Editor’s note: As 2012 comes to a close, the Bigfork Eagle is taking a look back at the top stories of the year.
Green Box sites
Flathead County Solid Waste Department plans to consolidate green box sites in the southern part of the county came to a head last fall as concerned citizens in Bigfork and Lakeside started to fight the decision.
The Bigfork green box site is on the docket for closure in the next six months to one year, the Lakeside green box site is on the docket in the next two years or more.
Reasons behind wanting to close the sites stem from the solid waste board’s desire to lessen the number of green box sites in the county to a more manageable number and the solid waste department’s desire to fence, gate and man all their sites.
Last December, Bigfork residents showed up in droves at a solid waste board meeting to ask the board to delay their plans for closure until they examined other options more thoroughly.
Both Lakeside and Bigfork residents have told the county they are willing to increase their annual solid waste assessment to improve, move and/or keep their green box sites in convenient locations. The solid waste board told residents they didn’t want to raise anyone’s assessment above the $80.73 everyone in Flathead County pays.
If the sites are closed, Bigfork residents would be diverted to the Somers and Creston sites while Lakeside residents would be diverted to the Somers site.
Lake County judge resigns
The Lake County Justice of the Peace Chuck Wall resigned after two court employees filed sexual harassment complaints against him with the Montana Human Rights Bureau and won confidential settlements.
Wall submitted his resignation on Aug. 8 after 10 years on the bench.
After-school programs change out
Bigfork lost one after-school program and gained another last year.
LEAP closed in May after serving the community for five years under the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant from the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
After dealing with budget issues over the last couple of years and changing out their program director, the program was forced to close with the end of the five-year community learning center grant.
The closure made room for other nonprofits to apply for the grant. Cathy Gaiser and the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre were awarded the CLC grant through the Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork.
With that grant, Bigfork’s new after-school program, ACES, Academics, Community, Education and Sports, was founded and opened in September.
The grant totals up to about $200,000 per year for the next five years and serves after-school programs in Bigfork, Kila, Marion and Deer Park. Bigfork’s program will receive the bulk of the money because it provides for the largest number of students.
ACES is taking fundraising steps to insure the program survives after the five-year OPI grant ends.
In September, the Forest Service’s Community Forest Program awarded the Foy’s to Blacktail Trails project a $400,000 grant to purchase 170 acres of forested land needed to access Forest Service land from Herron Park, just southwest of Kalispell.
The grant was awarded as part of $3.5 million distributed between 11 community forest projects across the United States.
Foy’s to Blacktail Trails board chair Cliff Kipp said with the $400,000 grant, the project needed to raise an additional $1 million to complete acquisition of the remaining 170 acres of land.
Once that’s done, the park will sit at 440 acres and will reach Plum Creek land that can connect Herron Park to the Flathead National Forest’s Blacktail Island Unit.
Water Rights Compact
A December Lake County judge’s ruling may hold up a water rights compact between Montana, the feds and the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes.
The compact quantifies the tribe’s legal water rights and gives them a structure to manage their water on the reservation. The Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission finished the compact last year after negotiating the terms of the compact for years.
A series of Flathead Valley public information meetings held in November and December showed that many misunderstood what the compact meant for current water rights holders on and off the reservation.
The commission’s goal is to submit the compact for approval in this year’s legislative session. It would then need to be approved by Congress, the tribes and the Montana Water Court.
The judge’s ruling is in response to a complaint filed by the Western Montana Water Users Association, a group of about 100 member irrigators who claim that the Joint Board of Control has not adequately represented their interests. The ruling says that a negotiated water-use agreement must first be approved by reservation irrigators either through a vote or petition. He also ordered that the water-use agreement must be submitted to his court before it goes to the irrigators.
The Joint Board of Control and the irrigation districts have 30 days to respond. A hearing will then be scheduled.
‘Motorcycle Bandit’ sentenced
Steven Dee Norred of Bigfork, also known as the “Motorcycle Bandit,” was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in June for robbing several banks.
In addition to his jail time — 87 months for the robberies and 84 additional months for the use of a weapon during one of the crimes — Norred will serve five years of supervised release and was ordered to pay more than $88,000 in restitution and a $600 special assessment.
Norred was dubbed “the motorcycle bandit” because he wore a motorcycle helmet during four of the crimes and fled several of the banks on either a motorcycle or an all-terrain vehicle.
Norred robbed First Interstate Bank in Bigfork of $6,500, Glacier Bank in Lakeside of $46,000, First Valley Bank in Seeley Lake of $7,600, and Bitterroot Valley Bank in St. Regis of $13,500.
Norred finally was captured after robbing the Lakeside branch of Glacier Bank of more than $14,000 for a second time on Sept. 28, 2011.
Dragon boats took off for the first time in Montana at Flathead Lake Lodge in September. There were 55 teams and 1,210 participants made up of local teams from around the Flathead Valley and beyond.
Each team included 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steerer, who raced in Hong Kong-style, 46-foot dragon boats which were distinguished by a dragonhead at the bow and a dragon tail at the stern.
The event is anticipated to become an annual tradition on Flathead Lake.
The 2012 spring Mack Days fishing tournament set a new record by catching 36,958 non-native lake trout. The previous record was 34,350 in 2010 and 2011 brought in 26,477.
Don Beville of Lakeside won $9,550 by placing first in the spring tournament with 1,551 fish.
Then in the fall, Flathead Lake anglers reeled in $13,000 worth of tagged lake trout during the fall Mack Days fishing tournament.
Max Martz of Corvallis came in first place in the fall tournament with 1,111 lake trout.
A 48-inch clock outlined in wood trim with several chime-tones was added to the roof of the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center during the summer. The Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork raised $36,000 to pay for the project.
Eight retire from Bigfork Schools
Bigfork High School teachers Mike Boshka and Ana Young and Bigfork Elementary School teachers Cathy Bach, Terry Gross, Sharon Lamar and Carolyn Pitz and curriculum director Jackie Boshka accepted an early retirement package offer from the Bigfork School District’s board of trustees last spring.
In December the district’s maintenance director, Gordon Durham, announced his retirement as well.
Swan River Principal Resigns
Swan River Elementary and Middle School’s principal Peter Loyda announced his resignation in May and Marc Bunker filled the position last summer.
Community rallies for Kheri Bilal
Residents of Bigfork, Woods Bay, and surrounding areas rallied together to raise funds for Kheri Bilal, bartender at The Raven and Whistling Andy’s Distillery, after he suffered a severe brain injury and broken bones while on vacation with his wife Valentina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
The couple was celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary when Kheri fell from a balcony, and because he didn’t have travelers insurance they couple needed to raise several thousand dollars to cover the medical expenses.
Several fundraisers were held in support of Kheri, along with a children’s lemonade stand as well.
Kheri and the rest of the Bilal’s returned home shortly afterward and Kheri is recovering in physical therapy.
Swan River Bike Path
Bigfork’s Rotary Club reached its goal of raising $41,000 for a match fund to build two miles of bike and walking path on Swan River Road and the Flathead County Commissioners unanimously endorsed the county contract on June 14.
The 2-mile portion of the Swan River Trail will ultimately connect downtown Bigfork through the Wild Mile trail to an existing bike path at Swan River School at the intersection of Montana 83 and Swan River Road.
This work will cover the stretch south from Lee Road to Williams Lane.
Assisted Living Center
The Rising Mountains Assisted Living Center planned three miles north of Bigfork won approval from the Flathead County commissioners in September.
The facility will be 27,000-square-feet and will accommodate 28 residents, with an expansion component to boost the number of residents eventually to 36.
Bigfork Festival of the Arts
Tents lined Grand Ave. and Electric Ave. in downtown Bigfork with 155 artists selling everything from paintings and sculptures to furniture and handmade crafts at the 34th annual Bigfork Festival of the Arts in August.
According to festival co-chair Donna Lawson, the festival ran at maximum capacity and had about 25 percent new artists.
Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival
After 12 rounds of cuts between hundreds of YouTube video submissions from musicians from 52 countries, six finalists competed for the top spot in the Six String Theory Guitar Competition portion of the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts in August.
This was the second year that Bigfork hosted the world finals for the Six String Theory competition.
In addition to the Six String Theory competition, Grammy nominee jazz guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Jorge Roeder and percussionist Tupac Mantilla performed jazz, blues, folk and world music at Flathead Lake Lodge.
Chris Hillman of The Byrds also performed original tunes and old favorites with multi-instrumentalist Herb Pederson at Flathead Lake Lodge.
Rumble in the Bay
Downtown Bigfork and Ferndale Airport rumbled with activity on Sept. 2 with the fifth annual Rumble in the Bay car show on Electric and Grand Ave. and the Rumble Over the Bay plane show at Ferndale Airport.
Both festivities began at with a fly-in over Bigfork by a WWII Vought-Corsair F4U. Vehicles on display included everything from 1911 Oldsmobiles, to hot rods, NASCAR racers and vintage and classic motorcycles.
Meanwhile at the Ferndale Airport, Rumble Over the Bay featured about 25-30 airplanes from different eras.
Molen’s movie stirs controversy
The anti-Obama documentary “2016: Obama’s America” produced by Bigfork resident and Oscar-winning filmmaker Jerry Molen was “pushing buttons” according to Molen in late August. Molen said reactions to the film ranged from applause in theaters all over the country to him being called a racist or bigot or compared to the Nazis.
Among those critiques was an article from the Associated Press in August stating that the documentary’s claims “don’t hold water.” Molen’s response was that he trusts the writer’s research.
The premise of the film was what the year 2016 could be like if Obama won this year’s election. Molen’s personal view was that the country could expect more of the same things that happened during his first term as president.
Since its release in July, the film grossed over $33.45 million in the box office and became the fourth highest-grossing documentary since 1982.
In October, the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre announced they need to raise $100,000 in two years in order to keep their facility. Although their shows are performed at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts, the behind the scenes action occurs at the BPCT building at 833 Grande Avenue, which they currently rent, and have until the end of 2014 to purchase half the building.
Meeting their initial target of $100,000 means BPCT will jointly own the facility with the Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork.
Bigfork residents made some big donations to candidates, parties, PACs, SuperPACs and outside groups in the 2012 elections according to opense crets.org.
According to the website, Bert Arnlund of Bigfork made the biggest single donation in the valley when he donated $20,000 to the Republican National Committee on July 12 and made two $2,500 donations to Mitt Romney on July 10. However, Arnlund said he actually made a single donation of $25,000 while attending a Romney campaign fundraiser dinner in Hamilton in July.
Taken on a city-by-city basis, opensecrets.org said that Whitefish led the valley as of early October with $240,503, followed by Bigfork with $145,108, then Kalispell with $140,328, then and Lakeside with $24,673, and then Columbia Falls with $22,735.
Aquatic Invasive Weeds
After months of back and forth between Flathead County, concerned citizens and state agencies, Eagle Bend Yacht Harbor took the first step toward eradicating curleyleaf pondweed last May.
The herbicide they used was targeted in the Eagle Bend channel and harbor.
Treatment in the other waterways affected by the aquatic invasive species, Flathead Lake, Flathead River and Fennon Slough, has to wait until Flathead County comes up with a new version of their invasive weed management plan. The current plan doesn’t include any details on how to deal with aquatic invasive species.
Curleyleaf was discovered in Flathead Valley waterways in September of 2011.
Mount Aeneas antenna
Last May, a helicopter ferried one solution to Flathead County emergency service dispatch radio issues to the top of Mount Aeneas in the form of an antenna.
The antenna was placed inside a building owned by Optimum to boost radio signals around Bigfork, Creston, Lakeside, Somers, Jewel Basin and on Flathead Lake — areas where county officials say they have dead spots.
It is only a test antenna, but the test data shows that signals carry to all the areas the county was concerned about.
In order for an antenna to be placed permanently in the building, Flathead County would need to get a permit from the Forest Service. The Forest Service needs to review the data and a permanent permit would need to go through a public comment period and other decision-making processes before it’s issued.
The county is currently operating the antenna under a one-year permit.
Bigfork stormwater tax district
Flathead County commissioners denied a year’s worth of work by the Bigfork Stormwater Advisory Committee on the formation of a Rural Special Improvement District last October.
The RSID was proposed as a tax to property owners within the Bigfork water and sewer district that would help pay for the remainder of the stormwater project — $1.3 million for construction on the north and sound ends of Bridge Street. The tax would have been spread out over a 10- or 20-year period of time.
In the last six years new stormwater systems were installed on Electric Avenue, Grand Drive and River Street. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Treasure State Endowment, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and some county funds funded those projects.
Commissioners felt the timing of the RSID was wrong and will most likely visit the issue again in the future.
BSAC is set with the task of spending the remainder of the grant money awarded for education and outreach for the project. The money will be spent purchasing pet waste cleanup stations to install around Bigfork.
Stormwater samples taken from Grand Drive showed relatively high amounts of fecal coliform bacteria. The results of the sampling also show a reduction in other pollutants, such as nitrogen, over samples taken before the project began.
Somers Tie Plant
The fourth five-year review of the remedial actions performed under the Superfund program for the Burlington Northern Somers Tie Plant by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed some unanswered questions regarding the extent of the site’s contaminated groundwater in June of this year.
The Somers Plant operated from 1901 until 1986, where railroad ties and other lumber products were treated for protection from insects and weathering.
The site consists of roughly 80 acres adjacent to Flathead Lake in Somers and the site’s contaminants include nitrogen bearing heterocyclic bases, zinc, phenols, creosote, tar acids and bases, petroleum, and several metals such as arsenic, lead, and selenium.
The most recent five-year review’s sampling results raised questions about the parameters for potential groundwater contamination. It was unclear just how far the contaminants spread.
However, the five-year review found that the site remedy’s soils component was performing as intended and was protective of the environment and public health.