Dave Strohmaier for equality … with local beers!

It’s not every Missoula City Councilor who opts to make a run for the U.S. House of Representatives.


So last week, photographer Tom Bauer and I dropped by to visit the downtown campaign office of Dave Strohmaier, a Missoula councilor and a Congressman hopeful.

His office is small, not even 200 square feet, so Strohmaier himself sometimes works from a downstairs conference room in Union Hall.

He makes phone calls to possible supporters in the evenings, but he told me that when the conference room is all booked up, he heads to the Union Club next door.


He told me he orders a Moose Drool at the bar and gets to work, a local Big Sky Brewing Co. beverage in hand. It probably seemed like a good tale to tell, but my guy happens to work for the Kettlehouse Brewing Co., which brews up the ever-most-super-popular-and-delicious Cold Smoke.

Uh oh.

I said as much to Strohmaier as though I was thoroughly scandalized, and I asked him why Moose Drool and not Cold Smoke. Well, turns out Strohmaier orders both.

Whew! At least one candidate stands up for brewery equality. Let’s figure a Bavarian treat from Bayern Brewing and refreshment from Draught Works go down the chute sooner or later, too.

I don’t think Strohmaier was just embellishing his drink choices either. I relayed the story to his press secretary, Ashley Barber. Barber confirmed Strohmaier paid equal time to the local brews, and he said he knows this firsthand.

That’s because Barber is the one who, in the evenings, poses the question, something like this: “I’m going next door. Moose Drool or Cold Smoke tonight?”

Here’s a picture of Barber, in the ball cap, and below, finance director Chavvahn Gade. They’re an upbeat and energetic crew (Gade: Dr. Pepper; Barber: Red Bull) despite the long hours.



More talk from Monday’s meeting!

Here, the New York Times weighs in on the ongoing problems at the University of Montana.

The (Grizzly football) team … is now at the center of a scandal in which campus authorities and local law enforcement have been accused of doing too little to respond to claims of sexual assault.

Now, back to this week’s Council meeting. (Sorry about the thousand fonts. We’re going to have to live with that problem in this post.)
041512 coal trains2 kw.jpg
During Monday night’s Missoula City Council meeting, local electeds approved Councilor Dave Strohmaier’s resolution calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full blown study on the impacts locally and in other communities of the proposed coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington.
Montana Rail Link sent a letter to Mayor John Engen and the council opposing the resolution. Councilman Jason Wiener, who provided the letter, said at the meeting that the rail company noted it had issues with conclusions the council drew in its resolution.

“They did not highlight any of those conclusions,” Wiener said. “They did not offer any alternative set of facts.”

Instead, the letter, from president Tom Walsh, discussed jobs, an approach Wiener described as “a really disappointing bit of spin.”

Councilor Adam Hertz, though, who voted against the resolution, reminded members of the public of the figures in the Montana Rail Link letter.

  • MRL employs 906 people from Huntley, Mont., to Sandpoint, Ida.
  • The average wage is $67,000.
  • An increase in five more loaded trains per day would bring employment up by nearly 250 jobs and $20 million in payroll.

“Given the important role MRL will play in the future shipment of coal and other products through Montana, it’s critical that we work together to address the issues raised in the resolution being considered by the Missoula City Council,” reads the letter.

But Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken eschewed the argument pitting a strong economy against a clean environment.

“I think that we’re smarter than that. We have increasingly better technologies, and I think the Berkeley Pit had a lot of good paying jobs as well,” Wolken said, to laughter in the audience.

Kandi Matthew-Jenkins, who lives on the Westside and hears the trains every night, said she’s all for environmental impact studies. But she doesn’t want to drive businesses out of Missoula. Plus, she doesn’t want Missoula to meddle.

“What I’m against is we are intruding on two different states,” Matthew-Jenkins said.

Or perhaps, said Janet McMillan, we are not doing enough to protect rural communities. McMillan lives in the county and said many crossings run through pasture.

“All these trains going back and forth pose considerable risk to livestock and to people who are trying to get back and forth on their farm,” she said.

Lowell Chandler, who lives on the Northside and once showed up to a council meeting with his hands blackened from a railing outside his home, said sometimes when he breathes outside, he can literally taste diesel.

Here are the prepared statements from Amy Haynes, a physician who spoke Monday about the health hazards of increases in coal train traffic.

“It is a fact that putting that much particulate from coal into our airshed will dramatically increase the diagnoses of asthma, pneumonia, lung and sinus infection, allergies, emphysema, (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and cancer – lung, esophageal and stomach – and cardiovascular diseases as well,” said Amy Haynes, a Missoula physician who offered prepared remarks at a Missoula City Council meeting. “We know this. Medical research supports this as a fact.”

Here also is a letter from the Montana Conservation Voters, which Claudia Narcisco handed out at the meeting Monday. If all the ports on the West Coast get built, it’s bad news for Missoula and Montana, according to the letter.

“… Missoula could experience up to 60 additional trains each day passing through the railyard and cutting off at-grade crossings, such as the one (at) Greenough Street. This will result in eight additional hours of train traffic each day, approximately four times the current amount of train traffic we receive.”

In an earlier interview, Montana Rail Link president Tom Walsh told the Missoulian the company does not have the capacity to handle another 60 trains a day, partly because of two difficult mountain passes.

But even if more trains roll through, Montana Rail Link plans to keep the air under federal pollution limits. In the letter about the resolution, Walsh says “… should train volumes increase to the levels anticipated, we fully expect to remain in compliance with all air quality regulations.”

— Keila Szpaller

So lame to be home sick and miss Conservation

This from Councilman Bob Jaffe’s report of Wednesday committees:

“After lunch, the most interesting meeting was Conservation.”

I knew it. I was bummed to miss it. It was about Councilman Dave Strohmaier’s request that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do a giant impact study on the effects of the coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington.

Jaffe said that Councilman Adam Hertz got hung up on the reference to global warming in the letter and councilors also were debating whether to present the letter as an official action from the city or a letter signed only by supporters.

It’ll be on the agenda Monday, according to his report.

I wrote about Strohmaier’s proposal here and also talked with folks from the Blue Skies Campaign and Montana Rail Link about the black cloud of dust a machine had created in the rail yard.

Bryan Nickerson, of the Blue Skies Campaign, shared those photos last week with the Missoula City Council and passed them onto the Missoulian:

Nickerson, a former Northside resident, took the photos after a friend called him on April 13 about “a big plume that was completely black” in the Missoula railyard. An organizer with the Blue Skies Campaign, Nickerson said the thick black dust looks like coal dust, and he doesn’t want neighbors to be poisoned from the toxins in coal. According to Montana Rail Link, though, the pictures show a “ballast regulator” sweeping material off the rails as part of regular track maintenance, and the material is “likely a combination of dirt, rocks, sand and other miscellaneous material.”

rail yard1

rail yard 2

rail yard 3

rail yard 4

Tuesday smorgasbord: Coal to buses

Such a fast meeting last night!

coaltrainThe Missoula City Council meeting, of course.

During comments, Councilman Dave Strohmaier announced a request he plans to make of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a full blown study of the impacts of coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon.

From Strohmaier’s referral:

Numerous coal export facilities are planned for Oregon and Washington that will facilitate significantly increased coal train traffic through Missoula. This letter urges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who is charged with reviewing these coal export facility projects, to conduct a programmatic EIS that examines the full gamut of impacts resulting from the construction of these facilities—not just the localized impacts at the site of the facilities.

Earlier this year, we did a series on coal train traffic. The photo here is one editor Kurt Wilson took.

Here’s a paragraph from Strohmaier’s draft letter, which he will present Wednesday to the Missoula City Council Conservation Committee:

The railroad tracks and railyard in Missoula cut through a significant portion of town. The crossing at Greenough Drive, in particular, cuts off the Lower Rattlesnake neighborhood.  The increased train traffic will cause much more frequent delays there and will result in significant additional emissions of air pollutants, including greenhouse gases, from numerous cars idling for additional hours per day. In addition, increased diesel exhaust and impacts from coal dust emissions should also be thoroughly analyzed.

Numerous coal export facilities are
planned for Oregon and Washington that will facilitate significantly increased
coal train traffic through Missoula. This letter urges the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, who is charged with reviewing these coal export facility projects, to
conduct a programmatic EIS that examines the full gamut of impacts resulting
from the construction of these facilities—not just the localized impacts at the site
of the facilities.

I’m looking forward to the meeting.

Strohmaier is running for the U.S. House of Representatives, and he’s not alone in wanting that seat. Today, though, the mail bag on our letters page brought some letters of support, including this one from Missoula Mayor John Engen, who lauds the councilor as a man of hard work:

A bunch of folks from around the state who didn’t know Dave Strohmaier before this year are going to vote for him in the upcoming primary election. I’m going to vote for him. I hope you do, too.

Hard work still means something in Montana.

I’ve written about Strohmaier’s candidacy before here.

In other news, there’s a plan for new Mountain Line bus routes.

Note to self: Take the bus this week.

— Keila Szpaller

All budget, all the time! And taxes!

If you missed it, here’s my latest story about Mayor John Engen’s proposed 2013 budget. The general fund is 29 percent larger than it was in the 2006 budget, when Engen’s predecessor was in office.

While the budget has grown under Engen, the mayor and his department heads also have found savings.

City finance director Brentt Ramharter estimated the savings amount to some $2.2 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011; that’s $1.1 million each of those years.

Ramharter provided a lot of spreadsheets for the story, and I’m going to attach them below.

Also, Mayor Engen provided a handout he gives people who have frequently asked questions about the budget. For instance, folks want to know why city employees pay relatively little into their good plans, and here’s Engen’s response in part:

I’ve owned and operated two small businesses and provided health insurance for employees for the reasons I’ve mentioned here, and because I believed it was the right thing to do. I think the majority of Missoula’s citizens, as shareholders in our municipal corporation, want us to lead by example and be the best employer we can be, without taking advantage of our citizens’ magnanimity. And as a citizen and taxpayer, I believe it’s the right thing to do.

From the City Finance Department, budgets in Excel:

FY2006. FY2007. FY2008. FY2009. FY2010. FY2011. FY2012. FY2013 proposed.

Also, here’s some budget comparisons I put together based on data from Ramharter. Bet you can’t wait to print this stuff out, walk to Greenough Park, and bask in the sun with your crisp Excel spreadsheets.

What else? Oh yes. A history of city tax levies, also courtesy of finance director Ramharter. (Thank you, Brentt, for providing so much information and making sure the comparisons weren’t missing things.)

Year Percent increase
2004 4.04
2005 3.54
2006 7.57
2007 4.25
2008 3.66
2009 4.82
2010 0
2011 1.4
2012 3.4
Proposed 2013 3.28

That’s it for now. Well, except I took that direct and affordable Allegiant flight to Oakland this weekend. Man, if we can keep that one running, I’ll be in heaven.

— Keila Szpaller

Mayor Engen tweets, reflects on Sendak

Mayor John Engen sent his first original tweet today! Follow him: @engenjohn.

EngenJohn10:51am via web

My first tweet: Missoula, my hometown, is a great place that’s getting better. bit.ly/JUSrDa

EngenJohnMay 07, 6:30pm via Twitter for iPhone

RT @jenifergursky: If the interest rate on student loans doubles, the average student pays $1000 more per year. Let’s make the right cho …

Also from Mayor Engen in an email with “Sendak” in the subject line:

My favorite (Maurice Sendak) quote from ‘Fresh Air.’ I wept in the garage while listening. Couldn’t figure out how to tweet it back to you, so am relying on e-mail.

I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.

– Maurice Sendak

I think he sent it because I’d forwarded this one:

RT @Lgpguin: Observation: Many Maurice#Sendak obituaries, profiles do not mention he was gay. 50 years with partner till 2007 death

@Lgpguin is a good one to follow, too, ’cause she comments frequently on city government affairs.

She (“a woman working too much” in Missoula) replied to a tweet I’d sent Monday during the Missoula City Council meeting:

LgpguinMay 07, 9:36pm via txt

Hell freezes over! I agree w/ KMJ MT @KeilaSzpaller: Kandi Matthew-Jenkins said we celebrate booze in MSO while trying to fight DUIs. Do …

That was “doublespeak.”

Anyway, it was good to get a note about something human and literary from the mayor since tomorrow we’re talking about his proposed budget.

— Keila Szpaller

Numbers are so wonderful … here you go!

Here’s some data from Missoula Municipal Court on DUI and partner-family member assault tickets written by police.

You can see that this year, Missoulians are on track to rack up 1,240 DUIs, and that’d be a 71 percent increase from tickets written in 2009. Wow. These are just DUI tickets written, though. I don’t have a breakdown of the various results, like how many end up dismissed. But still. It’s lots.

Tickets 2009 2010 2011 YTD 2012
DUIs written 726 896 1132 310
PFMAs written 424 427 488 133
Source: Missoula Municipal Court

Also, in case you didn’t know, Animal Control officers started patrolling city parks by bike to try to keep dogs on leashes. Photographer Michael Gallacher took the picture. I’m glad that’s not me and my dog, although that’s a really cute pup.

— Keila Szpaller

Gun-toting cop slings burgers for a good cause

katiepetersenSometimes, I get a letter that’s worth sharing more widely. This weekend, Missoula Police Department detective Katie Petersen sent a note talking about how she’s a community member and not just a cop.

Here’s a picture of her in regular person mode, and below is her letter in full. She mentions volunteering at an event at Scotty’s Table, and in case you don’t know, the restaurant’s nonprofit Mondays are ongoing. “Like” them on Facebook for updates.

Thanks, Petersen, and other police who make the community a better place. Here’s her letter:

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We want political bloggers!

Wanna help shape the political debates this year?

The Missoulian is looking for two informed and opinionated  citizens who want to share their views and engage with others on a political blog that runs from now until the end of the 2012 election season.

We want folks who can discuss everything from candidates to ballot measures.

If the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg gets you fired up, you could be our blogger. Or if you have things to say about the way the Montana Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court are making decisions on campaign finance laws, this forum might be for you. Yes, we want your thoughts on the presidential race, too.

Interested? Think you know someone who is? We’re looking for two people, both from the Missoula area, one on either end of the political spectrum.

Want to learn more? Or have an idea of someone who would make a good blogger or commentator? Email sdevlin@missoulian.com or call 523-5250.

— Keila Szpaller

Happy Cinco de Mayo Eve!


Alright, here’s to the holiday, and now we’ve got some ground to cover.

First, something fun. It’s Bike-Walk-Bus Week, and that means the Pedal v. Metal competition, bikes v. cars.

Our very own Michael Moore nabbed a third place in this Wednesday competition. The reason this is a big deal is Moore was asked to drive a car, and cars don’t win. But he vowed to beat at least some bikes, and he did.

Ahh, me. Moore’s last day was Monday, but he’s still writing columns and other things for the Missoulian.

Anyway, the champion was Councilman Jason Wiener, who completed the race in a zippy 26 minutes and 14 seconds.

“It’s hard to imagine something better proving the efficiency of getting around Missoula on a bike than a fat guy in jeans and boots on his lunch break winning Pedal vs. Metal,” Wiener said in a news release about the event.  “But, improbably enough, that’s what happened.”

Here’s a photo of all the winners, courtesy of Gabriel Furshong, of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Board. In second place was Rachel Stevens of Adventure Cycling.

pedalmetalwinnersMoore dropped his medal off on my chair while I was gone this week, and it’s the coolest thing, so I’m putting up a picture of it for you. I don’t know if you can tell, but the ribbon is actually a bike inner tube, and the medallion is made out of … I’m going to get the name of the part wrong … maybe a gear? Reporter Kim Briggeman just told me “sprocket” is probably more correct.

Anyway, you can see that piece.


I’ll paste the full release about Pedal v. Metal at the end of this post, and let’s cover a couple other things first.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen that the feds are investigating the way Missoula has handled 80 rape reports the last three years.

Here’s Mayor John Engen in the story:

While “I and Chief Muir have no sense that we have failed to do our jobs … if there are things we aren’t doing right, we’re absolutely committed to doing them right.”

Here’s Engen’s response in this CNN story:

“If Justice has enough information that it believes an investigation is warranted, I’m not going to question that,” Engen said. “Clearly they have a responsibility to act on whatever complaints they are hearing. I think time will tell whether this was the right call or not.”

The U.S. Department of Justice promised fast action but made no estimates on when its investigation would be complete.

Other things:

I wrote this story about a misdemeanor probation program that’ll probably be starting up in Missoula. Councilman Adam Hertz provided an additional document with questions that came from a source who wished to remain anonymous.

In committee this week, Championman Wiener said he noticed at least one inaccuracy, but he also said Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks should be prepared to answer some of the questions raised in the document during the full council meeting.

Oh, while Wiener won the race, he goofed up in his remarks to fellow Councilman Jon Wilkins, according to this letter to the editor from Paul Sopko.

Well, I’ve gotta run, so I’m going to paste the full release Furshong sent so you can see all the places people have to bike and drive to AND all the businesses sponsoring events. Just click on the “more” link.


— Keila Szpaller

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