Folks living in rural Montana know how to roll with the punches. They deal with changing weather, fluctuating commodity prices, predators and disease. All the while, they’re producing the food that sustains us, bringing millions of dollars into our state, and stewarding our open working landscapes.
But what if the state is the one throwing the punches? Can our rural communities dodge such a big blow, or should they just take it on the chin?
Last December, thirteen communities across Montana had their infrastructure funding pulled out from beneath them. They were promised money from the Treasure State Endowment Program to help them upgrade their aging water and sewer systems or fix their crumbling bridges. That money was taken away not because our coal industry, whose profits fund this program, couldn’t pay for these projects, but because many of our legislators couldn’t find a way to raise revenue for the state.
Our state representatives made cuts to the hands that feed us, hands that are too busy working the ground to fight back. These are the stories of five of those communities.
Simms: Last December, the Simms County Sewer District got a letter saying that the state could no longer provide the $750,000 promised months earlier to help upgrade their leaking wastewater lagoon. Now this infrastructure project and a similar one in Cascade are both on hold, and the clock is ticking.
Harlowton: Between 2011 and 2013, there were 62 recorded breaks, and the pipes continue to fail dozens of times each year. To this day, 30 to 40 percent of Harlowton’s water is unaccounted for. But they, too, will have to wait to fix their failing pipes.
Hot Springs: The 544 Hot Springs residents have an outdated water system that needs some pretty big upgrades. Those upgrades are going to have to wait because our state Legislature took away the $478,632 that the town of Hot Springs was promised to help fix its wells and its water storage tank.
Circle: Last summer, Circle was awarded money to help fix their outdated water system. Months later, that money was taken back. Now the folks in Circle will have to wait with their broken asbestos-cement pipes. They’ll wait to make their plea once more on why our State Legislature should pay attention to this rural town.
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