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2005 in Review: Part 2

| December 29, 2005 11:00 PM

EDITOR's NOTE: The following is a rundown of the top stories that appeared in The

Western News during 2005. It is the second of two parts. The first appearred in ther

Wednesday, Dec. 28, issue of the newspaper.

July 1

Libby and Lincoln County government officials hailed the economic benefits of expanding Cabinet View Country Club as they hefted ceremonial shovels of dirt Wednesday to mark construction of the course's second nine holes. The course's back nine is expected to be playable by 2007, with construction of homes on 115 lots along the new fairways to follow.

July 6

Reversing an earlier committee decision, the full U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last week to restore full funding for Amtrak operations. The turn-around came after President Bush had recommended gutting the $1.2 billion rail service budget, eliminating Montana's Empire Builder and other passenger routes.

July 8

City Councilman Jim Hammons was sworn in Wednesday night as Troy's interim mayor filling the vacancy left by the resignation of Mayor John Brown last month. Hammons and Councilman Don Banning are seeking election as mayor in November.

July 13

Libby School District trustees are seeking sealed bids for the former Libby High School, with an asking price of $350,000. Proposals will be accepted until 4 p.m. on Sept. 13.

July 15

Citizens voiced fears of reduced motorized recreation and lack of economic development options Tuesday as Kootenai National Forest officials unveiled the latest version of a new forest management plan. Three Rivers District Ranger Mike Balboni said the document reflects public input from past meetings along with Forest Service policies and legal responsibilities, but many who spoke during the session said they felt their opinions were ignored.

July 20

Troy public schools will use a state grant to expand their mentoring program in the fall and beef up after-school activities for youngsters. Both steps are intended to help reduce substance abuse by students.

July 22

Libby Education Association is seeking a three-year contract for teachers that includes 5-percent salary raises in each of the first two years and an 8-percent raise the third year. That would be in addition to increases in Libby School District's contribution to teachers' monthly health benefit package.

July 27

Despite getting almost twice the normal rainfall in June, fire conditions across Kootenai National Forest are dry and getting worse. Recent hot, dry weather has resulted in significant evaporation, according to the KNF's forest fire management officer.

July 29

Bucking broncs and twisting bulls will be coming out of the gates Friday and Saturday night in Libby for the second Kootenai River Rodeo at the new arena at J. Neils Memorial County Park. The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association event has 143 cowboys and cowgirls registered to ride including a pair of hometown cowboys, bull rider P.J. Morrison Jr. and roper Chance Bernall, who now lives in Dillon.

Aug. 3

Mesothelioma, the rare lung cancer traditionally considered a virtual death sentence, is showing signs that it might someday be eradicated as a life-ending disease. Christopher Hahn, executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, voiced that hopeful message during his keynote address at last week's two-day asbestos conference sponsored by the University of Montana's Center for Environmental Health Sciences.

Aug. 5

A public hearing will be held Monday, Aug. 8, on a proposed 61-lot residential subdivision on the west side of Libby. Jim Beasley is seeking to subdivide a 19-acre parcel located off Hamann Avenue.

Aug. 10

A fire near Eureka continued to rage Tuesday morning with nearly 1,000 acres burned. The Camp 32 fire, located nine miles southwest of Eureka, was contained but not controlled as of Tuesday morning, according to a Kootenai National Forest spokesman.

Aug. 12

Environmental Protection Agency employees working on the Libby asbestos cleanup projects have been barred by headquarters from speaking to the media due to concerns about pending criminal charges against W.R. Grace and a number of current and former company officials. The new policy was announced after the television news show "Nightline" sought interviews with EPA staff for a program about the situation in Libby.

Aug. 17

Northwest Montana flirted with Stage II fire restrictions but rain late last week prompted officials to call off the upgrade. Lincoln County had been scheduled to go from Stage I to Stage II with its Hoot Owl restrictions as of midnight on Sunday, Aug. 14.

Aug. 19

A proposed 61-lot subdivision on 19 acres off Hamann Avenue received tentative approval from the Libby City Council on Monday despite concerns and confusion regarding the width of streets accessing the development. The council's approval of developer Jim Beasley's Creek View Estates included several conditions recommended by the county's planning staff along with another condition added by the council requiring clarification of street width issues.

Aug. 24

Stage 1 fire restrictions on Lincoln County's portion of the Kootenai National Forest have been discontinued, a move which once again allows backcountry users to have campfires. Precipitation received last week was adequate for lifting the restrictions as of early Friday, Aug. 19.

Aug. 26

EPA administrator Steve Johnson was given a whirlwind tour Wednesday of the Libby Superfund site and took time to meet with doctors from the Center for Asbestos-Related Disease as well as representatives from victims of asbestos-related disease. Johnson said he was "here to look, listen and learn."

Aug. 31

Three hikers had the most thrilling five seconds of their lives Friday afternoon when a grizzly bear charged them in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger Charlie Clough and two Wisconsin residents were on a trail through a huckleberry patch between Upper Geiger Lake and Lost Buck Pass when a sow grizzly and its 2- or 3-year-old youngster appeared about 100 feet ahead of them.

Sept. 2

About a dozen members of Libby Revitalization Inc. met with the Lincoln County Commissioners Wednesday to express their concerns and frustration over what they see as the county's lack of vigor in enforcing community decay regulations. According to the group, of 19 violations it has reported in the city, 15 properties have been cleaned and some citations issued while only one of 22 in the county has been cleaned.

Sept. 7

Gasoline prices are prompting lots of grumbling these days with the price of regular unleaded rising above $2.80 in Libby and diesel topping out at $3.01 last week. Motorists sometimes saw fuel prices climb twice in the same day.

Sept. 9

Treasure Mountain's management designation should be changed from recommended wilderness to non-motorized backcountry, according to a citizens group studying the starting option for Kootenai National Forest's management plan update. Most people at the meeting wanted to keep chances alive for ski development on the mountain.

Sept. 14

Four Hurricane Katrina victims, including a 3-year-old child with cerebral palsy, will arrive in Libby this week to begin putting their lives back together. They will stay with two local families whose strong faith has prompted them to do more than contribute money for disaster relief.

Sept. 16

More than a year after making its original offer, a local nonprofit group is the only one to make a proposal to purchase Libby's historic high school. While the school board set an asking price of $350,000, Friends of Historic Libby High School offered $100,000 cash and up to $250,000 in in-kind services toward providing water, sewer, electrical and heating systems for the building.

Sept. 21

Letters to an estimated 700 members of W.R. Grace's medical plan are raising concerns about a potential loss of benefits. Some plan members were told that a review by experts indicated that they had no asbestos-related condition but that they would be kept on the plan, and others received confirmation of an asbestos-related "condition or illness" along with a summary of scaled-back benefits.

Sept. 23

Rejecting a last-minute plea from a local group hoping to buy the property, Libby School District trustees voted Tuesday to demolish the old high school. The decision came on a 4-1 vote, with Lisa Bardole, Jim England, John Herrmann and Teri Kelly supporting the motion and Jerry Frament voting against.

Sept. 28

Residents at the end of Kootenai River Road are getting organized to fight a Bonneville Power Administration proposal that could expand the existing transmission line right-of-way. The BPA informed residents that it is looking at rebuilding 17 miles of the transmission line and towers, which are about 50 years old.

Sept. 30

Ownership of the former Stimson mill site is being transferred from the Lincoln County Port Authority to a newly formed industrial district governed by a subset of the port authority's board. The primary reason for the change is to allow for more discretion in the sale of portions of the property.

Oct. 5

Two timber sales on the Kootenai National Forest have been put on temporary hold by U.S. Forest Service reviewing officers after appeals by a Missoula environmental group. Forest Supervisor Bob Castaneda said he anticipates the agency's decision to rework environmental impact statements for the Northeast Yaak and Green Mountain sales will take a couple of months.

Oct. 7

Wildlife officials say they will make a priority of keeping the public informed as they plan additional grizzly bear releases in the Cabinet Mountains. Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Bob Castaneda said the Cabinets can support more grizzlies and that he favors bringing them from other places in the state.

Oct. 12

A grizzly bear released Oct. 2 in the west Cabinet Mountains has wandered about four miles northwest and is staying away from any major roads, according to signals from the bear's radio collar. The female bear, estimated to be about 7 years old and weighing 275 pounds, was trapped in the Flathead Range and released in the vicinity of Spar Lake as part of efforts to bolster the Cabinet grizzly population.

Oct. 14

Law enforcement officials in Lincoln County have begun cracking down on underage drinkers.

Twenty citations for minor in possession of alcohol were issued during the past six weeks, compared with 81 violations in the county during all of 2004.

Oct. 19

Kootenai National Forest supervisor Bob Castaneda unveiled changes to the proposed forest management plan that delighted motorized recreation users but angered environmentalists. The issue centers on 89,000 acres previously marked as proposed wilderness but re-designated as "wild lands."

Oct. 21

The Libby School Board has decided to consider once again the possible sale of the old high school. After three years of discussion about the building's fate, the board voted recently to demolish the structure, but an Oct. 1 letter of interest from ConoverBond Development of Spokane has convinced trustees to keep the issue open for another month.

Oct. 26

Local health officials do not anticipate a shortage of flu vaccine this fall, although two local clinics are still waiting for their supplies. Both the Libby Clinic and the Lincoln County Community Health Center expect to receive vaccine this week.

Oct. 28

State and federal law enforcement officers are investigating the deaths of two grizzly bears in the Yaak. While details were not released, a Libby bear biologist said the deaths were human-caused.

Nov. 2

The owner of a small-diameter log mill in Colville, Wash., is considering opening a mill in Libby. Duane Vaagen met Friday with U.S. Forest Service personnel, local business leaders, and a representative of a local conservation group to discuss the possibility.

Nov. 4

Federal prosecutors have filed a response in U.S. District Court rejecting arguments by W.R. Grace that the criminal trial against the company and seven former employees should be moved out of Montana. The document, filed Oct. 14, asks the court to deny the defendants' motion for change of venue without hearing oral arguments.

Nov. 9

A congressional task force will hold a hearing this week aimed at making the National Environmental Policy Act less restrictive to natural resource activities such as mining and logging. Task force chairwoman Cathy McMorris, R-Wash., said the panel's investigation during recent months has found that litigation is the primary cause for delays in permitting.

Nov. 11

Libby Mayor Tony Berget handily won election to a third term in Tuesday's municipal election while Troy Mayor Jim Hammons, appointed in July, defeated Councilman Don Banning by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Berget drew 244 votes to challenger William Dancer's 88, and Hammons defeated Councilman Don Banning 133 votes to 50.

Nov. 16

A local jury is hearing the case of a Eureka man accused of shooting his neighbor to death with a shotgun last spring following an ongoing boundary dispute. Wayne Hixon, 52, is charged with deliberate homicide and evidence tampering in connection with the death of 42-year-old Bob Mast and faces a possible life sentence.

Nov. 18

A $2.8 million aquatic center proposal was defeated decisively 1,764 to 1,271 in a special mail ballot by nearly 65 percent of the eligible voters in the Libby Parks District. An accompanying request for a maintenance levy failed 1,884 to 1,150.

Nov. 23

Wayne Hixon of Eureka, charged in the shotgun slaying of his neighbor last spring, will be getting a new trial after a jury failed to reach an agreement about his case. A new trial is scheduled for next March.

Nov. 30

The 2005 big game season ended on a strong note with the highest number of hunters on record, the highest mule deer and elk harvests on record and the highest white-tail deer harvest since 1996. The numbers were compiled by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks at six checkpoints in the Region One area.

Dec. 2

Lincoln County will be intervening along with Revett Silver Co. on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups opposing the Forest Service's approval of Revett's proposed Rock Creek Mine. The county commissioners agreed to intervene in the suit after meeting Wednesday with a Helena attorney specializing in environmental law and representing Revett on the issue.

Dec. 7

U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns made clear his views in opposition to "de facto wilderness" and in favor of harvesting timber on public lands during a field hearing on forest planning Friday in Missoula. Burns stressed that timber is a renewable resource, comparing it to "a cornfield in Iowa."

Dec. 9

Efforts to spare the old school building at the corner of Mineral Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard from the wrecking ball have the support of the Lincoln County Commissioners. The commissioners voted Wednesday to approve a request from the Friends of Historic Libby High School to provide a letter of support for preserving the structure.

Dec. 14

Libby's old high school building downtown may have a new lease on life following a meeting Friday between the school board and a Spokane developer interested in renovating the nearly 90-year-old structure. Facilitated by Friends of Historic Libby High School, the meeting was the first between the school district and a representative of ConoverBond Development, which is proposing to buy the building and remodel it for commercial, residential or government use.

Dec. 16

Plans to begin the process of developing a county-wide growth plan drew comments ranging from supportive to suspicious during a Wednesday meeting of the Lincoln County Commissioners. About 50 people, many of them involved in the real estate business, attended the meeting.

Dec. 21

A 55-year-old Eureka man was shot and wounded by a police officer after storming the police station with a shotgun in an attempt to retrieve his daughter from custody. Mark Nelson was in critical but stable condition at Kalispell Regional Medical Center with a lacerated liver and a broken femur after being shot three times by Eureka police officer Ian Jeffcock.

Dec. 23

The Libby School Board is anticipating a detailed proposal on the renovation of the old high school building downtown from a Spokane developer tentatively scheduled to make a formal presentation at the board's next regular meeting on Jan. 17. At the board's regular December meeting on Tuesday, district superintendent Kirby Maki said he hasn't received anything yet from ConoverBond Development but expects something before the January meeting.

Dec. 28

Lawyers for W.R. Grace have filed a number of motions in U.S. District Court seeking to have criminal charges dismissed against seven current and former employees. Eight motions were filed Dec. 15 in federal court in Missoula asking the court to dismiss criminal charges.