Montana Editorial Roundup

August 28, 2019 GMT

The Billings Gazette, Aug. 25, on creating strike rules for radioactive waste management:

Twenty miles south of the Canada border and 20 miles west of North Dakota, Montana’s northeast corner is a rugged, fragile land, sparsely populated by farmers and ranchers whose hard work and fierce love of their land coaxes a living out of a place with thin topsoil and infrequent rainfall.

Government regulation generally isn’t a popular idea in this conservative, self-sufficient region, but over the past few years many concerned citizens of Sheridan and other eastern Montana counties have spoken out on one set of state regs_still not finalized_that eventually will set standards for how low-level radioactive waste from oil drilling is disposed of in Montana landfills.


Montana issued permits for landfills to accept this waste before the state issued rules setting standards for protecting public health, water sources and air quality. One landfill, Buckhorn Energy Oaks Disposal Services, near Glendive has been operating for several years. Three more have received DEQ permits, but have not opened. One of those permitted, but not built sites, is a few miles upwind from Laurel Clawson’s ranch west of Plentywood.

Clawson learned about the landfill permit from a neighbor who read about it in a Billings Gazette opinion two years ago. What Clawson learned from her own research is that the waste material proposed to be hauled north of Plentywood is classified as “technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material” or TENORM. This low-level radioactive material is concentrated in filter socks used in oil drilling. The oil production in the Bakken generates tons of this TENORM waste. During the Bakken boom, illegal dumps were discovered in western North Dakota. That state’s law didn’t allow disposal of TENORM in any landfills. Montana had no law, but issued an operating permit to a landfill in Dawson County. North Dakota drillers still haul truckloads of solid waste to Dawson County.

North Dakota has no TENORM approved landfill yet, although the Bismarck Tribune reported this month that the first may open soon. North Dakota law offers a good model Montana DEQ’s latest final proposed rules were released for a 60-day public comment period Friday. Speak up box above for commenting information.

Montana’s standards should be at least as strong as North Dakota’s, but that isn’t what the latest DEQ proposal says. For example, the Montana proposed rules would allow landfills to accept materials with four times the radioactive level (measured in picocuries) as North Dakota rules permit.


Montana’s water, land and air are as valuable as our neighbor’s. Montanans deserve the same level of protection from radioactive dust that could blow off the landfill and settle in water sources, protection from radioactive waste that could be washed out of a landfill.

Oil is an essential commodity. There must be a safe place to responsibly dispose of the waste generated by oil production. What eastern Montana residents and other members of Northern Plains Resource Council ask is that the disposal be done right. Eastern Montana should not be a sacrifice zone. The rules here should be as tough as they are in North Dakota, which is reaping the bulk of oil production revenues.

The Big Muddy Country where Clawson’s family ranches is a series of drainages sloping down from the Canada border to the Missouri River. That topography adds to her concerns about a TENORM landfill because when it rains in Big Muddy Country, it rains big, maybe 4 inches at a time, washing out the gullies.

“Good stewardship is the unspoken norm, not only because people make a living in the ag sector, but I think most of us recognized that everything we love about our way of life is inseparable from ecological health,” Clawson told The Gazette editorial board on a visit to Billings last week.

“This is a private property issue. If, because of the actions of a neighboring business, the creek that runs through our place is contaminated, if the aquifer is ruined, if airborne radioactive particles affect our health or quality of life, then our land is devalued and our business destroyed,” she said.

That is the reason Clawson joined the Northern Plains Resource Council to work for TENORM rules. She thinks Montana standards should be as stringent as North Dakota standards. We agree. That should include having on-site inspections by DEQ or an expert not under contract to the landfill owner/operator. Accountability depends on more than self-reporting and self-inspection.

The DEQ has made some improvements in addressing TENORM disposal since untarped loads spilled waste materials along Dawson county roads en route to the Oaks landfill. But our state still lacks clear, comprehensive rules that neighbors and potential operators must know before truckloads of dirty sock filters start rolling past their property.

As Seth Newton whose ranch is near the Oaks landfill told The Gazette two years: “Until Montana develops standards and protections, we’re going to continue to be North Dakota’s dumping ground.”

Montanans appreciate that DEQ is taking time to get the rules right. After five years of work, it’s high time to finalize rules that they are at least as strict as North Dakota’s.



Daily Inter Lake, Aug. 25, on potential benefits of new aging program:

As the Flathead County Agency on Aging was formulating its new long-range aging plan earlier this year, agency leaders asked seniors what they feared most about aging. Many older adults concurred that losing their independence and being a burden to their families are two of their biggest worries.

A new resource taking shape in the Flathead Valley aims to alleviate those fears and offer a way for seniors to “age in place.” My Glacier Village, debuting here in September, is part of a nationwide movement known as The Village, which taps volunteers to help older adults stay in their homes longer and develop social outlets.

This is good news for Flathead County, one of the fastest-aging counties in Montana. While this area has many excellent long-term care and assisted-living facilities that are the perfect option for many seniors, AARP studies show the vast majority of seniors want to remain in their own homes as they age. The founders of My Glacier Village believe The Village’s assistance can help make that goal a reality.

It’s a simple model: older adults pay a $30 monthly membership fee that allows access to volunteers who assist them with various tasks in their homes and communities. There will be two categories of help_service-oriented services such as household chores, and opportunities to get out and about to attend church or take in a variety of community activities.

Founders Cindy O’Boyle and Jennifer Prunty say they were drawn to The Village model because they have both experienced firsthand the challenges of making sure their relatives age well and keep their independence. They’re still working out the details of their nonprofit effort. The key to success will be harnessing volunteer manpower and providing it consistently to their clients. Anyone who has worked with nonprofits and volunteers know what a challenge that can be.

My Glacier Village offers an opportunity for volunteers to partake in some very meaningful service to our seniors. And it offers seniors another resource as they step into the golden years. We hope this new nonprofit program will be a proverbial win-win solution for all involved.



The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Aug. 23, on providing help to children in abusive situation and victims of sexual assault and mental illness:

Newcomers are drawn to this state for its promise of a high quality of life - low crime rates, good schools, and unrivaled outdoor recreation opportunities. But there’s a dark side to life under the Big Sky: Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation. The state shares this distinction with other largely rural states like Alaska and New Mexico. And suicide rates are on the rise across the nation.

It’s not something we like to talk about, but many of our friends and neighbors could be in emotional crisis and teetering on the verge of taking their own lives. The good news is there’s a way to help.

The Bozeman Help Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for children in abusive situation and victims of sexual assault and mental illness, operates a 24/7/365 crisis line for those contemplating taking their own lives or dealing with any kind of emotional difficulty. The number is (406) 586-3333 to talk with someone about the situation. The service is free and confidential.

And they need help.

The Help Center is seeking volunteers to staff the hotline. It’s offering 52 hours of training to teach volunteers ways to help those in emotional crisis. Volunteers are asked to commit to at least one four-hour shift per week for minimum of nine months.

In addition to crisis counseling the hotline offers Telecare, which provides daily calls to check on the welfare of homebound elderly people. In the past, students and retirees have numbered among the volunteers. Students can often earn class credit staffing the hotline.

These are highly meaningful services. Being a Help Center crisis line volunteer is a way to become an active participant in the effort to stem Montana’s high rate of suicide. And it has its rewards. Past volunteers have reported the training and experiences staffing the crisis line have made them better listeners and enhanced their personal lives.

People are crying out for help. And many are veterans of wars in foreign lands where they experience unspeakable violence they are unable to forget.

If you’re willing to help, find an application to become a volunteer at