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Jun 13, 2018   |  

Montana delegation asks U.S. government to forgive Powell County's $3.9 million debt

By: MT Standard, Susan Dunlap

Montana's congressional delegation wants U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to forgive a $3.9 million federal bill that locals say could devastate Powell County.

U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte said Wednesday the county can't afford to pay the bill, and the debt threatens federal funding to the county.

Tester sent a letter to the U.S. Coast Guard last month over the issue. The National Pollution Funds Center, an arm of the U.S. Coast Guard, initially billed the county $2.9 million to clean up a spill of bunker fuel used in railroad locomotives. It was feared that the spill would pollute Tin Cup Joe Creek, a tributary of the Clark Fork River.

The Coast Guard responded with a letter to Tester stating that the matter would have to be taken up with a special arm of the Treasury Department that handles overdue debt collections.

An email to the U.S. Treasury Department was not returned.

Since the original bill in 2014, the debt has grown to $3.9 million. The original bill includes over $354,000 for indirect EPA costs, more than $81,000 for EPA personnel, and more than $25,000 for Coast Guard personnel.

The county, which took on the liability for the former railroad repair site in order to help facilitate the cleanup, says they estimate the work could have been done for as little as $73,000.

Now faced with a bill it can't pay, the county is in danger of losing crucial federal grant dollars that help pay for education and other services.

Ralph Mannix Jr., Powell County commissioner, said he's happy that Montana's congressional leaders are advocating for the county and trying to fix the problem.

The letter to Mnuchin says that if the Treasury Department won't absolve the county of responsibility for the bill, the Montana congressional leadership would like to see the federal government minimize the county's liability.

"It didn't need to happen the way it did," Mannix said.


Office Contact Information

Senator Tester's Montana staff serves the state from offices in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. Please bring your concerns with federal agencies, academy nominations, and other situations to one of these Montana offices.


Judge Jameson Federal Building
2900 4th Ave N, Suite 201
Billings, MT 59101
Phone: (406) 252-0550
Fax: (406) 252-7768


Avant Courier Building
1 E Main Street, Suite 202
Bozeman, MT 59715
Phone: (406) 586-4450
Fax: (406) 586-7647


Silver Bow Center
125 W Granite, Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701
Phone: (406) 723-3277
Fax: (406) 782-4717

Great Falls

119 1st Avenue N, Suite 102
Great Falls, MT 59401
Phone: (406) 452-9585
Fax: (406) 452-9586


Capital One Center
208 N Montana Avenue, Suite 202
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 449-5401
Fax: (406) 449-5462


8 Third Street E
Kalispell, MT 59901
Phone: (406) 257-3360
Fax: (406) 257-3974


130 W Front St.
Missoula, MT 59802
Phone: (406) 728-3003
Fax: (406) 728-2193

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