Sen. Tester comes to town, talks economy

Economic concerns and economic development were the topics during a forum with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester at Cabinet Mountain Brewery in Libby on Wednesday afternoon.

Tester gathered round a table with various government and business leaders and asked for their comments and concerns on various issues.

“This community’s been through a lot,” Tester said following the meeting. “I want to make sure they have the tools to make it in the 21st century.”

Topics ranged from poor broadband speeds in rural parts of the county, to the Environmental Protection Agency potentially pulling out of the city next year, the Columbia River Treaty and others.

State Sen. Chas Vincent noted that Tester has worked with him on permitting issues at the Rock Creek Mine in Sanders County.

Vincent asked about a lack of progress with Frontier upgrading its Internet service in the rural parts of the county. Vincent said that Frontier received $7 million two years ago to upgrade the Internet in rural areas it serves and wondered what happened. He noted that it takes some folks two hours to download something.

County Commissioner Greg Larson said the EPA may leave town next year and noted it contributes $9 million to the local economy yearly.

Others talked about the positives going on in town.

Paul Bunn, owner of the Venture Inn, said his business is sponsoring a new travel guide, “Kootenai Country, Montana,” to support tourism. Lincoln County has one of the best outdoor recreation sites in the U.S., he said, calling it “Glacier Park without the crowds.”

“A lot of stuff is coalescing now in town,” said Kristin Smith, co-owner of the brewery.

Tina Oliphant, executive director of the Lincoln County Port Authority, asked for help in moving things along in negotiations with the Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA in regard to the Libby’s Superfund asbestos site.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Tester said there are some things he can do to help the Port Authority.

“Change is coming to Libby,” he said, noting how Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, Idaho, have grown over the years.

“It’s gotta be thoughtful growth. They don’t make things like this,” he said, referring to Lincoln County’s beauty.