Tester says funding water projects could be difficult

Havre Daily News

by Tim Leeds

Finding money for Rocky Boy’s-North Central Montana Regional Water System and the St. Mary Diversion Rehabilitation, is becoming more complicated, said U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

“It’s going to be difficult without congressional authorizations known as earmarks, ” Tester said, adding that prohibiting earmarks turned funding projects like those over to the presidential administration.

The president’s budget appropriated about $500,000 for the Rocky Boy’s-North Central and the Fort Peck-Dry Prairie regional water systems, with none for the St. Mary project, Tester said.

In past years, as the projects struggled for money, Tester and Montana’s Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg have earmarked money for those projects.

Tester said he is in touch with the agencies in charge of those projects to see if money can be found to fund them.

“I know the projects well. I live in the middle of one of them, ” said Tester, a Big Sandy farmer.

The Rocky Boy’s-North Central project will treat water from Lake Elwell south of Chester and ship it to some 30,000 residents in north-central Montana, once completed.

The St. Mary project will rehabilitate the structures, some of them more than 100 years old, that divert water from the St. Mary River to the Milk River.

Tester said that in using earmarks, lawmakers were able to bring up issues and debate them in the open. The ban on earmarks has ended that.

“It really does tie both of our hands behind our back, ” he said. “We have to rely on the administration.”

Tester also spoke on the upcoming debate on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and the chance for the government shutting down if that issue can’t be resolved.

“I think a government shutdown would be a big mistake, and I think it can be avoided as before, ” he said, adding that dealing with the nation’s deficit and debt probably is the biggest issue Congress will deal with this year.

“If you look at it as a means to play political games, they can be (used as games), make no mistake about it …, ” he said. “We need to cut expenditures, but we need to do it the right way.”

He said Congress shouldn’t “cut the legs off the economy, or there won’t be any money coming in.

“It will will take cool heads and common sense to make (spending cuts) work, ” Tester said.

Tester also commended the U. S. soldiers who conducted the raid resulting in the death of Osama bin Laden.

“This was no easy task, ” he said.

Tester said that while the action was a major victory, it is not the end of the war on terrorism.

“It’s not time for a victory dance, but the whole world watched to see” what the United States can accomplish in that war, he said.

He said the United States needs to continue to work with its world-wide partners to suppress terrorism and continue to put pressure on al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

Tester said the impact of bin Laden’s death on the U. S. presence in Afghanistan will have to be carefully weighed. A U. S. troop withdrawal can’t lead to another governmental collapse like that in the 1990s that led to the Taliban taking power there, he said.

“That, it’s got to be very well-thought out and done with a plan …, ” he said. “We’ve invested a lot of blood and treasure over there.”