Notes from Helena for March 25

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WHOOPEE!!! Lincoln County folks made a fantastic impression at the Columbia River Treaty Town Hall in Kalispell March 20. It was huge, and it was good.

Jill Smail, lead negotiator from the U.S. Deptartment of State, told me so as the meeting wrapped up. Jennifer Anders, Montana delegate and chair of Northwest Power Conservation Council said: “The outpouring of support from your constituents was impressive. It made a big impact on the federal negotiating team. NWPCC and the governor’s office continue to emphasize the wisdom of your position.”

We filled 200 chairs, some 30 folks stood by the walls. Travelers from Troy, Libby, Rexford and Eureka were in big majority. Commissioner Jerry Bennett brought a chartered bus carrying residents from Libby, and there was a huge caravan of cars from Tobacco Valley and South Lincoln County.

Many opinions were expressed by Lincoln County residents speaking from their hearts. Just as impressive were the 16 voices from Helena — senators, representatives and Public Service Commission. Letters were read from Senate President Scott Sales and House Speaker Greg Hertz. County commissioners included Jerry Bennett and Josh Letcher, who presented dozens of letters from Eureka, plus Randy Brodehl from Flathead.

Hank Dunn, a senate page I sponsor, rode with us. The Lincoln County High School senior from Eureka got back to his bed at the Helena home of former Eurekans Chuck and Amy Gondiero about midnight.

I hand delivered the official signed version of SJ 12, which passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 99-1. It seeks to delete Canada’s right to divert 1.5 million acre feet of water from the Kootenai to the Columbia. That amounts to 26 percent of the annual flow through Libby Dam. The resolution also seeks compensation to Montana for the flooding of the Kootenai Valley, just like British Columbia was compensated for the flooding of three valleys. It includes a lot of “whereas” phrases that set the stage for the resolution. Copies go to President Trump, Montana’s congregational delegation, secretaries of Energy and Interior and NWPCC.

The Helena delegation included Representatives Steve Gunderson of Libby, Neil Duram of Eureka; Majority Leader Brad Tschida of Missoula; from the Flathead, Appropriations Chair Carl Glimm, Business-Labor Chair Mark Noland, Frank Garner, Dave Fern, John Fuller, Whip Derek Skees, Senators Keith Regier (Judiciary Chair), Al Olszewski; Whip Doug Kary of Billings, Bruce Gillespie of Ethridge; and Drew Zinecker represented the Public Service Commission.

I am so grateful for all who made the trip. Filling up those chairs made a huge statement. So did the messages of those who spoke. Yes, it brought tears to my eyes, especially during the standing ovation after my closing comments.

Thank you.

— Senator Mike Cuffe, Senate District 1

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