Gianforte asks county and mine what’s needed

Thursday, June 23, 2022
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Behind Governor Greg Gianforte is Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger. Photo by the Office of the Governor.

Governor Greg Gianforte stopped in Columbus late Tuesday afternoon for a briefing on the flooding, meeting first with commissioners, members of the Stillwater County Emergency Service incident management team and Sibayne-Stillwater mine representatives before heading to the Dolan Lane area to take a look at the damage to some homes.

Getting the mine back open was a specific focus as it is one of the state’s largest employers with a bimonthly payroll of more than $4.4 million and brings $6.1 billion to the state’s economy every year. In 2021, the mine paid $33 million in local taxes

As of Wednesday, the Nye mine site had been non-operational for 10 consecutive days with access being cut-off by the damage to the bridge at Rocking J and the collapse of Nye Road that began just before where the guard shack is located.

“What do you need to make that happen (reopen),” Gianforte asked Sibanye-Stillwater Vice President of Legal, Environmental and Government Affairs Heather McDowell.

McDowell’s answer was the repair and re-opening of the Rocking J bridge, as the mine’s alternative plan was proving to not be feasible — primarily due to increased traffic on the alternative Grove Creek Road and safety concerns about the mine’s larger vehicles.

Next on the mine’s list is the repair of the company’s bridge on its east side. McDowell added that lines that can be seen “hanging out” of land on mine property are only water lines that pose no environmental threat.

McDowell also said it was promising to see already underway on the Rockin J bridge as well and thanked Gianforte at least twice for taking the time to help the company and the county.

Gianforte told both McDowell and Commission Chairman Tyrel Hamilton he stands ready to help directly either run into issues getting permits or things of that nature through as quickly as needed.

“Just call me,” said Gianforte, noting that they had his cell number.

The governor also asked about air rescues that had been performed, which numbered about two dozen conducted by Two Bear Air out of Kalispell, said Stillwater County Undersheriff Randy Smith.

The governor told officials it was good that initial assessments had already been done as that is a crucial step in the process of receiving state and federal assistance.

He also said his office was about to amend the FEMA declaration to include private property.

At least 11 homes in Stillwater County were lost to flooding last week and six remain in jeopardy, according to preliminary assessments completed by state and local authorities earlier this week.

8 HOMES DESTROYED, 80 DAMAGED, 8 PRIVATE BRIDGES GONE, NUMBERS LIKELY TO RISE

Another 80 homes were damaged by floodwaters, while eight private bridges and at least two head gates were also lost. This does not include outbuildings and these numbers are expected to rise.

The county Road & Bridge Department and the Montana Department of Transportation continue to assess and prioritize repair of infrastructure on impacted roads, with some repairs already underway.

County officials revealed this week that pressure on state authorities to get the repair of the Rockin J bridge underway were successful — a critical repair as the bridge connects Nye to the rest of the county via the Nye Road. An alternative route on Grove Creek Road is being manned by two pilot cars for safety purposes and adds at least 20 minutes.

Both the Stillwater and Yellowstone rivers remain closed as live power lines are in the water. Also still closed are all campgrounds and fishing accesses in the county as well as Itch-Kep-Pe Park in Columbus.

The Stillwater County Emergency Services (SCES) group that is managing the flood event now lists areas of impact as the Stillwater River valley, Itch-Kep-Pe campground in Columbus, Reed Point, points along the Yellowstone River, Park City and community events.

The county Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) has requested a FEMA assessment recovery team, the Army Corps of Engineers assessment team and for state DES to be onsite to assist.

From Monday through Wednesday at 6 p.m., an attorney with emergency permitting experience was stationed at the courthouse in Columbus and made avail able to all flood victims in need, courtesy of the Sibanye-Stillwater mining company.

Updated road closures can be found on the Stillwater County website at www. stillwatercountymt.gov and on the News’s Facebook page.

TORRENTIAL RAIN

Weekend rain brought torrential downpours that pushed the Stillwater River at Absarokee to almost 10,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) during the weekend. By Tuesday morning, it was at 9,000 cubic CFS and Wednesday morning had fallen to 4,720 CFS, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Normal CFS on this day is normally 3,420. Early last week, it topped 20,000 CFS.

From Saturday, June 18, through noon on Tuesday, June 21, storms dumped 2.14 inches in the Columbus area, 2.11 inches in the Absarokee area, 1.39 inches in Molt, 1.21 inches in Park City and .55 inches in the Fishtail area, according to the National Weather Service.