Join The Western News to take a look back at the biggest stories of 2021, a year that will not soon be forgotten.
Fire restrictions adopted
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners joined state and federal officials in adopting stage one fire restrictions for the region.
In view of the high risk of fire, the restrictions prohibited the construction and care of campfires in dry areas, smoking outdoors near combustible material and the use of motor vehicles off designated trails.
County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) said local officials had worked closely with state and federal partners in recent years to streamline and co-ordinate the fire-fighting process.
“I think it makes it a lot easier for the citizens,” he said.
By July 14, the county had entered phase two restrictions.
And Troy fourth July
After a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Troy’s Independence Day celebration returned with recognition.
Along with fireworks, the renewed celebration included a color tour, worship service, parade, car show and vendor market. Revelers also took in live music during the day-long festivities.
The Troy Chamber of Commerce hosts the event every year. They canceled it in 2020 out of concern that government officials could once again impose pandemic restrictions that had disrupted everyday life in the late winter and spring of the same year.
The wildfire season is coming to life
U.S. Forest Service officials identified an expanding, lightning-triggered forest fire southwest of Troy as the Burnt Peak Fire after it grew to about 600 acres.
Although the fire would burn through the summer, federal officials quickly had about 80 firefighters working to contain the blaze. Their work early included scouting roads and identifying natural barriers to prevent the fire from spreading.
Steep and rocky terrain provided early obstacles to firefighting efforts. Strong winds contributed to the rapid growth of the flame, Forest Service officials said.
Teenager disappears near fall
First aiders began combing the Kootenai River for any sign of a 17-year-old disappearing after falling into the fast water.
Authorities said the teenager slipped into the river near the Kootenai waterfall while riding a mountain bike with his brother. Search efforts included David Thompson Search and Rescue, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Two Bear Air and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel.
Then Troy Mayor Dallas Carr joined Sheriff Darren Short for calling for caution around the waterfall, which is one of the county’s major outdoor attractions.
“It’s just a really ugly, treacherous place by the waterfall if you are not mindful,” Carr said.
Teske joins the board
County Commissioners Jerry Bennett (D-2) and Josh Letcher (D-3) voted to appoint Mayor Brent Teske to the commissioner board as Libby’s representative.
Teske was one of three people proposed for the seat, which opened up after former Commissioner Mark Peck resigned in June. The Central Committee of the Local Republican Party was responsible for selecting candidates under the Montana Code Annotated.
Bennett and Letcher pointed to Teske’s many years of work in local authorities as a major asset. After a stint as a city councilor in Libby, he became mayor. Teske worked at the same time as the county’s emergency manager.
“He’s very fluent in the county industry,” Letcher said.
Seifert returns to the National Board of Health
In a tie, then-Troy Mayor Dallas Carr voted to reappoint Jim Seifert as the county’s representative to the Lincoln County Board of Health.
City officials had put Seifert on the bench after discovering that they had not followed the correct procedure when appointing him in 2020. Although Seifert remained the sole candidate for the job for a while, he was eventually opposed by the retired contractor and real estate agent Jeff Barger.
City councilors listened as Carr interviewed both men in public before casting their ballots. Faced with the stalemate, Carr ultimately favored Seifert.
The tragedy takes the life of the local couple
Jacob and Sara Mertes, a prominent local couple active in the community, died while on vacation in Minnesota when the small plane they were on board crashed.
Jacob Mertes, 42, worked as a county planner, working in the local health department and was a member of the Libby Volunteer Ambulance Service. Dr. Sara Mertes, 37, worked as a physician at Cabinet Peaks Medical Center and served on the county health council.
Federal investigators said the plane was flown by Jacob Mertes’ stepfather when it went down. There were no survivors.
The two met locally, according to friends, and were first bound by their love of the outdoors.
After initially nixing a post-in local election in November, Libby City Council members considered shortly after looking at the difference in price tags.
When a proposal, submitted by the county election office, for a postal election came up on Aug. 2, city council members voted 4-1 to hold a personal election. In the ensuing weeks, officials learned that a postal election would cost $ 3,000 as opposed to a $ 7,000 “low-end” estimate to run a personal polling station.
After a tumultuous debate, city council members voted 4-2 to reconsider a postal election.
In the end, the deadline to make a change passed before election day before city council members took action.
Time no more
Peggy Williams officially took the job as mayor of Libby after her colleagues on the city council voted her into the position.
Williams had served as mayor pro tempore since former mayor Brent Teske was appointed to the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners. City Councilman Hugh Taylor and resident Kenny Rayome Jr. also took the top job at Libby, but Rayome left early due to concerns that his sudden departure from his position at the water treatment center would adversely affect residents.
After Taylor and Williams retired, the remaining city council members voted 3-1 to keep Williams as mayor.
Mandate against mandates draws supporters
About a dozen people demonstrated outside the Lincoln County Courthouse in favor of a new state law banning vaccine requirements.
While other states were home to protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Lincoln County residents saw an opportunity to thank Governor Greg Gianforte and Republican state lawmakers for cutting protection for the unvaccinated and anti-waxers. HB 702 prevented public authorities and private companies from ordering employees, customers or others to be vaccinated.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘We can either go and support them in their’ Say No, ‘or we could do our own and show appreciation to our leaders for having already done so,” said organizer Mitch Walters, a member. of a local. John Birch Society chapter.
Cleaning up DC
Public workers cleared a plot of land claimed by City Council candidate Darrel “DC” Orr off City Service Road for rubbish and rubbish.
The clean-up operation came at the instigation of the state Department of Environmental Quality, which received a complaint about the waste at the site. Officials initially believed the land was privately owned when Orr claimed it was his during a police investigation in May. After the DEQ forwarded the complaint to City Hall, officials determined that part of the land was public and initiated cleanup efforts, for fear of being responsible for the waste. Eventually, they found that most of the waste had been left on property controlled by the railway giant BNSF.
Asked about the property and the debris in it at the time, Orr said he could not explain why he claimed the land during the police investigation, nor could he explain the presence of debris on it. During his assault with an arms lawsuit in November, Orr testified under oath that he had a 40-year lease for land with the railroad company.
He has never presented any evidence of the agreement other than his words.
Emergency declaration revoked
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners revoked an emergency statement they had issued when forest fires burned outside Troy during an unusually dry summer.
By that time, the Burnt Peak fire, which began with a lightning strike in July, had reached 4,097 acres and was 41 percent contained. The larger South Yaak Fire had hit 12,371 acres and was 74 percent dammed.
County Commissioner Brent Teske reported that he visited the site of the latter fire in the days leading up to the vote. He said parts of Eastside Road were exposed to erosion after the fire. Recent rain had caused blur on the road, he said.
Both fires would continue to burn into the fall.
Not listed anymore
EPA officials removed Operating Unit 8 on the Libby Asbestos Superfund website from its national priority list.
The operational unit covers roads between Libby and Troy. It was the third part of the Superfund site to be delisted in so many years, officials said.
The move drew applause from Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Who thanked federal and local agencies for coordinating efforts to clean up the place.
Despite being removed from the list of national priorities, Operating Unit 8 will see continued operation and maintenance activity. This work includes regular reviews to ensure that the corrections in place to mitigate asbestos contamination remain effective.
County commissioners learned that an already expensive overhaul of the jurisdiction’s emergency communication and registration systems became a bit more expensive.
The $ 848,000 project, which was paid for out of county fees instead of tax money, needed an additional $ 31,000 to fix the communications system’s connection between the dispatch center and Libby’s water treatment plant. County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) brought the cost overrun up to his colleagues after Sheriff Darren Short notified him.
The news came several weeks after the county commissioners completed the 2022 budget year.
In a follow-up meeting with commissioners, Short stressed that the emergency communications system was used by a number of different first aid agencies in the county. He asked the commissioners to spread the costs around instead of deducting from his budget.
Short said technicians working on the problem realized in April that they needed to solve the problem fully. The invoice for the additional expense came only after the county’s budget process had been completed for the year.
“I do not know why the invoice was so delayed,” Short told commissioners. “[It came] well after our budget was put together. It was just an unforeseen expense. “
McNew joins the city council
When former Libby City Councilman Peggy Williams moved up to the mayor’s seat, her colleagues voted 3-2 to fill her vacancy with local businessman Zach McNew.
McNew, who already knew the ballot in November about one of the three city council seats that were up for grabs, was one of three residents who threw themselves into the position. Rival City Council candidate Melissa Berke and resident Garrey Allen rounded out the shortlist, though Allen was later removed after failing to complete his application on time.
Despite the appointment, McNew continued to campaign, saying he wanted to secure a full term on the city council. He also pointed out that it was too late to remove his name from the ballot.
Watch for the affected deputy
Friends and family of Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ben Fisher gathered in the Troy Christian Fellowship to pray for his recovery from COVID-19.
Fisher, who is a fixture in Troy and in the local law enforcement community, had walked into the emergency room in Libby just a few days before the gathering. Shortly thereafter, he was flown to Boise, Idaho, and fought for his life.
Along with prayers, friends, family and community members offered the fishermen meals, money and firewood. Pastor Eric Myers said the church was obligated to keep the family provided with food while Fisher battled the disease.
“Ben, if you can hear me now brother, fight, fight physically and do not give up,” Myers said as he closed the assembly.