue dye on the soft white snow.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines announced Monday that he will hold a “teletownhall” this coming Wednesday, March 8, at 6:15 pm. He will take questions live from listeners.

To join the call, text “SenatorDaines” as one word to 82-82-82, or call one of Daines’ local offices:

Washington, DC: (202) 224-2651

Great Falls: 453-0148

Bozeman: 587-3446

Kalispell: 257-3765

Hardin: 665-4126

Billings: 245-6822

Helena: 443-3189

Missoula: 549-8198

Sidney: 482-9010

Crews in Whitefish dig at the site where the city water main burst Monday morning on Baker Avenue.
Nicky Ouellet

Crews in Whitefish have already fixed a water main burst that left many homes and businesses without water Monday morning, but public works managers say road repairs will likely last into summer.

A leaky gasket, paired with a freeze-thaw pattern Sunday night, caused the burst, which Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman called "catastrophic."

Crews in Whitefish dig at the site where the city water main burst Monday morning on Baker Avenue.
Nicky Ouellet

Fifty homes are still without water after a catastrophic burst to the City of Whitefish's water main this morning. Parts of Baker Avenue south of downtown remain closed after crews dug up the street to isolate the leak.

Lucas Grossi helps Odi Pierce into the cat at Great Northern Powder Guides in Olney. Pierce is one of seven extreme adaptive athletes participating in DREAM Adaptive's backcountry powder camp this year.
Nicky Ouellet

It's peak ski season, and as every powder hound knows, the right equipment is everything on the slopes.

"He had a hole in his liner where he was losing suction and his leg was falling off," says Lucas Grossi, volunteer coordinator for DREAM Adaptive Recreation's backcountry powder camp.

And yeah, he said his leg keeps falling off.

Montana Republican Party
Montana Republican Party

The state legislative session is now more than third of the way finished. At a Republican Party gathering in Kalispell Friday, about 30 party members said they're generally happy with how it's going, as Republicans hold majorities in both the state House and Senate.

The Glacier Country Pachyderm Club spoke with five Flathead Valley Republican legislators on Skype for almost an hour Friday to hear updates on their bills.

A group founded by a state representative claimed on social media that he was threatened during a committee hearing at the Capitol Monday. But others at the same hearing say they heard no threats.

Citizens for Balanced Use posted on Facebook Monday night that Representative Kerry White, a Bozeman Republican, was threatened by environmentalists during a public comment period on a resolution he proposed.

Brad Van Wert, also known as Solar Guy, gives a speech at a brewery in Kalispell, Montana earlier this month.
Nicky Ouellet

If you ever go on Facebook, you may have noticed a new face popping up in your newsfeed. Solar Guy, or Brad Van Wert, is the face of Charge Montana, a coalition of renewable energy advocates, to get Montanans excited about solar energy, and more specifically, legislation that affects the cost of electricity.

Glacier National Park Entrance At St. Mary
Flicker user GlacierNPS (CC-BY-2.0)

The National Park Service learned yesterday that seasonal employees for the agency have been deemed exempt from a federal hiring freeze. 

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