Jon Tester

Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

To many Columbia Falls residents the full closure of the local aluminum smelter was more a matter of when than if.

That question was answered with certainty this week when Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced that it's permanently shuttering the plant.

Local real estate agent Bill Dakin say this development was a long time coming.

"This announcement, finally, an honest announcement that this plant will never refine aluminum again, is kind of a new day here."

Courtesy photo

Today in Missoula, Senator Steve Daines held the second of three meetings he’s called to talk timber issues. He’ll do the same in Bozeman tomorrow.

The Republican Freshman Senator is calling the meetings “Timber Management Reform Roundtables,” and he’s invited mostly timber industry representatives to give him input on what they need to maintain or grow their operations.

courtesy photo

Yesterday, in a story about attempts to boost revenue for Montana counties that are mostly federal land, Montana Senator Jon Tester made the following statement: 

"Unfortunately, every logging sale in Montana right now is under litigation. Every one of them."

Several listeners questioned that statement, so we asked Senator Tester to respond. 

His communications director Marnee Banks said he is unavailable this week.

Montana's U.S. senators are getting behind a new bill they say will help Montana's most rural counties round-out their budgets.

Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons says communities like his are reeling after Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools Act last fall.

Eric Whitney

Tuesday in Columbia Falls, Senator Steve Daines kicked off a series of three meetings in western Montana that he’s calling “Forest Management Reform Roundtables.”

Around the table were executives from three timber mills, county commissioners from Sanders, Lincoln and Mineral counties, and Montana leaders of The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy,  and the National Parks Conservation Organization.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester has signed-on to a new bill that he says would bring badly-needed financial security to Montana's most rural and timber-dependent counties.

Senator Tester says the "Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes Repair Act" would annually reauthorize Montana's SRS payments for three years at $23 million, the level provided in 2011.

Courtesy photo

Montana’s Senators are back from Washington and gathering input on transportation and timber issues.

Friday Democrat Jon Tester convened several panels in Helena to prepare for when the federal highway bill expires in May. He invited representatives from transportation, Chamber of Commerce and agriculture and construction companies to talk about the importance of good highways and bridges in Montana.

CC-BY-2.0

The acting director of veterans health care in Montana is on the defensive after Senator Jon Tester said the VA health center in Helena is temporarily closing its inpatient mental health unit.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington, Tester said, “staffing levels at the VA in Montana are at the point where it can no longer safely staff the eight bed acute inpatient section of the mental health facility at Ft. Harrison” in Helena.

Johnny Ginnity, acting director at Ft. Harrison says, that doesn’t mean the mental health ward is being closed.

Bell & Jeff (CC-BY-2.0)

Montana's timber counties recently lost lots of federal revenue. Local officials say public services are going to suffer as a result.

"It's very scary. We're pretty bare bones out here the way it is," said Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons.

"What do we do? We've got a four-man road crew. Do you lay four guys off? Do you lay three guys off? We've got some real difficult choices ahead of us here."

He's talking about the loss of federal "Secure Rural Schools" funds. The program expired this fall and wasn't reauthorized by Congress.

Jon Tester

It's been eight months since the Montana VA had a permanent director and Senator Jon Tester says he's fed up with the delay.

Tester fired-off a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald this week calling it "completely unacceptable".

The Democrat says he only recently found out that a hire was imminent about three months ago. However,  the Office of Management and Budget found a "screw-up" that scuttled the process.

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