Community, Demography

Economic Drivers and Housing Shortages

Back in 1960, Lincoln County was timber, mining and farming.  There was a fairly stable population, jobs were available, and both small and large ranches.  Along with the Corps of Engineers planning Libby dam, and looking at flooding the lands near the Kootenai, by the middle of the decade our communities became boomtowns, needing housing for the newcomers who would be working on the tunnel, the railroad relocation, the highway relocation, and Libby dam itself. 

I was in high school – and Dad was looking at a trailer court, pretty much where the trailer court is today in Trego.  His advantage in negotiating with the company that had the contract for the tunnel was me being in high school.  Gail Tisdell, a classmate  who worked at Lynn’s Cafe over lunch hour, kept me informed about the company honchos lunch table discussions.  Long story short, we wound up with a trailer court built pretty much to the specifications they brought in from San Mateo.  Jack Price put in a trailer court down by the substation.  Up the creek were two more: Westwood Acres and S&S.  All told, Trego went from being virtually trailer-free to about 200 spaces in the course of a year. 

Likewise, when the tunnel and the railroad relocation ended, so did the largest trailer courts.  Across the county, we had a surplus of trailer spaces that would last for decades.  Many weren’t built to those California standards – I recollect septic tanks built from laminated cull 2×4’s.  The materials were cheap, the construction sub-marginal, and a place that had once housed 50 families emptied and left to collapse.

A half-century later, watching the ads and listening to people looking for housing shows me that we’re in a new housing situation.  Kind of a 55-year cycle – in 1910, all it took to resolve a housing shortage was an axe, a crosscut saw, a froe and a chisel.  In 1965, the spirit of capitalism moved in to develop trailer courts across the county as labor boomed in construction projects.  Now, we’re looking at a county that the USDA Economic Research Service lists as Government dependent. 

It says something when your county’s largest economic drivers are federal and state government employment – the definition is that over 14% of annual earnings are from federal or state government jobs.

Additionally, the ERS lists Lincoln county as a “low employment” county – and the definition is “less than 65 percent of county residents 25-64 were employed.”  The examples are often anecdotes instead of data – a friend from my youth, who hasn’t migrated out for work, explained that his highest paid years were in the seventies.  We’ve been migrating out for work, then returning, for several generations.  It makes a difference in the statistics. 

If you note the classification as a retirement destination county – “where the number of residents age 60 and older grew by 15 percent or more between the 2000 and 2010 censuses due to net migration.”  Home building, home purchases, are a bit easier for folks who are moving in at the end of their careers.  Some of our retirees are returning.  Others, not originally from here, still have the same motivation – in both cases, “going home to a place he’d never been before” is somewhat appropriate.

Anyway, watching the rental market shows that the world has changed.  An axe, saw and froe no longer combine with a strong back and a willingness to work to build a home.  There are safer, less regulated places for venture capital than building a lot of housing rapidly.  Young families compete with retirees – and it’s a lot easier to buy or build that second or third house when you’re holding the check for the house you sold in Oregon, or Washington, or California.

Community

Lincoln Electric Held Annual Meeting

Saturday, Lincoln Electric Coop held their annual meeting as a drive-in meeting at Lincoln County High School.

As with last year’s meeting, it was drive-in, with attendees tuning their radios to listen in. Unlike last year’s smoke, this year’s meeting was cold, wet, and windy.

View from one of the registration checkpoints (before the weather really started to worsen)

At 9 am when the meeting started, there were 97 members registered. With last meeting‘s bylaw change, a quorum only required 2% of coop members, so the meeting was able to continue.

To say the meeting was uneventful might actually be an understatement. Members did vote by mail -over 200 of them, in fact- but it made little difference since there were no more people running than open seats. In fact, each incumbent was reappointed.

Capital credit checks were mailed, we heard a few California jokes, and a bit about the state legislature.

What’s the difference between California and the Titanic? The Titanic had its lights on when it sank.

(I’m paraphrasing the joke, but it was something along those lines)

The discussion on legislation was informative; We learned about House Bill 475 which proposes to classify hydroelectric power as a renewable resource. The representative of the Montana Electric Coop Association was optimistic that the bill will be signed.

As renewable energy sources become increasingly required, having a reliable energy source that qualifies (such as hydroelectric) becomes important in avoiding blackouts and brownouts.

Other news: Rural Propane Services had a rough year but “is on the rebound”, expect to see a rate adjustment (but most residential members won’t see much of a change)

The meeting closed in under 45 minutes.

Community, Laws, Ordinances & Regulations

Illegal Meetings- Open Meeting Laws

How to avoid having an illegal meeting?

Having read about the recent meeting during which two of the county commissioners and the mayor of Troy (among others) ran afoul of Montana’s Open Meeting Laws, it seems time to consider how not to have an illegal meeting.

Montana’s Open Meeting Laws require that “Meeting of Public Agencies” be open to the public. Public Agencies include boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies, etc.

First, what is a meeting? According to Montana’s Code Annotated, if it has a quorum, it’s a meeting. And it certainly doesn’t have to be in-person! (An email exchange is quite sufficient to be considered a meeting – especially now).

Now, quorum is an important word. On a five member school board, a quorum constitutes three members. Any two members can talk on the phone without having an illegal meeting. Of course, if the number of board members drops, the situation becomes more complicated.

In general, the smaller the board, the more important it is to be certain meetings are announced well in advance, so that state laws are followed. With small, three person boards, an illegal meeting could be just a careless phone call away.

Decisions made at meetings that violate Montana’s Open Meeting laws may be declared void (there is a time limit on that, though).

When does the public need to know? The requirements that the public be given notice in advance of the meeting are actually part of Montana’s public participation laws, and only apply when the meeting will include something of “significant public interest“.

How long in advance should the public know? Depends- the rule is that the more significant, the more notice should be given. (Forty-Eight Hours is the suggested minimum for County Commissioner’s meetings, according to the Attorney General).

Community

To End a Meeting

When I attend meetings, it frequently feels like a 12 step program for compulsive talkers.  Folks with a bottle problem have Al-Anon.  Druggies have Narcotics Anonymous.  I’ve never seen an advertisement for compulsive talkers, but I figure their meetings are probably called On and On.  In my imagination, they are like some of the community meetings I have attended in my life – endless.

Still, Robert’s Rules of Order provides a method to end a meeting.  A motion to adjourn is a privileged motion and takes precedence over any other motion except a motion to fix the time of adjournment.  A motion to adjourn is non-debatable, cannot be amended and moves to an immediate vote.  While all motions technically need a second, if a motion to adjourn is moved to a vote without a second the motion is still valid.

Otherwise, if the chair is noticing that the meeting has been hijacked by On and On, the simple statement, “The chair will entertain a motion to adjourn.” can get things moving.  Since it’s a privileged motion the chair can actually move toward adjournment without so much as “I so move.” coming from the floor.

All of us want our opinions to be heard – but being able to shut off irrelevant debate is important.  Of course, that’s why I’m writing here.  If it’s irrelevant to you, you can click past at the start, the middle, or a paragraph before this one.

A Science for Everyone, Community, Meteorology

With the April Run We Could Make Solid Comments on Snow Pack

My last year of snow surveys – 40 some years ago – was, in some ways, the hardest one. Jay Penney was out on medical leave with congestive heart failure, Tom Engel had transferred to Phoenix, and I was handling both the Flathead and Kootenai drainages with help from the Forest Service. I can’t say enough good about those guys – over six months, I’d meet a new sidekick daily, few that I’d work with twice, and only one screwed up a snowmobile – and I could still drive it out without a ski (the old Alpines had only one ski, and it didn’t take much of a blunder in reverse to break it off).

In April I could confidently comment on the status of the snowpack. Then, telemetry was new. Today, we have a website and the graph does a good job of showing how the snowpack data gets a lot more solid at the end of March.

This next graph does a great job of showing why the measurements are in snow-water equivalents instead of just the depth of snow.  The green peaks show individual snow storms, and how quickly the snow settles from the fluffy snowflakes.

So where are we?  As of 04/03/21, these are the numbers.

Snow WaterPercent of Average
Stahl Peak27.0 inches78 %
Grave Creek11.2 inches81 %
Banfield Mountain13.7 inches77 %
Hawkins Lake20.8 inches84 %
Garver Creek 8.8 inches96 %
Poorman Creek29.5 inches83 %

If I were running the numbers, I’d say we’re on the light side of normal – but it isn’t my call. It is interesting to note that none of my measurements are left in the 30-year average.

A Science for Everyone, Community

Meriwether Lewis and his Assault Weapon

There weren’t any AR-15’s on the Lewis and Clark expedition.  But Lewis’ Girandoni air rifle served the purpose of showing firepower at the time.  We’re looking at half the congresscritters wanting to ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds – and the Girandoni was a 20 round repeater.  The whole story is here: https://www.beemans.net/lewis-assault-rifle.htm and it’s worth reading.  To convince you, I’ll bring in a few high points.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark that I read in my youth were incomplete – actual publication of the “whole story” didn’t come around until 2001 – so little was in print about Lewis’ air gun.  The Girandoni came from Austria.  About 1,500 of these air rifles made it into the Austrian army, beginning around 1770, and all were surveyed out of commission in 1815.  We know that Lewis bought it in Pennsylvania, and that he wasn’t fully proficient with it as he started the expedition:  “Thomas Rodney, who was a day visitor to Captain Meriwether Lewis while he was traveling down the Ohio River at Wheeling, Ohio in September of 1803, contains a tiny passage which has caused new thinking about the Lewis airgun. The passage reads:

Visited Captain Lewess barge. He shewed us his air gun which fired 22 times at one charge. He shewed us the mode of charging her and then loaded with 12 balls which he intended to fire one at a time; but she by some means lost the whole charge of air at the first fire. He charged her again and then she fired twice. He then found the cause and in some measure prevented the airs escaping, and then she fired seven times; but when in perfect order she fires 22 times in a minute. All the balls are put at once into a short side barrel and are then droped into the chamber of the gun one at a time by moving a spring; and when the triger is pulled just so much air escapes out of the air bag which forms the britch of the gun as serves for one ball. It is a curious peice of workmanship not easily discribed and therefore I omit attempting it.”

(Beeman’s excerpt of Thomas Rodney’s letter.)

Other articles describe how Lewis would show that his rifle could fire 20 shots without reloading when he met with natives – and that they really weren’t sure that his was the only repeater.  For years, I believed the expedition was armed with model 1803 rifles – until I got to TSJC, and the college library showed the first 1803 was completed in October.  It looks like Lewis highgraded the Harpers Ferry arsenal for fifteen 1792-94 contract rifles – and he may have had some cut down by arsenal smiths, as his journals refer to “short” rifles.  Authorized more than the 15 men he had rifles for, the record suggests that the rest brought their model 1795 muskets along.  With Clark bringing a 36 caliber rifle, the expedition definitely did not have standardized weaponry.

Again – the Beeman article is worth reading – click on it, and enjoy reading how the most unusual gun carried by the Lewis and Clark expedition was discovered and identified by its history of repairs.

Recipes

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

I’ve looked at many recipes for making Chicken Pot Pie using my cast iron skillet and didn’t find one in particular that fit into my “how can I make this with the least amount of work” philosophy. So I combined a few different recipes and this chicken pot pie is easy to make and the crust is flakey and very tasty. Enjoy!

FOR PIE CRUST:

  • 8 tablespoons cold butter cut into cubes
  • 8 tablespoons cold shortening cut into cubes
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • (I have a 12″ skillet, so I make 1-1/2 times this recipe so I have plenty of dough). I put the butter and shortening in the freezer for a few minutes to harden and then cut them into your flour/salt until clumps form. Then pour in water and mix until dough ball forms. Cut the dough in half and form into two flattened round disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use.

FOR FILLING:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • Frozen carrots
  • Frozen peas
  • Frozen or diced potatoes
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups chicken, diced
  • (Flour and chicken broth can be adjusted based on size of pan–I use 1/2 cup flour and 5 cups chicken broth)Preheat oven to 400. Add butter and oil to large pan and melt. Sauté celery, onion, and garlic until soft, about five minutes. (If you are using uncooked chicken, at this point cook chicken until its internal temp reaches 165 and remove from pan), if not, add frozen vegetables and sprinkle flour over the vegetables and stir until evenly coated and cook for a few minutes. Then add chicken broth a little at a time and whisk after each addition until mixture begins to resemble a thick pudding. Once this consistency is reached, remaining broth can be added in. Stir in cooked chicken and salt and pepper and simmer until thickened.
  • Roll out pie dough until it is 1/4″ thick. Lay one dough across bottom of skillet (no need to oil/butter skillet). Add chicken/vegetable filling. Roll out second dough and place it over skillet. Crimp edges together. Cut vent holes in center of pie.
  • Bake for 20 minutes at 400. Then reduce temperature to 350 and bake for 25-28 minutes more, or until top is golden brown (you may need to wrap edges of pie with tin foil if the edge gets too dark. Allow 15-20 minutes before serving.
Community

Trego Civic Center Membership Now Open to all TFS Fire District

This past Friday evening (March 26, 2021), the Trego Civic Center had its annual meeting and membership drive.

Attendees received an update on the raffle, new board members were appointed, and the bylaws were amended to change the requirements for membership, opening it up to a much wider area. Now, anyone living in the TFS Fire District can become a member. Previously, membership had been restricted to residents of Montana School District 53 – Trego and Stryker.

There was a proposal from the North Valley Foodbank to use the Civic Center to achieve more efficient food distribution. Then, there was a discussion on maintenance of the hall. Finally, the evening concluded with suggestions for activities and fundraising that could take place at the hall.

New Board Members:

Two Positions were up for vote: those held by Lindy Smith and Donna Todd Lowery. Todd Swan (of the Trego Pub & General Store) and Erica Ness were voted in as their replacements.

Amended Bylaws:

*** Current Bylaws, under the membership eligibility section, state that to be a member you must live in or own property in Trego. *** We would like to amend that to state that to be a member you live in or own property in the TFS (Trego, Fortine, Stryker) fire district.”

The sheet handed out to attendees, stating the meeting agenda.

North Valley Foodbank:

Lauren Jarrold from North Valley Foodbank arrived to discuss a proposal to use the Civic Center as a satellite food pantry. Biweekly food distributions from the mobile food pantry at Trego have served an average of twice as many families than at Eureka. (Trego has an average of 100 families, peaking at 160 last fall. Eureka averages 50).

Having the Civic Center as a place where food could be stored, boxed, etc. could potentially increase the number of distribution times a month. It would also mean that someone with a sudden need for food assistance could call and get food, even if it wasn’t a set distribution day, without having to make a trip down to the Flathead.

Lauren also briefly spoke about the BackPack program, which North Valley Foodbank is assisting with, noting that the mobile pantry will be bringing the food up, and that the program is fully reimbursed by the state. She mentioned the possibility of continuing the program on into the summer months.

Maintenance Needs:

  • Repair of recent damage.
    (Upon further inspection, this appears to have been done by a raised vehicle. Yes, county vehicles parked nearby have been considered. Snow plows have not yet been examined).
    Ken Smith has volunteered to do the repairs.
  • Replacement of the current wood stove with a propane heater on hand.
    (This would substantially lower insurance costs, which are high due to the fire risk inherent in wood heating).
  • Hooking up a wonderful commercial propane stove that was donated.

Suggestions:

Later, talked turned to the future of the Civic Center, the need for fundraisers, and how to better serve the community. The consensus seemed to be that more events were needed, but that to make that happen, more volunteers would be needed as well.

Speaking of volunteers, that’s one way to earn membership. Like-kind service is acceptable instead of the membership fee; Otherwise, it’s a $25 fee per household.

Some suggestions for activities and fundraisers were:

  • Bringing back the Fireman’s Ball
    (this was mentioned at the TFS Fire Department Meeting as well)
  • T-shirts, mugs, and other little reminders of the Civic Center
  • Public Educational Talks by community members.
  • Science Fair (open to all kids, both public and home-schooled)
  • Community Potlucks.

Community

TFS Volunteer Fire Department Held Annual Meeting

This past Wednesday night (24 March 2021), the TFS Volunteer Fire Department had its much-delayed annual meeting at the Trego Civic Center. The evening included a discussion of the expenses of the fire department, the activity of the department, appointment of new board members, a bylaw change, and a mention of a proposed fee increase that will be taken to the commissioners. The meeting ended with a reminder to everyone to take bread home with them.

A much delayed meeting:

The annual meeting requires at least 20 members to attend. Conventionally, the annual meeting is held in November, however there were not enough people in attendance to hold November’s meeting. Members of the department expressed their disappointment at poor attendance. Twenty-one members attended Wednesday’s meeting, making a full quorum.

Liz Williams discusses the qualifications to be a voting member of the TFS VFD corporation.

Expenses:

  • Purchased Fire Station Software Program for Record Keeping (c. $1,300 initial cost, and $200 in yearly upkeep).
  • Upgraded the electricity to the Trego Station (the lights flickered and occasionally went out when the wind blew).
  • Purchased 4 new SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) packs without bottles. Each SCBA pack cost about $4000, a considerable savings without new $1000 bottles. This brings the department to a total of 12 full packs and 4 spare bottles.
  • Acquired a 2008 F-550 type 6 fire engine on lifetime loan from the DNRC

Department Activity:

The department attended a greater number of calls, since the ambulance was attending fewer (due to fear of exposing the ambulance crew to Covid). From November of 2019 to November of 2020 the department had a total of 36 calls. Seven were aid calls, one of which was actually a cat in a tree.

The department set up WEX cards for tax-exempt fuel purchasing, ran first-aid and CPR classes, and taught emergency drills. They also passed pump testing on all three engines with no issues – to some acclaim from their testers.

Raffle:

The department’s raffle was postponed due to Covid. The firearm being raffled is a Henry 45-70. The business and firefighter to sell the most tickets will each receive a Henry 47 HMR. The department will be selling tickets at Rendezvous Days.

New Board Members:

Of the current board, three positions were up for election. Those held by: Wayne Nowacki (representing the area at large), Josh Helgert (representing Trego) and John Menke (representing Fortine): John Menke and Josh Helgert were reappointed and Dan Schenkram of Trego replaced Wayne Nowacki.

All three alternate board members positions were up for election (terms are yearly). Jacob Chrestensen of Stryker, Matthew Kelley, Justin Menke, were nominated to the at-large, Trego, and Fortine positions, respectively.

By-law Change:

Section 2. Qualifications of Members. Any person shall be qualified to be a member of the corporation if A. he or she is (1) over 18 years old, (2) is assessed a fee by Lincoln County for fire protection within the TFS Fire Service Area, and (3) is not a member of any other fire department.

TFS Volunteer Fire Department By-laws, as amended.

The amendment, which was approved, removed part 3 of the membership qualifications, so that residents of TFS Fire District that are part of Eureka’s fire department can still be voting members of TFS Volunteer Fire Department.

Proposed Fee Increase:

With the departmental budget rather tight, fee proposals are being discussed. At this stage, it’s discussion only. Later, they’ll go to the commissioners, and folks will have a chance to vote.

Currently, the department collects about $45,000 annually. The proposal is to double the fire protection fees. The current fee is 50$ for homeowners (it was raised from $25 to $50 in 2010), businesses pay more. Another suggestion was that the fee be based on taxable value, so that folks with larger houses and outbuildings would pay more for fire protection.

Get Involved:

The public is welcome to attend training nights, as well as the TFS VFD’s monthly board meetings.

Trainings happen on Monday nights at 7 PM at the Fortine Fire Hall, between the Fortine Mercantile and the greenboxes on Highway 93.

Meetings are held the Second Tuesday of each Month, at 7 PM, also at the Fortine Fire Hall.

Community

BackPack program begins at Trego School

What is a BackPack program? In essence, students are sent home with a “backpack” of food for the weekend. The premise is that while students receive meals at school (indeed, meals are free to all students at Trego School), they may need some supplementation on weekends and holidays. Thus, a BackPack program. Students are given a pack of food for the weekend to take home each Friday.

BackPack programs are typically supported by Food Banks and other sponsors. In Lincoln County, Libby and Troy schools both have BackPack Programs on the state map.

The program is starting out big, with a large bag of food going home with each student. North Valley Foodbank has provided Trego School with the initial bag, and with the “BackPacks” for several weeks.

Bags of food went home with students Friday
The typical Friday “BackPack” to take home is sized to feed a single child over the weekend
Thank you to North Valley Foodbank for helping to look after our kids.