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MARCH 18, 2007

HELENA, MONTANA

VOL 63, NO. 89

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Water quality focus of study
By LARRY KLINE IR Staff Writer The Lake Helena watershed has numerous problems, which will only multiply with continuing growth in the Helena Valley — and major portions of the possible solutions cannot be forced through with regulations, officials said this week. The success or failure of the push to clean up the watershed, which includes the Prickly Pear, Tenmile and Silver creek drainages as well as man-made Lake Helena, in many ways will be determined by the amount of voluntary efforts by landowners and stakeholders throughout south-central Lewis and Clark and northern Jefferson counties. “All the real hard work lies ahead of us,” PBS&J Water Resources Program Manager Gary Ingman told a group gathered at the East Valley Middle School this week. “It’s going to be a huge job, but nobody’s interested in seeing this fail.” Ingman was reviewing a report drawn up by the state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — which officials said serves as the starting point for a holistic study and cleanup of the watershed. The document — called a framework restoration plan for the watershed— analyses the sources of a number of problems in the valley: elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, contamination by heavy metals, sedimentation and water temperature issues. Some of those issues are tied to habitat alteration, changes in stream flow and the degradation of streamside, or riparian, areas. The Lake Helena project is the largest study of its kind, bigger than any watershed analysis the DEQ or the EPA have undertaken, Ingman said. “Even though it’s been three and a half years, we’re just getting started,” he added. Ingman has worked on the report since its beginnings in 2003. The EPA’s project manager for the study, Ron Steg, was working in Washington, D.C., during the week, so Ingman was tapped to present the study to a group of landowners, city water and wastewater plant officials, and watershed steering committee members on Wednesday. The watershed is listed by the DEQ as failing to meet federal Clean Water Act standards. A federal judge has ordered the agencies to complete such framework documents, which include so-called “total maximum daily loads” — benchmarks for contaminants and other problems — for impaired waters in the state by 2012. Neither the federal Clean Water Act or

HELENA’S BUILDING BOOM

Still blue skies?

Mercer subpoenaed in Justice Dept. probe
■ Baucus, Tester stop short of calling for AG Gonzales to resign
By MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON — The U.S. attorney for Montana has figured prominently in a Senate investigation into the firings of several U.S. attorneys, possibly threatening his chances to be confirmed as the No. 3 official in the Department of Justice. The Senate Judiciary Committee authorized the subpoenas of Bill Mercer, and several other top Justice Department officials, this week as part of an intensifying investigation into whether eight firings were a purge of prosecutors deemed unenthusiastic about presidential goals. Two of the attorneys have testified that Mercer told them they were not fired for performance reasons. Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee is charged with confirming Mercer as associate deputy general in the Justice Department. Mercer has been working both jobs since he was nominated last September. If confirmed, he is expected to leave his position as Montana’s U.S. attorney. ‘‘We are optimistic and hopeful that the Senate moves forward and confirms Bill Mercer, who has been a tremendous asset to the department,’’ said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Justice Department. Mercer still is paid as Montana’s U.S. attorney, Roehrkasse said. Mercer is not paid for the Justice Department job, because he has not been confirmed. As the Judiciary Committee stalls on the nomination, the state is without a full-time U.S. attorney. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme, Mercer’s top deputy, said Friday that Mercer makes decisions from Washington. ‘‘He still handles a large share of his duties,’’ Alme said. ‘‘We are in constant contact.’’ Mercer’s new job could also be threatened if his boss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is forced to resign. Some Republican members of Congress have suggested that happen. ‘‘It is ultimately the president’s decision, but perhaps it would benefit this administration if the attorney general was replaced with someone with a more professional focus rather than personal loyalty,’’ said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Republican Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire has also called for Bush to replace Gonzales. Montana’s two Democratic senators stopped short of urging Gonzales’ removal. ‘‘Jon believes these are seriMore MERCER, page 6A

The Lake Helena project is the largest study of its kind, bigger than any watershed analysis the DEQ or the EPA have undertaken.

By JOHN HARRINGTON IR Business Editor he building boom may be slowing somewhat across the Treasure State, but the packed parking lot and crowded aisles at the Helena Building Industry Association Builder’s Home Show Saturday at the Carroll College P.E. Center were evidence that Helena is bucking the trend. Several thousand people were expected to pass through the show Saturday, checking out the offerings of builders, cabinet makers, landscapers, well drillers and others from throughout the building and home improvement industries. Builders here continue to enjoy strong demand, even as the story is different across the state and in some of Montana’s traditional high-growth areas (see chart on page 7A). Housing starts in the city of Helena and Lewis and Clark County increased 22 percent last year over 2005, while the state as a whole saw a 9 percent drop. (Housing starts are measured by the date of issuance for building permits in cities and by eletrical permits in counties.) The drop was more precipitous in Gallatin County (down 10.8 percent), Missoula County (off 26.2 percent) and Flathead County (down 14.4 percent), areas that have seen remarkable growth

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Eliza Wiley IR Staff Photographer

Corinne Waldenmayer, with Walden Properties, chats up their new Old Distillery Lofts going in on Front Street with prospective client and mortgage broker Jim Smith, with First Community Bank, at the HBIA show Saturday.
in the last decade. The 499 housing starts in Lewis and Clark County last year were just 59 fewer than in Missoula County, a metro area with nearly twice the population. Jefferson County had 101 housing starts last year, with Broadwater County adding 73 new homes. Mike Hughes, a local builder and president of the HBIA, believes the Capital Region still has room to grow, for two reasons. “I think the primary one is that we’re one of the few areas left in the state that’s still affordable, though that is changing rapidly,” he said. “Also, we’ve had a big increase in the employment base in Helena.” The state may be turning grayer demographically, but the Home Show had a decidedly youthful feel, with many young couples and todMore HOUSING, page 7A

More WATER, page 6A

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