ITD News
Associated Press
News Link

Montana governor promises aid for snow deluge

By Tom Howard
(Billings) Gazette Staff

Gov. Judy Martz pledged last week to help snowbound Eastern Montana counties clear roads and prepare for possible spring flooding from this winter's record snowpack.

A series of storms since Christmas, including one that moved through the area early last week, has deposited several feet of snow on northeastern Montana.

After an address to the Montana Association of Counties and disaster and emergency officials, Martz met with county commissioners from Eastern Montana who shared stories of depleted road budgets, rescues of stranded motorists and propane trucks that follow motor graders into snowbound ranches.

"We can't go home," said Gary MacDonald, a commissioner from Roosevelt County. "It's a helpless feeling."

Ferris Toavs, also a Roosevelt County commissioner, said the county's road department has accumulated hundreds of hours of overtime.

"Our graders are taxed to the limit, and we have had people stranded in their vehicles all night," Toavs said.

Martz said Montana is providing assistance whenever possible, but the state doesn't have a lot of extra money.

Martz was able to use $27 million in one-time federal revenues to pay the bill for the 2003 fire season. She said legislators hounded her to call a special session to spend more money. But she resisted because she wanted to save money for unforeseen events such as the winter snow emergency, she said.

"We're doing what we said we would do," Martz said "We didn't want the Legislature to spend it all. We'll try to do the best we can do."

State snowplows have been directed to help clear county roads after they have completed their work on highways, she said. Equipment, including rotary snow plows, is also being transferred to snowbound portions of Eastern Montana when possible, she said.

Although the record snowfall has caused hardship throughout northeastern Montana, more danger could be months away.

"Our biggest concern is that when all of this snow melts, there will be flooding," Martz said.

Dolores Plumage, a Blaine County commissioner, said winter storms have hit the Fort Belknap Reservation especially hard. The snows have stranded people who need medical treatment, and schools in Hays and Lodgepole were closed after the latest storm, she said.

County commissioners have the option of levying an additional 2 mills to pay for plowing. Several counties already have done that, and others plan to do so soon.

Julie Adolphson, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Glasgow, said moisture accumulations exceed levels measured in 1916 and 1951, which were record flood years in northeastern Montana.

The outlook for floods depends on several factors, such as whether more snow will fall over the next two months and whether the snowpack melts quickly or slowly, Adolphson said.