July 4, 2015
By: Jeff Reed
As one of several Park County land owners adjacent to the proposed Gravel Pit and Asphalt Plant, I wanted to briefly express my thoughts and opinion on this issue and future ones that I’m sure Park County will continue to face.
First, some context. I grew up in Billings, MT and lived in Paradise Valley on the weekends since I was a child, only moving out of Montana until I left for college and grad school in Los Angeles and finally my PhD in England. Since moving out of Montana I’ve been a computer technology executive, most recently for the Fortune 131 Arrow Electronics. I am finally moving back to my home state in September to focus more of my energies running a small business, Rivers Bend Lodge, which is on property that has a conservation easement along the Yellowstone, and generates tax income both as a business and property.
Many of us Gen X and Y’ers born in Montana who have left the state for careers in areas other than Montana’s largest economic category – namely, forms of mining – are returning. We’re returning for a simple reason: Montana…the beautiful Montana of our youth. Having travelled the world, we realize how special this place is. We also realize how fragile Montana’s appeal is. Simply look at the early commercial exploitation of Yellowstone Park, and it doesn’t take a PhD to realize that we as humans struggle to balance our desire for economic prosperity (and the elimination of poverty) with our longing for a simple life in harmony with nature. I struggle with this as a lodge owner who could expand my business by building more houses. How do I as a local citizen balance my desires and needs with those of my neighbors. I found a solution via a conservation easement. The “asphalt plant” is as much an issue about how we as humans treat each other by developing our own property, as it is about businesses such as Riverside Contracting.
With this context in mind, understandably, the timing of my homecoming and the proposed Asphalt Plant right next to my property would raise my ire.
But what I’ve watched unfold since first learning of the proposed asphalt plant has made me realize how much the Montana of my youth has changed…for the better. As an executive of a large company and experienced in significant legal battles and how the people with money tend to win, I know the odds are stacked against those who are fighting against this proposed asphalt plant. But instead of a complacent local citizenry, I was impressed, dare I say shocked, by the local turnout at the DEQ public comment (whom I thank for their own effort and challenges). Roughly 200 people showed up. I haven’t even seen that many people in Chico Pool at one time, which is a much more fun reason to gather.
So, rather than write a scathing letter condemning the utter stupidity of building an Asphalt Plant alongside Highway 89 in the shadows of Emigrant Peak at the same time Livingston is celebrating an award from the State’s Office of Tourism for Outstanding Film Community…well, I thought I would focus on the positive. Namely, I applaud the tenacity of Park County citizens joining together to collectively debate the future we want for this exquisite place you call home. And, by doing so, you further encourage those of us like myself, who have left, to return and help create sustainable jobs outside of mining for its citizens.
Freedom of Speech is something to celebrate at this time of year; thank you to Enterprise for embodying that in Freedom of the Press. This includes the freedom of companies like Riverside Contracting to make their own case as to why they would strip mine near Yellowstone Park and how they may (or may not) be able to afford a plant that protects the rights of surrounding citizens and:
- Protects from water contamination (that would flow in the Yellowstone River – and impact the fly fishing and recreational businesses of the Valley),
- Protects wildlife wildlife (migration of Mule Deer and the reconnection of the upper and lower Yellowstone antelope herds),
- Protects surrounding air quality from known asphalt toxins (we all know how windy it is in the Valley)
- Protects surrounding cultural and archeological resources (enjoy reading about many of them in George W. Arthur’sAn Archaeological Survey of the Upper Yellowstone River Drainage, Montana)
- Protects against negative economic impacts (I’m guessing the film companies don’t need to film an asphalt plant in their next River Runs Through It film).
But, rather than be angry today about the situation I and my neighbors face, I am warily at ease…at ease because of the growing army of very intelligent, well-financed, experienced individuals and business people who have a different vision for Montana and it’s natural resources…one that is for the “enjoyment and benefit of the people.”
Jeff Reed, PhD
Rivers Bend Lodge