News From the Front, the Last One
May 12, 2017
“A ship does not sail with yesterday’s wind.” Red Mark, a 12th-century pirate from a Louis L’Amour novel.
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” George Orwell
Scrooge said to the ghost of his dead partner Jacob Marley (who resembles at least two of my ten uncles, even in death. JT), “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
The specter replied: “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
The week according to Jeff…
I am sorry it took so long to get this last edition of News From the Front to you. I’ve had it in draft form almost since sine die. Here’s why I am late:
On to my report…
So many quotes, so little time!
The Session ended on Friday, 28th April. If you clicked the link above you’ve seen why we had to wait for Governor Bullock to act or not act on our bills before we could publish this edition of NFTF.
I can’t leave you without using three of the quotes I selected for NFTF. They are suitable and applicable, in my opinion.
Take advantage of good timing.
Appreciate what you have, when you have it. (Not exactly what Mr. Orwell meant, but I’ll fake news it and change it to my interpretation for NFTF. JT)
No matter who you are or where you live or what you do for a living, we are all in this “comprehensive ocean” together.
These quotes sum up a whirlwind Session where we saw dozens of bills that directly or indirectly impacted Conservation Districts and the farmers and ranchers we serve. There were many more than I have seen in my 9+ years with Conservation Districts. Each bill had its ups and downs, some with drama, some with confusion, a few with precision, fewer with humor.
Here are short snippets about bills we followed at the Session. More detailed information may be seen in previous editions of NFTF, or contact the MACD office or DNRC with questions.
Bills That Passed
1. The Coal Bed Methane program received funding for another two years. Special thanks goes to Representative Geraldine Custer for carrying this bill and expertly navigating the Session, Judi Knapp for her stalwart leadership, and Don Sasse for his numerous trips to Helena at the drop of a hat to further the CBM program. HB 344
2. The RRGL program has funding for a number of Conservation District projects. HB 6
3. The RDG program has funding for a number of Conservation District projects. HB 7
Here’s a RRGL highlight update from Lindsay Volpe at DNRC: HB6 will include funding for the following RRGL programs:
- $100,000 for emergency projects to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium;
- $800,000 for planning grants to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium
- $300,000 for irrigation development grants to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium;
- $300,000 for watershed grants to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium; and
- $50,000 for private grants to be awarded by the department over the course of the biennium.
- $3,231,640 is appropriated to the department of natural resources and conservation from the natural resources projects state special revenue account, established in 15-38-302, for grants to political subdivisions and local governments for the biennium beginning July 1, 2017. This will fund projects ranked 1 through 26 on the RRGL project list
4. The Aquatic Invasive Species issues moved quite a ways forward, with funding and an official program in statute. SB 363 HB 622 NOTE: As of this writing only HB 622 has been signed by the Governor. HB 622 creates an Invasive Species Council with a slot for Conservation Districts.
5. Supervisor election laws were addressed and in some cases clarified. HB 83
6. We helped to stop County Commissioners from inadvertently taking the authority to appoint Conservation District Supervisors if there were no elections at the District level. HB 405
7. Your monthly meetings may be filmed by anyone now, but the presiding officer may tell the filmer where to stand. In addition, no one may be excluded from your meetings. HB 370
8. The procedure for calculating your levy has been clarified. HB 53
9. The percentages that have historically been allocated under the shared Coal Tax Severance Account have been placed into statute for all future distributions. These funds are used by Conservation Districts, libraries, and Growth Through Agriculture. HB 648
10. There will be an interim study concerning the phase out of coal. Conservation Districts need to participate in these meetings. This is an important bill. SJ 5
11. If you have a budget over a certain amount, you are required to have an audit. SB 372 NOTE: As of this writing this bill has not been signed, but we anticipate such.
12. The state sage grouse program is authorized and funded for four more years. HB 228
13. County commissioners shall determine the dollar amount of the bounty to be paid on each predatory animal, and the county commissioners may appoint bounty inspectors. HB 305
14. There is a resolution that will be sent to the federal government requesting removal of brucella abortus from the federal list. SJ 19
15. Conservation Districts have the ability to enter into direct negotiations with an engineering firm for engineering services amounts under $50,000, instead of the current $20,000. SB 278
16. DEQ shall adopt rules establishing setback area requirements between sewage lagoons and water wells to prevent water well contamination. The statute requiring a MINIMUM 500 feet setback was eliminated. Presumably the rules will have more flexibility. This bill will have positive impacts for NRCS programs. HB 368
17. A Conservation District no longer has to provide notice to and seek approval of County Commissioners when organizing a new Conservation District. SB 39
18. A Local Government Interim Committee has been established, adding to the number of interim committees that MACD needs to pay attention to during the time between Sessions. SB 151
19. Soil health and source watersheds are recognized and listed in statute as eligible for the RRGL (Renewable Resource Grant and Loan Program). HB 424
20. There is a resolution requesting that our Congressional Delegates introduce federal legislation to return management of Montana’s grizzly bears to the State of Montana. HJ 15
21. There is a resolution asking the United States Congress to enact legislation to release all wilderness study areas identified and specified in the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977. At least one District is interested in looking at BLM wilderness study areas in Eastern Montana during the next Session. HJ 9
22. There is a surface water assessment and watering program (SWAMP). Conservation Districts are assigned a slot on the Steering Committee and a volunteer is sought. HB 360
23. A Wildlife Habitat Improvement Advisory Council has been created. It would allow the use of federal funds to combat noxious weeds and restore wildlife habitat. Conservation District Supervisors interested in serving on the Council should contact MACD or DNRC with questions. HB 434
24. DNRC is required to prepare a report in 2026 about water reservations. Some may recall the minor controversy that arose around the DNRC 2016 report. HB 337
25. The state’s major funding bill, HB 2, passed the Legislature and has been signed by the Governor. It usually takes DNRC a number of weeks to sort through the language of this bill to determine where we are with Conservation District funding.
Bills That Did Not Pass
2. The floodplain bill passed the Senate but died in the House. SB 313 Listen to the hearing: http://montanalegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=23674&meta_id=229108 This bill placed MACD in a difficult position. It was based on a resolution approved by the body at convention, opposed by our partners at DNRC, and opposed by a conservation district.
3. A bill to allow state assumption of the federal 404 Corps of Engineers permit was tabled in committee. This idea may rise again. SB 48
4. If Supervisors spent money getting elected, they would have had to file a report with the Commissioner of Political Practices if this bill had passed. HB 401
5. A bill that would prohibit fossil fuel pipelines from being under navigable lakes and streams did not pass. This bill may have impacted Conservation Districts. HB 486
6. Another bill that would have impacted pipeline stream crossings and was titled “Locate certain utilities over water” did not make progress in the Session. This bill may have impacted Conservation Districts. HB 281
7. There was a bill to establish the Montana property fairness act. It did not pass. Immunities or liability waivers in Conservation District laws would have been impacted by this bill, and there were concerns about impacts to the 310 law. SB 98
8. A bill that provides for notification at certain dwellings for oil and gas operations passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Governor Bullock. In 2015 Conservation Districts passed a resolution pertaining to notification issues. Although this is a different from the resolution, it is pertinent and may be of interest to a number of Conservation Districts in oil and gas country. SB 93
9. There was a bill to fund the Groundwater Investigation program with General Fund, but it died. The program will continue with other funds. Jane Holzer is the Conservation District representative for this program. HB 104
10. There was a bill to establish a regional infrastructure approach. It named Conservation Districts as an entity eligible for funds. It was tabled in committee. SB 162
11. There was a bill to require a study of the Coal Tax Trust over the interim, but it failed to pass over concerns that the trust would be busted. HJ 4
12. After discussions with the sponsor, and engaging the Park County Conservation District, a bill about the Yellowstone River was not introduced. The focus of this bill addressed dams and minerals dredging on the Yellowstone River in Park County. Look for activity in 2019. LC2250
13. The bill to appropriate funds for a surface water assessment and monitoring program (SWAMP) failed in a Senate committee. The bill included a $250,000 per year appropriation. HB 107 NOTE: HB 360 (seen above) established a SWAMP program without the funding.
14. A bill dealing with commercial use of groundwater failed: “The legislature finds that the state’s sources of high-quality ground water, the perceived abundance of that ground water, and the relative ease of developing some of that ground water make the state attractive to large-scale facilities that use the water in products for human consumption.” This concept has implications for water and we may see it again in future Sessions. SB 215
15. A bill that would have imposed a tax on water bottlers that consume groundwater did not pass. Perhaps the most interesting part of the bill for Conservation Districts was the section that would have distributed 35% of revenues to Conservation Districts. HB 656
16. A bill to study the feasibility of a recycling program failed. HJ 23
17. A bill to revise laws related to closure of certain coal-fired generation failed. This bill may have generated funds for the State of Montana. Some of the funds could have been made available to Conservation Districts to carry out our responsibilities, especially those around Colstrip. SB 338
18. There were a number of other pertinent bills or draft bills that failed to launch or failed to orbit: LCs 1066, 1524, 2119; HBs 211, 587, 540, 584; and SB 284.
A review of these new laws, failed bills, and what to watch for in 2019 might be appropriate for a general or breakout session at the MACD Convention this November. Don MacIntyre led a “new laws” breakout session recently at a MACD Convention, and it was well received.
On a personal note, as I leave for another adventure and retire from the Montana Association of Conservation Districts, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed working for the Conservation Districts. My time with you really was a unique undertaking in my life. I saw things that I never knew existed. It has been a great learning experience for me, with successes and setbacks. I tried to learn from both.
I remember my first few months with you, speaking in front of Supervisors, including Art Christiansen, at an Area Meeting. I was peppered with many questions, and answered many times “I don’t know.” Art came up to me afterwards and said I’ll do fine, because I admit that I don’t know anything. I remain puzzled if that was a compliment.
I’ll always remember the understanding that I gained from all of you about the depth and breadth of the attachment between farmers and ranchers and the land. That is your strongest asset. I’ll remember the many dedicated partners that I worked with over the years, especially those at DNRC and NRCS. Most importantly and most memorable, I’ll remember the people that I met across this great state in all the Conservation Districts, and their dedication to water and soil. You are on a grand journey, and I was honored to be part of it for a short time.
Thank you to the MACD Board of Directors, especially past president Steve Hedstrom, for taking a chance and hiring me.
A lucky boy