An overwhelming lack of bureaucratic urgency

County officials look to Sen. Daines for help
Thursday, October 20, 2022
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Nye Road remains in the same condition as it was immediately following the historic June flooding, leaving the Sibanye-Stillwater mining company to use alternative travel and production methods. It has also cut off national forest access to the Custer National Forest and impacted multiple private homes down river.

To say county officials and citizens are frustrated with the slow pace of recovery following the historic June 13 flooding would be an understatement.

The impact on southern Stillwater County — particularly Nye and Absarokee — continues to threaten homes through continued bank undercutting created by channels and the Sibanye-Stillwater mining company with the large chunk of Highway 419 (Nye Road) still gone.

So although 4.5 months have passed by, those scenes remain the same, mostly due to the fact that the magnitude of damage is forcing the county to rely on federal funds for repair and with federal funds comes red tape. Specifically, permitting processes for multiple agencies.

The Stillwater County Commission, along with Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde and County Community/Economic Development Director Stephanie Ray met with Sen. Steve Daines and his staff via video last Thursday morning. Also present were Carbon County Commissioners who are experiencing the same types of issues.

Daines said he needed to know specifically at what level in which organizations he needed to bring both county’s concerns. Daines also told the groups that this is what bureaucrats do — go back to their corners. “They get paid to protect their butts,” Daines told the group. The consensus was there is an overwhelming lack of urgency for both county’s situations.

THE ASK

Stillwater County Commissioner Chairman Tyrel Hamilton outlined Stillwater’s situation as follows: The biggest issue remains the hole in the Nye Road just below the mine. If this is not fixed before winter, there will be more problems. The state will not allow any work to be done in the river until Nov. 15 due to Brown trout spawning. The mine, said Hamilton, is going to do as little as possible, which puts more responsibility on the county.

It will take 45 days to do the repair work of that hole, but it will take 90 days to get the necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), said Hamilton.

Hamilton’s “ask” is for the Army Corps of Engineers, FWP and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to get out of the county’s way so the mine can be fully restored and property owners can save their land.

Ray further explained the permitting process to Daines and the frustration on the part of officials and the community regarding permitting and the order in which they must be obtained — DNRC, Army Corps of Engineers, FWP and then lastly, the county. Those agencies have not been receptive to suggested tweaks to that system involving conditional permits, said Ray.