HELENA — Leaders with the U.S. Department of the Interior visited the site of the 2019 North Hills Fires to highlight similar reconstruction and recovery efforts across the country funded by the infrastructure bill, which was championed by the Biden administration.
The visit to Helena ended an almost week long visit to Montana and Wyoming showcasing how the infrastructure law, which passed last year, will improve fire resilience.
The human caused North Hills Fire in 2019 burn more than 5,000 acres and part of the area’s fence line. Montana Conservation Corps rebuilt the 4.5 miles of fence, which will help the Bureau of Land Management reopen the land to grazing. While the fence was fixed prior to passage of the infrastructure bill, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau said the fence was a good example of the type of project for which the bill would pay. Beaudreau credited Sen. Jon Tester’s work to get the Bipartisan bill through congress, which put $85 million into the milk river water system.
Beaudreau met with Gov. Greg Gianforte Thursday to discuss the project. Gianforte pushed Beaudreau on the need to adjust the cost-share so the federal government bears a greater burden.
The infrastructure bill will also go toward preventing large scale wild fires and funding repairs.
“Part of the work of the bipartisan infrastructure law is around resilience and fire," Beaudreau said. "And that’s part of the reason why we’re here today and you can see in the back drop here, you know, some of the consequences of fire in the American west.”
Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins spoke before Beaudreau about Montanan’s love for the outdoors and how in recent years the wildfires have made it harder for people to recreate.
“Severe smoke causing health issues, poor air quality, this law will, this infrastructure law will help our various community ecosystems against the threat of wild land fires by investing in forest restoration which is so much needed in our state," Collins said. "It seems like this bipartisan infrastructure law was built for Montana and we should treasure it.”
Beaudreau also met with some of the folks who work for Montana Conservation Corps. Without groups such as the MCC, the Bureau of Land Management would have been hard pressed to get workers out in the North Hills to fix the burned fence, said Al Nash spokesperson for BLM's Montana and Dakotas' state office. The BLM has lots of land and not so many people to do the job, he said. Plus, people come to MCC from all over because they felt a need to get tied more close to the land.
Ashley Valentin was living in New Orleans when she decided she wanted to join the Montana Conservation Corps.
“I’ve always wanted to do environmental work and was just again tired of the normal society life and really wanted to do something that gave back to the community, gave back to the environment and earth," Valentin said. "I was looking for seasonal work and found MCC and was really thrilled that they had a women’s crew and that’s really the major factor of why I came to MCC was for that women’s crew so inclusive and inviting that didn’t seem so intimidating.”
Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will go to supporting partnerships between the Interior Department and groups such as MCC.
The bill included more than a hundred billion in new funds for roads and bridges; money for new American made school buses; invests in Superfund site clean up; meant to eliminate lead pipes; increase access to high-speed internet and address the climate crisis through investments in clean energy and a network of electric vehicle chargers.
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