The Billings Gazette announced last week that their headquarters building in downtown Billings is for sale. The 94,000-square-foot building at 401 N. Broadway has become something of a highly visible icon in the community since it was built in 1967.

“This decision is being made simply because the building is too large for our current needs,” said , President and Publisher Dave Worstell. “Financially, the Billings Gazette is in good shape. We are very optimistic about our future as the preeminent news provider in the city, region and state, and a partner in helping local businesses connect with customers through our digital and print marketing products.”

The building has been listed with local real estate company Berkshire Hathaway Commercial Services for $7.865 million.

The building was designed by architects Drake, Gustafson and Associates for the Billings Gazette, Montana’s largest daily newspaper, publishing for the past 136 years. The company expanded the building in 2007. The property has 120 parking spaces on the surrounding lot

According to Worstell, “The sale of the building, when it happens, will not affect the news and advertising operations of the Billings Gazette. At some point, the sale will change our local printing and production operation, and this will have an impact on that staff.”

He said the Gazette has been “approached multiple times over the last year from interested potential buyers. Because our building is underutilized and offers more space than we currently need, we felt like the time was right to explore a sale.” He said that “when the time is right to move locations, we will look for a new downtown Billings location that is the correct size for our operations and has convenient access for our customers.”

First published in 1885, The Billings Gazette is one of several newspapers in the state owned by Lee Enterprises. It is the largest daily newspaper in Montana but as has been the case with most of print media in the nation, circulation has been on the decline with the advancement of digit communications. The newspaper’s current circulation is about 11,000 compared to a 2005 circulation report of over 46,000.

Commercial

Baucke, Kathleen/Sprague Construction Roofing Division, 1341 Avenue D, Com Fence/Roof/Siding,  $11,600

HS Management LLC, 575 Lincoln Ln, Com Footing/Foundation, $190,000

Aviation Properties LLC/EEC Inc, 3485 A J Way, Com New Other $1,806,647

AT&T, 2851 King Ave W, Com Remodel,  $10,000

SFH LLC/Wyman Construction, 1509 Main St, Com Remodel, $30,000

Centennial Park/Timber Carpentry LLC, 3302 Howard Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding,  $4,000

City Of Billings The/Timber Carpentry LLC, 2100 Avenue C, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $12,000

Joshua LLC/Lennick Bros. Roofing & Sheetmetal, 823 N 27th St, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $15,000

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 1625 Annafeld Pkwy E, Com New Other, $2,275,000

Fagg Family Properties LLC/Jones Construction, Inc, 235 N 32nd St, Com New Other, $500

McDonnell Family Irrevocable T/Raisin Contracting Inc, 408 N 15th St, Demolition Permit Commercial, $6,000

SBA Communications, 2132 Grand Ave, Com Addition, $50,000

Reger, James R & Deborah C, 1601 S Shiloh Rd, Com Addition, $50,000

Market Place West Partners LLC/Summit Roofing Inc, 2821 King Ave W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $138,800

MLC Ranch LLC/Perfect 10, 111 N 31st St, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $180,000

Apartments Delaware L/Dutton Construction, 1607 17th St W Avenue C, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $723,895

1400 S 24th LLC, 1420 S 24th St W, Com Footing/Foundation, $360,000

St John’s Foundation/Van Arsdale, Duane Constr Inc, 502 N 30th St, Com Remodel $30,000

Zoo Montana Inc/T.W. Clark Construction LLC, 2100 S Shiloh Rd, Com Remodel, $50,000

Aaron Brdt, 1008 Shiloh Crossing Blvd, Com Remodel, $95,305

Rocky Plaza Association/T.W. Clark Construction LLC, 1400 Poly Dr, Com Remodel, $4,500

Dude Rancher Lodge/Red Bear Contracting, 415 N 29th St, Com Remodel $2,100

Residential

Copper Ridge West Inc/Infinity Home LLC, 3140 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family, $212,912

Better Building Technologies/MJH Construction, 2116 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $232,000

Wagenhals Enterprise Inc/Wagenhals Enterprises Inc, 1106 Daybreak Dr, Res New Single Family, $248,285

Infinity Homes/Infinity Home LLC, 2140 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $250,214

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 1954 Annas Garden Ln, Res New Single Family,$436,118

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 1708 Annas Garden Ln, Res New Single Family, $201,046

Wagenhals Enterprises Inc/Wagenhals Enterprises Inc, 5505 Morning Star Ln, Res New Single Family, $270,000

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 6127 Eva Marie Ln, Res New Single Family, $188,362

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 6114 Johanns Meadow Ln, Res New Single Family, $157,125

Robert & Carol Jones Living Trust/Blake Construction, 1749 Mariposa Ln, Res New Accessory  Structure, $65,000

CDH, LLC/ CDH, LLC, 2204 Gleneagles Blvd, Res New Single Family $333,126

CDH, LLC/ CDH, LLC, 835 Beringer Way, Res New Single Family, $291,448

CDH, LLC/CDH, LLC, 2202 Greenbriar Rd, Res New Single Family, $276,921

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 6125 Johanns Meadow Ln, Res New Single Family, $268,522

Jaime Nelson, 6251 Canyonwoods Dr, Res New Single Family, $440,000

Sunset Construction LLC/ Goggins, Zack J, 1702 Avenue C, Demolition Permit Residential, $1,500

815 N 31st Street LLC/Digger Excavation Inc, 815 N 31st St, Demolition Permit Residential, $10,000

Svec, Joel F & Erica J/Bruechert Custom Homes, 4948 Silver Creek Trl, Res New Single Family, $286,314

Trevor Sherner/Had Inc, 5204 Grass Mountain Rd, Res New Single Family, $333,702

Trevor Sherner/Had Inc, 2237 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $262,189

Conlon, Jalene/Ban Construction Corp, 2121 S Stone Creek Trl, Res New Single Family, $634,428

Andersen, William R/Anderson Management Group, 4213 Woodgrove Dr, Res New Single Family, $440,500

Design Builders, Inc/Design Builders, Inc., 2529 Buffalo Ridge Trl, Res New Single Family, $329,886

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 1949 Annas Garden Ln, Res New Single Family, $236,916.

By Evelyn Pyburn

As we watch the crackdown coming once again with children being forced to wear masks and employees of retail stores being required to wear masks, and as we listen to the rising crescendo of media invoking alarm and fear, we should pause a moment and thank our state legislators and the governor for passing laws that prevent local governments from imposing restraints on individuals and coercing businesses into serving as pseudo law enforcement to bully the public into compliance with local mandates and ordinances.

Given the current rise in hysteria and masked faces, one has to believe that if it were not for these restraints on the power of government, we would all be once more wearing masks, standing yards apart, cancelling events, and businesses would be closed. Our economy would once again be circling the drain.

Those demanding the wearing of masks assume hallowed ground because they believe they are “trusting to science.” Maybe they are right about the science. To believe so is their choice, but that is just the point – EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE A CHOICE!  The issue IS NOT ABOUT MASKS or science – it is about individual freedom, by far a more sacred issue. And, there is nothing sanctified about using force – most especially the force of government — against your neighbor.

We can deal with a disease or almost any adversity so long as we have the freedom to do so. Winning and holding that freedom is no easy thing, and that is what Montana lawmakers understood.

While it is astounding that so many people can so little understand the concept of freedom, life in 2020 seemed to make clear that it was necessary for the state legislature to redundantly pass laws to reinforce the Constitution, and fortunately last year Montana had representatives who had the fortitude to do so.

While it is heartbreaking to see the spirits of little children being broken by being forced to wear masks, it is quite terrifying to think that the coercion against businesses could destroy our economy.

Leaving people free to live their lives as they see fit is necessary to sustain our economy, which is every bit as important as protecting our health. The very essence of “economy” is people living their lives. How could that not be important?

While we are made well aware of the risk to life because of COVID, there seems little thought given to risks to life because of disruptions to the market place.

Part of the reason that people may be indifferent to the economic catastrophe is that we hear so little about impacts on business compared to the persistent and frenzied reports on every nuance of COVID. If someone sneezes while getting a COVID vaccination it makes headlines, but people losing their businesses, homes and life-savings passes little remarked upon.

There certainly is no official tracking of every nuance of the plight of business owners, as there is for the minutia of changes regarding COVID. For business owners it has been a lonely and desperate experience watching years of work and dreams evaporate. Sleepless nights and the anxiety of meeting the next payroll or just covering living expenses. The past year has been a nightmare for them. Not only were they forced to operate at reduced capacity, often an impossibility, and to change how they did business, including turning away customers, but in dealing with employees who were given greater incentives not to work than to work. They were threatened and bullied by bureaucrats who abused their power to intimidate business owners. With no other legal means to enforce local mandates, bureaucrats twisted the arms of business owners with threats of removing licenses or maliciously enacting other measures against them. This too our legislators stopped.

The impact on local economies was undoubtedly different from community to community. The degree to which people lost jobs and incomes depended largely upon how much a community’s economic base was dependent upon government employment. Government employees did not lose jobs (perhaps not a one, since data shows that government employment actually increased during 2020). So, counties with government employment making up a large part of their economic base (university employment or being the seat of state government) did not see their employment drop to the same degree as those counties more dependent on private sector businesses. So maybe that is why some communities push back harder than others.

Again, little data has been complied about the impacts of unemployment and closed shops. We don’t even really know how many Montana businesses have folded or failed to start (an economic factor every bit as important to our future). It’s likely though— if Montana follows the pattern of some states – it’s likely that one-third of our businesses failed over the past year.

How one deals with threats, risks and adversity, whether it is to your health or livelihood, is a matter of individual choice and we all need the freedom to make those choices and to find answers without engaging the use of force against others – against our neighbors. That is not only how one lives in a free society, but it creates the kind of society in which we want to live – it is for this that we should thank our political leadership.

By Evelyn Pyburn

The electric power system failure that caused havoc in Texas last February should have caused lots of people to take notice and ask lots of questions about something that most people take far too much for granted, the dependability of electrical power.

While Texas was unprepared to have to deal with temperatures of 18 degrees, a similar system failure in Montana could happen when it is -20 degrees or even colder. The question to be asked is could this happen in Montana?

It’s what Northwestern Energy officials have been asking themselves and they don’t like the answer.

During peak use periods – summer or winter – NorthWestern Energy’s power supplies are not adequate to meet peak demand and they must purchase power from the market – and a lot of things could go wrong. In Texas, a perfect storm of things went wrong.

In Montana, having enough power to meet peak demand worries people like Roy Ishkanian, Manager of Lands and Permitting at NorthWestern Energy.”

It is partly because of that potential risk that has prompted company officials to put the building of the proposed 175-megawatt natural gas Generating Station on a faster track, explained Lisa Perry, NorthWestern Energy’s Community Relations Manager.

Ishkanian works with the project team and surrounding land owners on the proposed generating station for which NorthWestern Energy has pulled its application before the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) in order to begin building the project sooner.

While not getting PSC approval in advance of pursuing the project, delays the time when the company will recapture investment through rates, it allows them to begin building the plant sooner, explained Perry.

“Montana Public Service Commission review before a large investment in a major supply resource, benefits customers and the company by ensuring that the Commission agrees with the company’s approach to meeting its responsibilities to its customers. Our decision to withdraw the approval application is based on the immediate need for flexibility due to unanticipated conditions in the construction market,” said Perry.

The company will instead apply to recover the plant in a future rate case application after the Laurel Generating Station is in use serving Montana customers.

Officials want the Laurel Generation Station to be operational by the winter of 2023-24, said Ishkanian, in conducting a tour of the proposed site south and east of Laurel on a beautiful fall day, last week.

Moving up the time frame for construction will also help keep the project in line with the projected cost of about $250 million. NorthWestern Energy already has negotiated favorable contracts and established costs which have an expiration date, said Ishkanian. To have to renegotiate for those services and materials would almost certainly mean an increase in costs given the supply-chain disruptions across the country and labor shortages that are being experienced by all industries.  Markets are trending unfavorably for energy customers and for the project.

NorthWestern Energy Vice President Supply and Montana Government Affairs John Hines, in speaking earlier this summer to state legislators, said, any slip in the timeframe on the Laurel project would mean any of the parties could renegotiate contract terms. He noted that NorthWestern Energy is nearing completion of a gas plant in South Dakota, and costs in the last year have jumped 25 percent to 30 percent. “We did not want to risk that for our customers in Montana,” Hines said.    

At the same time there are looming indicators that having to continue to purchase energy in the market is going to get more and more expensive and fraught with greater uncertainty, said Perry.  “We know that there are a lot of obstacles coming our way if we delay” she said, adding that they know that keeping costs down as much as possible and being able to generate the power needed themselves will provide more dependability, as well as the least costs for Montana customers.

During peak- use NorthWestern Energy needs 1500 megawatts of power, they can generate only 750 megawatts, which forces them to go out into the market to purchase as much as 50 percent of the power needed to meet demand. Perry noted that one-third of the power NorthWestern Energy provides to the state is consumed in the Billings area – about 450 megawatts.

Not only is purchasing energy on the market expensive – a cost that sooner or later hits ratepayers — but what if there is no power available to purchase?  Most often peak- use periods in Montana are peak- use periods for many other area within the western states. If everyone is trying to buy power from the market there may be none to purchase. That is an increasingly likely scenario as more and more generation capacity is being eliminated all across the country. As the public demands more “clean energy” from alternative resources, reliance on wind and solar energy is becoming greater, but those energy sources need a dependable back up for “when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.”

Over the recent past few years, NorthWestern Energy and energy companies in the region have lost significant sources for coal backup power, and development of new back-up resources is not keeping pace. That is why the Laurel Generation Station as well as other projects, were proposed.

“Leading environmental organizations agree natural gas generation must be part of a balanced energy mix for the foreseeable future, NorthWestern Energy officials have said.” No other resource meets both long-term climate goals and is capable of delivering multi-day, on-demand energy needed to keep service reliable during Montana’s extreme weather.”

Another threat to the ability to provide uninterrupted service in Montana during peak-use is the limited number of transmission lines. There are only five such “thoroughfares” into Montana and they are, for the most part, fully subscribed – their capacity is committed to other customers. So, even when there is power available on the market, a situation might arise in which it is not possible to get it to Montana.

This summer when a portion of a transmission line was put out of commission by wildfires, NorthWestern Energy faced the same shortages as what occurs during peak use periods, explained Nicole Benge, Division Manager for NorthWestern Energy. The incident underscored that potential threats to power dependability can come from any direction.

According to Ishkanian, the Laurel site for the generation station is a great site. It is a 36- acre site that they purchased from CHS, which is located nearby. The property has the right zoning, and a portion on the east side that has been agriculture is in the process of being zoned “heavy industrial.” The property is adjacent to a NorthWestern Energy sub-station and transmission lines, which are another necessity that makes it a good site. The sub-station will have to be enlarged to accept the energy that is generated.

They were able to purchase a section of pipeline running from Byron, Wyoming and passing nearby the Laurel site. The line was previously used for crude oil and will be converted to a natural gas line. It will have to be extended under the Yellowstone River to the Laurel site. Natural gas for the plant can be transported from the Colorado Interstate Gas interconnect through the Byron Pipeline.

The Laurel Generating Station will consist of 18 RICE (Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engine) engines. The engines will not run all the time. They will gear up only when generation is needed. That they don’t have to be running all the time is one of the facility’s greatest features. It can be started from a “dead stop” and be fully operational in eleven minutes. Power plants of the past, if shut down, required two days to reach maximum output. “It provides intermittent energy that evens out the curve,” said Ishkanian, “It is not complex but it is necessary.” He went on to explain that the technology “is not ground breaking,” and in fact, is being commonly used in California.

Construction of the plant will employ between 250 and 300 people. Once completed it it will employee 10 full-time, skilled personnel.

The construction phase will be a significant economic boon to the area, said Ishkanian, and the facility will continue to play an important economic role in the future. “It will support the energy infrastructure for the area, which is important in the long-term planning for refineries and other businesses wanting to locate or expand in the area. It is in fact a huge part of the energy infrastructure for the area, he emphasized.