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Second Montana ski resort looks to turn wastewater into powder

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Second Montana ski resort looks to turn wastewater into powder


The Spanish Peaks Mountain Club has requested a permit from the Montana DEQ.

By Justin Franz MONTANA FREE PRESS

The Spanish Peaks Mountain Club in Big Sky has asked for a permit from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to let it turn wastewater into snow for skiing and snowboarding. The private club is the second Montana ski area to try and implement snowmaking technology that proponents say is good for the environment and skiers amid a warming climate. 

More than a dozen ski areas in eight states, plus some in Canada, Switzerland and Australia, use wastewater to make powder. This past winter, the Yellowstone Club near Big Sky became the first in Montana to turn what was once sewage into snow. The Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and Yellowstone Club share a common parent company, CrossHarbor Capital Partners, but they operate as separate businesses. The Spanish Peaks terrain is operated by Big Sky Resort and accessible to the public. 

If approved, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club would use the treated water to make snow on approximately 44.5 acres of groomed runs on Spirit Mountain and the Spanish Creek base area and about 40.7 acres in the Southern Comfort ski area. The ski area would mostly use the treated snow in November and December to build a base during the early season. 

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The project would be built out in two phases. During phase one, the ski area would use 23 million gallons of treated water per year to make about 18 to 24 inches of snow. During phase two, that would increase to 44 million gallons of water annually. 

DEQ has prepared a draft environmental assessment and is accepting comments on the plan through June 6. 

In an emailed statement to Montana Free Press, Spanish Peaks’ Vice President of Environmental Operations Richard Chandler wrote, “We are very excited about this effort and appreciate the Department of Environmental Quality’s careful review. The conservation community in Montana has embraced the concept of turning reclaimed water into base layer snow to reuse our precious resources, recharge the aquifer and extend cold water flow into our rivers in the late summer months. Projects like these will help add resiliency to the Gallatin River, especially during drought years.”

Chandler, who also oversees the Yellowstone Club’s environmental operations, has previously said that turning recycled water into snow is better for the environment than just releasing it into a river, which normally is what happens. By shooting it through the snowmaking equipment (it’s essentially misted onto the slopes as snow) the wastewater is treated again. Then, as it melts in the spring and enters the ground, it’s filtered a third time. Because of that, groups like the Gallatin River Task Force, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Great Yellowstone Coalition and the Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators all supported the Yellowstone Club project.

The effort to turn wastewater into snow in Big Sky dates back more than a decade. In 2011, the Gallatin River Task Force, Yellowstone Club and DEQ teamed up to study the concept. The idea was that as climate change made the region’s snowpack more unpredictable, they could serve skiers and the watershed by making snow from treated water that is traditionally just put into rivers and other bodies of water. That winter they successfully turned a half-million gallons of wastewater into two acres of snow about 18 inches deep. 

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In 2020, the Yellowstone Club applied for a permit from DEQ to expand that pilot program into a permanent snowmaking operation on Eglise Mountain. The following year, the state issued a permit allowing the Yellowstone Club to turn 25 million gallons of wastewater into snow annually. Two years and $12 million later, the new system began making snow last November. 

Under the current plan, 80% of the recycled water comes from the Big Sky community, and 20% comes from the Yellowstone Club. For the Spanish Peaks project, all of the water will come from the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District wastewater treatment facility.  



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Montana

New data raises more questions about health of Clark Fork fishery • Daily Montanan

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New data raises more questions about health of Clark Fork fishery • Daily Montanan


While anglers flock to streams across the Clark Fork Basin for another fishing season, hardworking staff at Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks have been grappling with a sobering question: Is it safe to eat fish anywhere in the Clark Fork River?  

Problems with fish in the Clark Fork aren’t necessarily breaking news. Previous testing by FWP found high levels of three types of dangerous contaminants: dioxins, furans, and PCBs in rainbow trout and northern pike in some stretches of the river. This discovery led to a formal advisory that the public avoid eating fish in certain river sections – from the Bitterroot confluence to where it joins the Flathead – due to human health concerns.  

But the Clark Fork is a big watershed, and questions remained about whether fish in the headwaters or downstream should also be off-limits. These unknowns prompted Montana Trout Unlimited  to partner with FWP and other stakeholders, the Clark Fork Coalition, the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program, the Missoula County Health Department and the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes to pool resources to investigate the scope and potential sources of pollution.  

In 2022, MTU secured a federal EPA grant to fund water quality and fish-tissue sampling at dozens of locations, from the Clark Fork headwaters to the Idaho border. FWP staff spent the 2023 season deploying samplers in the river and harvesting fish to test for the presence of dioxins, furans and PCBs. Now the initial results are in, and the picture may be bleaker than before.  

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The devices deployed last year identified elevated levels of PCBs, dioxins, and furans at the headwaters, again near Bearmouth, and downstream of Missoula.  Although we await a definitive analysis, initial results suggest that levels may approach or exceed safe limits for human consumption. It is now clear that this contamination is widespread, but more work is needed to pinpoint its specific sources, and to develop effective remediation strategies to protect human and ecological health.  

So what does this new data mean? We don’t have the complete answer yet.

Experts with FWP and Montana DEQ need to complete their quality-control analysis before making decisions about whether an expanded advisory is warranted. However, two things are for certain:  

First, Clark Fork anglers should proceed with caution. Even in very small amounts, these highly toxic contaminants are known to cause cancer, damage the immune system, and cause developmental and reproductive problems. While more needs to be done to fully understand the 2023 data, an abundance of caution would dictate avoiding fish consumption throughout the river. 

Second, the public needs more information. These contaminants are highly toxic and extremely difficult to detect. Testing is expensive, time consuming, and often leads to questions that warrant further investigation. In some areas, we currently have the resources to dig into the problem. At Smurfit-Stone – a known source of all three types of contaminants – the EPA is investigating the site and must do everything possible to quantify and mitigate Smurfit’s contribution to the problem. In other areas, we may need to collect more data to identify and remove new sources of contamination.

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We’ve come too far to accept a perpetually contaminated Clark Fork fishery, and FWP’s discoveries demand a strong response. This is true not just at Smurfit but in the upper river, where hundreds of millions have already been invested in restoring a heavily damaged waterway. Through the ongoing and collective efforts of FWP, DEQ, and a broad set of community stakeholders, we are well positioned to identify and address threats to human and ecological health and work towards a cleaner and healthier Clark Fork. 

David Brooks is the Executive Director, Montana Trout Unlimited and Andrew Gorder is the legal and policy director for the Clark Fork Coalition. 

 



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Corvette lovers meet in Missoula

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Corvette lovers meet in Missoula


MISSOULA — Whether it’s new or old, few cars are as iconic as the Corvette, which is why members of the Hellgate Corvette Club show up to the fairgrounds every year to spell out the name with their cars.

For the 53rd year the Big Sky Corvette Meet has returned to Missoula and enthusiasts from across the state and country came to town to show off their cars.

Corvette lovers meet in Missoula

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Murray Elliot, one of the event organizers, says there is a unique experience when driving any Corvette, new or old, that all owners can relate to.

“We all become one with the car and that is the fun, Elliott said.

“So we tour around, like I said this is the 53rd year so everybody knows everybody and it’s just fun to tour around.”

One of the Drivers who loves to tour his car around is Gary Kinzner who has been working on his 1957 Corvette for 50 years.

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Kinzner purchased the car for $350 and fixed it new over the years, according to him nothing beats repairing an old classic.

“I look at the new cars here and they’re beautiful but most of the work is done by other people this one I can basically fix anything on it myself and that’s the fun part of owning a car,” Kinzner said.

“When I was a kid in high school when Corvettes were new those were the epitome of a cool car to have.”

For more information, click here.







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USDA invests in Montana clean energy projects for businesses, agriculture producers

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USDA invests in Montana clean energy projects for businesses, agriculture producers


The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced investments in six Montana clean energy projects to support rural Montana businesses and agricultural producers.

The projects were funded by the Inflation Reduction Act and are part of the Rural Energy America Program.

REAP helps rural businesses expand use of sustainable energy.

The following projects were funded:

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  • Heberle Ford in Forsyth will use a $10,125 grant to make energy efficiency upgrades to the business. This project is expected to save this rural car dealership $1,743 in annual energy costs.
  • Soundcolor Studios Inc. in Livingston will use a $17,200 grant to install a roof-mounted 6-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system with a 30-kilowatt hours battery. This film, music, and art studio operation is expecting to save $1,155 per year in annual energy costs and replace 100 percent of its annual energy consumption.
  • West Paw Properties LLC in Bozeman will use a $37,237 grant to make energy efficiency improvements. The business, which manufactures dog toys and other products, expects to save $2,559 in annual energy costs.
  • Highmark Properties LLC in Choteau is receiving $85,854 in grant to install a 74.205-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at the Twin Peaks Assisted Living Facility. It’s expected this project will save $5,607 in annual energy costs and replace 82,427 kilowatts in energy use.
  • Terri Kollman, a rural agricultural producer outside Joliet will use a $20,000 grant to buy and install a 9.84-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. The project should save this producer $2,030 in energy costs and replace 14,877 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
  • Bart R. Bilden of Lavina will use a $49,797 grant to purchase and install a 29.1-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. It’s expected this project will save $6,343 in annual energy costs and produce enough energy to replace 100 percent of the energy used per year to support their farm and ranch operations.

The USDA sent out the following:

USDA Rural Development Montana State Director Kathleen Williams today announced the agency is investing in six clean energy projects to support rural Montana businesses and agricultural producers. These projects are funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, the nation’s largest-ever investment in combating the climate crisis.

The investments are made through the Rural Energy America Program (REAP), which helps agricultural producers and rural small business owners expand their use of wind, solar, geothermal and small hydropower energy and make energy efficiency improvements. These innovations help them increase their income, grow their businesses, address climate change and lower energy costs for American families.

“The evidence of climate change continues to amplify in Montana, affecting our producers, economy, and health and safety. This program helps rural producers and businesses save energy and transition to reliable, renewable energy sources, while also saving operating costs that can then be invested elsewhere – a win-win,” said Williams. “Rural small businesses and agricultural producers are the backbone of Montana’s economy, and USDA is working every day to help them grow and thrive.”

Details about the awardees are as follows:

  • Heberle Ford in Forsyth will use a $10,125 grant to make energy efficiency upgrades to the business. This project is expected to save this rural car dealership $1,743 in annual energy costs.
  • Soundcolor Studios Inc. in Livingston will use a $17,200 grant to install a roof-mounted 6-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system with a 30-kilowatt hours battery. This film, music, and art studio operation is expecting to save $1,155 per year in annual energy costs and replace 100 percent of its annual energy consumption.
  • West Paw Properties LLC in Bozeman will use a $37,237 grant to make energy efficiency improvements. The business, which manufactures dog toys and other products, expects to save $2,559 in annual energy costs.
  • Highmark Properties LLC in Choteau is receiving $85,854 in grant to install a 74.205-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at the Twin Peaks Assisted Living Facility. It’s expected this project will save $5,607 in annual energy costs and replace 82,427 kilowatts in energy use.
  • Terri Kollman, a rural agricultural producer outside Joliet will use a $20,000 grant to buy and install a 9.84-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. The project should save this producer $2,030 in energy costs and replace 14,877 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
  • Bart R. Bilden of Lavina will use a $49,797 grant to purchase and install a 29.1-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. It’s expected this project will save $6,343 in annual energy costs and produce enough energy to replace 100 percent of the energy used per year to support their farm and ranch operations.



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