AAA’s latest automated vehicle survey finds more than half —58% — of drivers want to see Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), like automatic emergency braking and lane assistance, in their next vehicle, with a majority (80%) looking for advancements to these systems. These findings signal that people are open to more sophisticated vehicle technology, which opens the road to boosting public acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

“Consumers will likely have at least one type of ADAS in their next vehicle, and in many cases, this will provide their first interaction with advanced vehicle technology,” said Matt Alfano, Vice President, Mobility Innovation for AAA Northern California. “This experience will influence driver opinion of future vehicle automation and reinforces the need for automakers to improve vehicle technology by expanding testing and focusing on real-world scenarios.”

While Americans’ interest in owning a car with more advanced technology grows, they are still struggling to warm up to the idea of full-vehicle automation. Similar to last year’s results, AAA’s 2021 annual automated vehicle survey found:

* 14% of drivers would be comfortable riding in a vehicle that drives itself

* 86% of drivers would be afraid to ride in an automated vehicle

The City County Planning Department is going through the process to approve a study regarding the feasibility of a rental program for the short-term use of bikes and scooters in Billings. It’s a service or business available in many cities across the country, which is meant to extend transportation options.

The City of Billings’ MET Transit is considering implementing such a program according to Elyse Monat, Transportation Planner for the City/ County Planning Department.

The $45,000 study was done under the auspices of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) which for Yellowstone County and Billings is the Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC). The study requires approval of both governing bodies as well as the Montana Department of Transportation. All three agencies comprise the PCC board which must give final approval. 

The MPO (PCC) hired Alta Planning + Design, a multi-state company with offices in many states including Oregon, Utah, Colorado and California. The goal of the Billings Area Bike and Scooter Study, is to determine how a bike and scooter “share program” would have to be established in order to be successful. The program is a service or business model in which bicycles or scooters are available for short-term use, usually 15 to 45 minute trips. Often operated under contract with the municipality, the service allows a user to check out a bicycle or scooter from locations around the city, ride to their destination and then leave the bicycle at some point for someone else to use.

The service is designed to be “a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly, convenient travel option for shorter trips” …which “could serve as an extension of transit and help Billings community members and visitors get around more easily without using a car.”

According to Monat, the survey of 245 Billings respondents 53 percent said they are interested in seeing such a program, 24 percent are not interest, and 14 percent wanted more information. Others sid they like the idea of “bike share” but not “scooter share.” Concerns sited included safety, lack of bicycle infrastructure, and vandalism.

Study recommendations to the City is that should they implement the program it should be a hybrid that would include both bikes and scooters. Hybrid means a bike can be retrieved at and returned to a station which consists of a series of bike racks, or anywhere within the designated service area; bikes are typically referred to as “smart bikes” due to the on-board technology hardware; user transactions can occur through hardware on the bike, web, and/or smartphone application; may include manual bikes or e-bikes.

The business model recommended by the study would be for the city to hire an experienced company that owns and operates a turnkey system, which means the service would be publically owned and privately operated.

The City would rent equiment and contract with the company for the full range of operations support, including installation, operations, sponsorship, customer service, and maintenance. The company takes on the risk of funding and operating the program in return for generated revenues.

Additional funding was identified as possible from sponsorships, grants, or operational funding.

Things recommended to the city in order to provide greater assurances for a successful program included: enable safe, convenient personal mobility such as sidewalks, separated bike lanes, crossing treatments, speed limit reductions, lighting, etc. should be focused around large employers and key services, such as health care and quality food outlets.

Funding for the Billings Area Bike and Scooter Study came in large part from the federal government, with the city and other organizations providing 13.42 percent in matching funds.

The study will be considered by the PCC at its March 18, 2021 meeting, at noon at the County Commissioners’ office in the Stillwater Building.

Over the past year Billings residents have reduced their credit card debt considerably … “a major accomplishment,” according to WalletHub, which recently released a study about the major swings of credit card debt over 2020 and over the past ten years.

Among 182 US cities, Billings ranked 29th in terms of how much credit card holders reduced their debt. Missoula did even better, coming in 20th. The average credit card debt per household in Billings is $10,722 which is about $284 below the average of 2019. In total  Billings credit card users owe $501,977,301 which is about -$13,293,494 less than in 2019. 

The average credit card debt per household in Missoula is $10,416 which is about $427 below the average of 2019. In total Missoula credit card users owe $336,584,903 which is about -$13,789,939 less than in 2019.

Over all US credit card holders reduced their debt by 12 percent in 2020 dropping to $8,089 per household from $9,193 in 2019. Americans owe $955.4 billion in credit card debt. But while they reduced their debt during the course of the year and amid the COVID crisis, they reversed the trend in the last quarter of 2020, according to WalletHub.

While 2020 was a year to forget in most respects, Americans excelled in terms of paying off credit card debt, getting rid of a record $82.9 billion in debt. This is a major accomplishment, considering that consumers have added an average of $54.2 billion in credit card debt per year over the past 10 years, said WalletHub.

The country’s credit card debt problem is far from solved, however. We still collectively owe nearly $1 trillion to credit card companies, and the average household balance remains too high, at $8,089. Both figures are also likely to rise as the economy reopens from the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, WalletHub’s early projection for credit card debt in 2021 is that U.S. consumers will add roughly $50 billion to their total balance.

Ranking in the top as far as reducing their debt was Oxnard, CA,; West Valley City, UT; Augusta, GA; Pearl City, HI; and Shreveport, LA.

Among the poorest at reducing debt were Pembroke Pines, FL, Fort Smith, AR; Lewiston, ME; and Burlington, VT.


Florence LLC/Elevated Home Crafters Inc, 1321 Panners Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $27,295 s

Florence LLC/Elevated Home Crafters Inc, 1321 Panners Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $4,961  s

Florence LLC Elevated Home Crafters Inc, 1321 Panners Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $4,059  s

Glacier Bank/Kirkness Exteriors, 2401 Grand Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $33,000  r

Grifols Plasma Operations/ Ev Construction,  1310 Main St, Com Remodel, $1,700,000

Sisters Of Charity Of Leavenworth/Saunders Construction Inc, 1233 N 30th St, Com Remodel, $372,000

Hink, Gabriel C & Teresa A/Singh Contracting Inc, 1140 1st Ave N, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $19,000

American Lutheran Church/Commercial Roofing Montana  LLC, 5 Lewis Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding,             $88,960

Davis, Gary L & Marilyn & Etal/All Seasons Roofing, 1 Macarthur Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $19,765  

JMS Properties LLC/JMS Properties LLC, 24 Orchard Ln, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $9,700

Centennial Park/Com New Other, 3302 Howard Ave, $66,169

SCL Health/Saunders Construction Inc, 2900 12th Ave N, Com New Other, $1,000

Aware Inc/Jackson Contractor Group Inc, 3242 Hesper Rd, Com Remodel, $200,000

G Rock Building  LLC/Scott Peterson Construction, 2244 Grand Ave, Com Remodel, $2,000

Oliver Building Development Ve/Van Arsdale, Duane Construction Inc, 2702 Montana Ave, Com Remodel – Change In Use, $35,000

Smith, Lawrence/Millennium Construction & Consulting Inc, 446 Grand Ave, Demolition Permit Commercial, $17,000

Blanco, David/Askin Construction  LLC, 320 Main St, Demolition Permit Commercial, $12,500


Stimpson, Clint/V.W.C. Inc., 2320 Meadowwood St, Res New Accessory Structure, $53,000

Infinity Home/Infinity Home LLC, 2419 Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $255,764

Infinity Home/Infinity Home LLC, 2410 Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $242,671

Ironwood Land LLC/Cougar Construction, 4211 Arrowwood Dr, Res New Single Family, $355,305

Oakland Built Homes Inc/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 808 Presidio Ln, Res New Single Family, $174,422

Oakland Built Homes Inc/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 816 Presidio Ln, Res New Single Family, $174,422

Mountain Range LLC/Formation Inc, 2522 Mountain Range Ct, Res New Single Family, $285,450

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6121 Farmstead Ave, Res New Single Family,        $247,394

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6109 Farmstead Ave, Res New Single Family,          $277,970

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 1620 Walter Creek Blvd, Res New Single Family,  $270,252

NA/Had Inc, 2241 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $187,322

Oakland Built Homes Inc/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 3149 70th St W, Res New Single Family,           $186,708

The ATM LLC/ Billings Best Builders LLC, 6310 Absaloka Ln, Res New Two Family, $350,000

NA/InfinityHome  LLC, 2205 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $254,457

InfinityHome/Infinity Home  LLC, 7020 Shiny Penny Way, Res New Single Family, $242,671

InfinityHome /Infinity  Home  LLC, 3128 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family, $200,348

Buscher Construction/Buscher Construction Ltd, 3139 Falcon Cir, Res New Single Family, $233,402

Copper Ridge West Inc/Bob Pentecost Construction, 3145 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family,   $377,000

Bob Pentecost/Bob Pentecost Construction, 3021 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family, $346,900

Habitat For Humanity, Mid Yell/Habitat For Humanity, 1206 S Ping Cir, Res New Single Family,     $200,000

Bruechert Homes/Dirk Arnold Construction, 1361 Tania Cir, $223,130

CDH, LLC/CDH, LLC, 2207 Greenbriar Rd, Res New Single Family, $339,333

HLL  LLC/Montana Quality Contracting  LLC, 2706 Tulane Dr, Res New Single Family, $385,000

Trails West Homes  LLC/Trails West Homes  LLC, 821 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family,    $279,888

Trails West Homes LLC/Trails West Homes  LLC, 815 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family,  $227,838

NA/Trails West Homes  LLC, 902 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $247,732

Trails West Homes,  LLC/Trails West Homes  LLC, 905 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $224,480

Trails West Homes,  LLC/Trails West Homes  LLC, 909 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $279,888

NA/McCall Development, 1715 St George Blvd, Res New Single Family, $140,698

Billings Clinic announced that it will establish a new helicopter air ambulance service in Bozeman. This is an expansion of its Billings-based fixed wing MedFlight Air Ambulance service and provides an extension of critical lifesaving transportation consistent with Billings Clinic’s mission.

“We’re basing our new helicopter service in Bozeman to save critical time – lifesaving, in some cases – for patients who need emergency medical transport to a higher level of care” said Scott Ellner, DO, Billings Clinic CEO. “By staging the helicopter in Bozeman, we will shorten transportation time to get patients in our region where they need to be for treatment.”

Billings Clinic’s new helicopter air ambulance service will offer patients a hospital-affiliated alternative at greater value to connect them to the resources and expertise of the largest health system in the region. Billings Clinic’s current MedFlight service includes two fixed-wing aircraft based in Billings, which can transport patients across Montana, Wyoming and throughout the region. The expanded helicopter service is a partnership with Metro Aviation, which will help to hire some staff such as pilots and mechanics, provide the helicopter, and maintain flight and aircraft management.

 “This will effectively be a mobile Emergency Department and critical care unit. We are staffing the air ambulance with highly trained medical staff who are Billings Clinic employees and experts in emergency medicine,” Dr. Ellner added. Clinical training for MedFlight staff is centered on intensive care and emergency and trauma skills practiced at Billings Clinic.

Nearly 20 people will make up the staff and crew of this service, including paramedics, nurses and pilots. It will be managed locally by Billings Clinic physicians and will have access to numerous specialists within the health system.

The Bozeman-based service will enable Billings Clinic to transport patients to a more highly skilled facility than is currently possible. With the ability to cover a roughly 150-mile radius around the Bozeman area without a refueling stop, it will be able to reach major medical facilities and critical access hospitals throughout southern and central Montana.

By Nicole Rolf and Rachel Cone, Montana Farm Bureau Federation

As we review the official first half of the Montana Legislative session, it’s safe to say the session is looking good for Montana agriculture. Of the 3,357 total bill draft requests, 1,121 have been formally introduced. Montana Farm Bureau has taken a stance and lobbied for or against 60 of those, based on the policy directives of our farming and ranching members. Many of the bills we have supported are already on their way to the Governor’s desk. There are no bills left alive from the first half that we have opposed, unless they have been amended in a way that either no longer makes them harmful or, in some cases, even makes them policy we could now support.

We return to Helena this week after a restorative transmittal break. This is the session’s ‘half time.’ Montana is a citizen legislature, which means many of our Representatives and Senators go home to tend to businesses, families and their communities during the transmittal break. With only 90 days every other year to do the legislative work of the people, legislators, lobbyists and legislative staff and volunteers put in long days to get the work done. We commend each of our elected officials for their commitment to this work and the time they dedicate away from their homes and families to make the process work.

While most of our efforts focus on bills intended to direct state policy or law, we also spent some of our time in the last week before transmittal break testifying in support of a number of resolutions. Resolutions are intended to send a message to Congress or the President to show the intent of a state’s elected body. Sometimes, we call these “Letters to Santa” with a laugh; but sometimes, Santa listens and responds to the requests. In fact, we’ve been told by Congressional staffers that these resolutions are quite helpful and directive.

Senate Joint Resolution 18: Resolution on state management of grizzly bears, sponsored by Sen. Bruce Gillespie (R), SD 9. Montana Farm Bureau Federation member policy supports.

This resolution expresses Montana’s desire and ability return management of the grizzly bear populations in our state to our state. Montana has established a strong, effective track record in managing grizzly bears and other species such as wolves, and developed an approved management plan for the Yellowstone distinct population segment that provides for the continued presence and genetic future of grizzly bears on the landscape. Our wildlife managers are much closer to the ground and understand the complexities and realities of our grizzly bear population far better than federal managers in Washington, DC, and it’s past time that responsibility was returned to Montanans.

Senate Joint Resolution 7: Resolution to remove Hidden Pasture Creek from Wilderness Study Area, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Welborn (R), SD 36. Montana Farm Bureau Federation member policy supports.

In 1993, the Bureau of Land Management recommended that Congress exclude the Hidden Pasture Creek Wilderness Study Area located west of Dell, Montana, from the wilderness system. However, more than 15,000 acres of this area has continued to be managed as de facto wilderness as a result of inaction to release the land from a WSA. The southern boundary of the ‘Wilderness Study Area’ is a county road that has historically been and remains today, the principle transportation route for those living and using the Big Sheep Basin for ranching and recreation and the business of the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Leaving this area a de factor wilderness through its classification as a Wilderness Study Area makes it difficult if not impossible for many residents of Southwest Montana to conduct business in the area, and there is no doubt it should be released back to the intended multiple-use management of the BLM.

Senate Joint Resolution 16: Urge support for Keystone XL Pipeline, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hinebauch (R), SD 18. Montana Farm Bureau Federation member policy supports.

Montana Farm Bureau members support the completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline for three primary reasons: first, its completion will significantly increase the tax base of our rural communities; second, it creates jobs in our rural communities and finally, it provides stimulus to our local economies. 

House Joint Resolution 7: Joint resolution regarding the St. Mary and Milk River project, sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen (R) HD 33. Montana Farm Bureau Federation member policy supports.

 This resolution urges Congress, the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation to repair the funding allocation and authorize funding for the replacement and rehabilitation of the Projects. This infrastructure was built in 1903 and provides water for irrigation, consumption, recreation and tribal use across north-central Montana. The Milk River Project provides drinking water for more than 19,000 people along the Hi-Line and supplies irrigation water to more than 700 farms with the capacity to feed 1 million people annually.  When the Drop 5 structure of the Milk River Project in north-central Montana failed in May 2020, project beneficiaries paid 48% of the cost to replace the Drop 2 and Drop 5 structures and improve the Drop 1 structure. The total cost of rehabilitation is estimated to cost more than $200 million, with requirements that project beneficiaries (irrigators) pay for 74% of those costs. This is not a reasonable or sustainable cost for irrigators to carry. This resolution asks for the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Reclamation to assist in the rehabilitation and replacement of the structures and to reconsider the funding methods to make modernizing this structure sustainable for all water users.

Those Americans at highest risk for Alzheimer’s disease – people of color including Native Americans, Hispanics and Blacks – have the greatest concerns about receiving appropriate dementia care, according to two national surveys featured in the Alzheimer’s Association 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report.

The 6.2 million Americans now living with Alzheimer’s disease also face the highest risk for contracting COVID-19 in 2020. That has proven to be true in Montana, where there were 168 more deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia in 2020 than compared to averages over the past five years – a 17.8% increase.

Nationally, there were at least 42,000 more deaths from Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2020 compared with averages over the previous five years – a 16% increase.  These are not deaths attributed to COVID-19, but to associated factors.

People living with Alzheimer’s are at greater risk because of the disruption in their routines.

Black Americans are twice as likely as their White counterparts to develop Alzheimer’s disease, while Hispanic Americans are 50% more likely than Whites. Both Blacks and Hispanics have a greater risk of developing hypertension and diabetes, known risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Further, over forty percent of Native Americans and half of Black Americans report having experienced health care discrimination, according to the surveys. One-third of Asian Americans (34%) and Hispanic Americans (33%) likewise report having experienced discrimination when seeking health care related to dementia.

Said Lynn Mullowney Cabrera, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Montana. “If these same people face obstacles in getting a diagnosis or proper care, it compounds the tragedy for these families.”

Additionally, a large number of non-White caregivers for loved ones living with Alzheimer’s reported facing discrimination when navigating health care settings, with the top concern being that health care providers or staff members do not listen to what they’re saying because of their race, color or ethnicity. The concern was especially high among Black caregivers (42%), followed by Native American (31%), Asian American (30%) and Hispanic (28%) caregivers. Only 17% of White caregivers expressed this concern.

For the first time, the annual Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report included a special report, “Race, Ethnicity and Alzheimer’s in America,” which examines perspectives and experiences of Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native and White Americans in regard to Alzheimer’s and dementia care.

Nearly two-thirds of Black Americans (62%) surveyed believe that medical research is biased against people of color — a view shared by substantial numbers of Asian Americans (45%), Native Americans (40%) and Hispanic Americans (36%). Only half of Black Americans (53%) trust that a future cure for Alzheimer’s will be shared equally regardless of race, color or ethnicity.

Montana data

New disease-related statistics for Montana revealed the following:

* Number of Montana residents aged 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s: 22,000

* Estimated number of Montana residents living with Alzheimer’s in 2025: 27,000

* Statewide deaths from Alzheimer’s disease (2019): 326

Death certificates often list acute conditions such as pneumonia as the primary cause of death. As a result, people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias who die due to these acute conditions may not be counted in this number although Alzheimer’s may have been the causative factor.

* Number of Montana residents serving as unpaid family caregivers: 16,000

* Total hours of unpaid care provided in 2020: 24 million

* The number of hours per caregiver in Montana is higher than the national average (28.9 hours per caregiver vs. 26.3 nationally). Family / friend caregivers in Montana provide 135 more hours of care (more than 3 full work weeks) per year than the national average.

* Total value of unpaid care: $425 million

By Evelyn Pyburn

Good grief. One can hardly imagine why anyone in the US can doubt the quality and dependability of services and products from the private sector – most especially when one compares it to how government performs. And, yet it is we have legislators and professionals and other leaders pushing back against private medical schools simply because they are “for profit.” Really!?

Following announcements by two private companies that intend to launch medical schools in Montana – one in Billings and another in Great Falls – comments emerged in the media from some people who were outraged at the very idea of “for profit” medical schools, including a Republican state legislator– Ed Buttrey, (R) – HD21 of Great Falls a Realtor also sits on the board of Benefis Healthcare.

With people like Mr. Buttrey refusing to defend “for profit” free markets, there’s no need for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to advocate for socialism. The situation fully demonstrates why so many people, especially the young, believe that socialism is a better system than free markets. It’s not because of what people like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez says, but what people like Mr. Buttrey fail to say.

For decades and decades our political leaders, who say they believe in the efficacy of free markets (ie. “for profits”), while campaigning, fail to support them once elected and even more damaging fail to explain what makes them better. Not only have they failed to make the case but so have our public schools and so have many parents, truth be told.

In fact, one could ask where are the voices of all the other political leaders and free marketers in this state who claim to support “for profits”? Where are the voices we need to explain why the “for profit” motive has proven to be a miraculous thing.

It’s been reported that “Benefis’ Dr. Patrick Galvas and Great Falls legislator Ed Buttrey slammed” the “business model” of the school proposed for Billings because it is a “for profit” entity, while the one proposed from Great Falls is a “non-profit.”

“In our opinion, medical education is not the place for the profit-driven motivations of a Wall Street-owned, for-profit medical school,” Galvas and Buttrey wrote.

So maybe that’s all this is about – a very self-serving effort to malign the competition. It’s an act of protectionism. That is in truth why most anti-market legislation emerges and what stands behind almost all the regulations that undermine free markets – established businesses attempting to protect themselves from competition.

This is a country where “for profit” is a good thing. Where “for profit” has built the strongest economy in all history, providing the highest standard of living average citizens have ever known, and in fact providing the world with phenomenal new technology and innovations beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. IT HAPPENED BECAUSE OF “FOR PROFIT” ENTERPRISES!

And, you don’t think a profit motive can incentivize a quality medical school? Making a profit is a far more wholesome incentive than climbing the political ladder, which is the primary incentive that permeates almost all government “enterprises” or bureaucracies. In exactly what discipline does government out-perform private business?

In fact our entire medical industry could do with a very healthy dose of free market competition and the injection of creative entrepreneurship. Our shortage of doctors is nothing new – we have been experiencing this shortage for decades and nothing changes. The reasons have primarily to do with the fact that the system is not market driven. The shortage of doctors is all about politics and power structures and the kind of “profits” that come much more easily to that system than to the private market. The medical industry is totally ensnarled in red tape and regulations… it is one of the least free markets in the country, hence we have not only a shortage of doctors but runaway medical costs.

Questioning the efficacy of education organizations because they hope to make a profit is nonsense.

We heard for years and years and years that private schools couldn’t compete with public or government schools. We don’t hear that much anymore. Not that there aren’t those who resist private education but it’s not because private schools aren’t good. There is no longer any question that not only are they good but most often are better. Do you know where President Obama’s girls went to school?

Or let’s look at the post office. There too we heard over and over again that we had to have a government run post office because the private sector could never do what the post office does. Nor, would anyone want to because they couldn’t make a profit. Have you heard of UPS? If there was no threat of the private sector delivering the mail…and maybe doing it better … there would be no laws against delivering first class mail.

The same is true about aerospace and only government could send up rockets. Many may not know, but at one time that too was illegal. Could I introduce you to SpaceX and Elon Musk or any of a dozen other companies?

Given the true history of the profit motive and the history of how “for profit” has built the greatest economic system ever and the highest ever standard of living for the common man, maybe it’s time to learn and understand why it works. And, to make sure our children know.

“Go Big! Impress Us!”

That was essentially the message that Kinetic Marketing and Creative, a Billings marketing firm, said they received in a survey of some 50 people in Billings about what they want to see evolve from the efforts to revitalize Metra Park. The company has been engaged to help gather public input regarding a major master planning of Metra Park that began a couple of years ago.

Not one person said “do nothing,” enthused Jennifer Owens about interviews with Billings’ notables, including county commissioners, city mayor, city administrator and others who have in the past been very involved in community endeavors. “They want to see the next level,” said Owens about the firm’s preliminary probe, in reporting to county commissioners and members of the Metra Park Advisory Board, last week. They want Metra Park to be “more modern, more exciting and have more diversity.”

 “The one thing that would be on my list is finding a way to create the Wow Factor,” said a respondent, while another said, “We should be creating experiences. Going to Metra should feel like a branded experience.”  In fact, Metra Park needs to do more branding of itself, was a reoccurring theme.

The meeting and a press conference served to launch a massive effort by the county to gather as much direction as possible about what the community wants to see for the future of Metra Park. “This is one of the most historic roll outs in Billings, “said Charlie Loveridge, Chairman of the Metra Park Advisory Board.

“What do we do to make Metra Park an iconic place?” they are asking the community.

Loveridge underscored the significance of the county-owned facility to the community stating that through its events it pumps $150 million annually into the community. And, for one reason or another, everyone in the community has some sort of connection to Metra Park, with many of those memories extending from childhood.

Kinetic will be producing informational materials that will help explain what has been accomplished so far, including outlining three concepts that resulted from the Master Plan developed with the assistance of Charlie Smith, a consultant from Knoxville, Tennessee. Advisory Board members and Kinetic staff will be holding informational meetings throughout the county over the next several months, answering questions and gathering comments. Information and comment opportunities will be available on-line as well.

A special meeting will be held on March 24, to which the Advisory Board will invite “legacy” board members, to introduce them to the proposals and to gather input from them.

Although there has been no decision yet, there is a possibility of putting a bond issue on the ballot in November. It has been roughly estimated the cost for the planned improvements could reach $70 million. But, said Loveridge, there is a lot of work to be done, including acquiring cost estimates and plans from architects, engineers, etc.

Prospects for a bond issue to rebuild Metra Park look good according to survey comments. When asked what bond issue would they support were there one for Metra and another for public safety for the City of Billings, more than half of the respondents said they would vote for both.

Said the study, “…most participants were comfortable with a large price tag for the Master Plan and a large bond question, so long as the vision is relevant to the county, inspirational and clearly able to benefit a wide variety of people.”

Said one respondent, “Just pass a bond that gives you what you need and quit nickel-and-diming us. I’d rather do one big one, get it done and be able to eyeball the benefits.”

Much has happened in the past year to prepare for an overhaul of the facility. Underground infrastructure such as water, sewer and electrical lines, etc. have been replaced and rebuilt for the first time in many decades. The carnival lot has had a facelift with new pavement. Aging and deteriorating buildings have been removed, leaving broad open spaces that has made many aware for the first time exactly how very big Metra Park really is. With 189 acres, the facility stands ready to be shaped for the future.

Taking into consideration how big Metra Park really is, there are many possibilities for how it can be used and there were many great ideas that came from the people interviewed, said Owen. The report said, “A strong and consistent theme from the interviews was a desire to see Metra Park be flexible and dynamic, able to capitalize on multiple opportunities and serve a wide variety of community needs. Accordingly, many participants expressed a desire to see any new facilities on the Metra Park campus be multi-use facilities that can cater to a variety of needs.”

“An outdoor amphitheater was often cited by participants as a favorite new amenity in the Master Plan concepts. At the same time, many noted the limited timeframe for outdoor events, as well as the belief that even an amphitheater should be designed and equipped for purposes other than just concerts.”

And, from almost everyone it was stated that Metra Park “should not lose its connection to agriculture. Agriculture is important to the community’s economy, culture and history. “I think it needs to support ag into the future, but I also think it needs to support the entire community. I think sometimes we get tunnel vision and believe that we have to promote just this ag building,” was one comment.

And to call it something more inclusive than just “the fair grounds” was also suggested. In fact, increasingly the term “Metra Park campus” was heard throughout conversations.

Not that Metra Park as the site for Montana Fair was overlooked. Montana Fair, which usually pulls in 225,000 attendees is the biggest event in the state. That fact helps to identify the future direction that many said they wanted Metra Park to go in being the premier venue in the state and to be a destination in  and of itself. 

“…some participants expressed a desire for more passive opportunities – a small park or playground area, amenities where middle or high school students could congregate with friends, green spaces, youth recreational facilities, or similar amenities. Many participants believe that voters are more likely to support Metra Park when they believe their children will benefit …”

People said that they want a reason to go to Metra Park even when there are no events programmed. They suggested opportunities for recreation, gathering, or even light retail. They would like a reason to take out-of-town visitors to Metra Park, regardless of events.

Many, including Loveridge in his comments noted that Metra Park is very well position “…between the rims and the river.” The location is central to the whole community and Metra Park remains clearly identified as a county-owned facility and so is recognized as belonging to no one jurisdiction.  It’s location offers “vast potential for recreation access … whether as bike trails or more innovative concepts like a zip line.”

“Some participants expressed a desire to see more cultural events and representation at Metra Park, including hosting large, inter-tribal pow-wows and focusing on the local history. Others indicated a desire to see some permanent amenities, including possibly an open-air market.”

“Nearly all participants could relate a fond memory of youth athletics at Metra Park –

Sports are a major economic driver. Metra has already proven its capability and those events have huge potential for our economic well-being. There is a need for a track facility, for swimming, for more basketball courts, and for ice.”

When it comes to producing and booking events there was a desire that Metra Park take more risks. Because events at Metra Park so clearly support the local economy, it should be viewed as a “loss leader.”

Loveridge said that he believes a new and reinvigorated Metra Park could produce revenues enough so as not to be a burden on taxpayers.

“Most participants felt that Metra Park could and should do both. Generally, participants want Metra Park run like a smart business with a focus on revenue generation and wise use of resources. They also understand that, as a governmental entity, the county is likely to be, and perhaps should be, more risk averse.”

“When asked about the possibility of Metra Park adding or modifying facilities to serve as a convention center for the area, participants were mixed and generally lukewarm. Many participants expressed the opinion that the existing facilities lack the basic amenities necessary for high quality conferences, including upscale interior finishes, breakout rooms with climate control, adequate restroom and networking spaces, AV equipment and sufficient hotel rooms in walking distance.”

And, absolutely everyone had an opinion about parking, even before being asked. There was no consensus.

While there were worries about how Metra Park is managed with suggestions that it needs to be separated from politics and professionally managed, there were comments that greatly lauded staff as being easy to work with, and they applauded county commissioners for being transparent in this process and for seeking public input.

 Said one respondent, “I love the conversation the Commissioners are having right now. They are saying ‘what should the future of Metra Park be?’ That is powerful.”

They asked that going forward with the project, that “In addition to seeing details on the business plan and the planning process, participants want to see a thoughtful discussion on the ongoing maintenance of Metra Park. While there is some anticipation growing as buildings come down on the campus, many people also noted that the buildings were in a state of genuine disrepair. If a significant public investment is to be made, participants recommended that there be some plan to maintain the facility at a higher level of quality.”

One comment that seemed to sum it up was, “I would bet you that 9 out of every 10 cities would kill to have a venue like Metra in a location like that, with all the potential that place has. You have to applaud the commissioners and whomever else is behind the idea of turning this into the economic engine that it should be.”

The future USS Montana has been launched in Newport News, Virginia. The nuclear-powered fast attack submarine will be completed pier-side while crew training continues toward sea trials this year. The boat’s commissioning into the Navy fleet is likely in early 2022. Huntington Ingalls Industries announced that the 7800-ton Virginia-class submarine was launched into the James River at the company’s Newport News Shipbuilding division.

Captain Michael Delaney, commanding officer of USS Montana, has visited the state multiple times with crew members.

“Our exceptional young sailors want all Montanans to know that in their training and the fulfilling of their operational responsibilities, they are energized by the support they feel from Big Sky Country,” said Delaney about the launch. “The same will be true when they are eventually deployed aboard the USS Montana in defense of our nation.”

Delaney said that crew members who have visited various parts of the state to get to know her people, history, culture, and economy have been tremendously impressed by the Montanans they’ve met.

“We’re all committed to making Montana proud as we work toward taking the state’s namesake warship to sea for the first time later this year,” said Delaney.

Montanans are actively supporting the commissioning and crew of USS Montana through the USS Montana Committee, a Montana nonprofit corporation with a number of responsibilities. Included are building a support relationship between the crew and Montanans for the boat’s 30-year service life and providing certain enhancements to the warship, including an onboard Montana history and culture display being developed with the Montana Historical Society.

The Committee will be doing informational presentations around the state this year with a unique submarine-sized ship’s bell cast as a replica of the one aboard the first and only other USS Montana, an armored cruiser commissioned in 1908. The bell will be presented to the boat and its crew at the future USS Montana’s commissioning.

According to Huntington Ingalls Industries, until launch USS Montana had been in a floating dry dock following transfer from a construction facility in October. The dry dock was submerged, and the submarine was moved by tugboats to the shipyard’s submarine pier for final outfitting, testing and crew certification.

“For our shipbuilders, launching USS Montana signifies five years of hard work, commitment and dedicated service,” said Jason Ward, Newport News’ vice president of Virginia-class submarine construction. “We look forward to executing our waterborne test program and working toward sea trials and delivering the submarine to the Navy.”

Through the teaming agreement with General Dynamics Electric Boat approximately 10,000 shipbuilders, as well as suppliers from all 50 states, have participated in USS Montana’s construction since the work began in 2015. USS Montana is approximately 92% complete.