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Motor Vehicle registration options that don’t involve lines

We understand the long lines at the Lewis and Clark County Motor Vehicles Department are frustrating. And while there are many factors contributing to the delays, we don’t want to make excuses. However, we do want to offer some options that, if applicable to your situation, may help you avoid the lines and long waits.

Renewals may be done online using the State of Montana online service at https://app.mt.gov/vrr/renewal/index.html up to 30 days past the month shown on the vehicle’s registration tab. Renewals can also be mailed to the Motor Vehicle office at 316 N. Park Ave. Room 142, Helena, MT 59623. Additionally, there is a secure lock box in the hall for renewal drops.  The State online service is the fastest way to renew.

Registration expired over one month and permanent renewals may be requested online at https://app.mt.gov/accessgov/lewisandclark-clerk-treasurer.

Due to the pandemic, Motor Vehicles established a new process for temporary registration permits and submitting paper work for titling new vehicles in which Motor Vehicles has the title paperwork in-hand. Start the process online at http://app.mt.gov/accessgov/lewisandclark-clerk-treasurer and customers will then be sent an invoice and contacted when a signature is needed. An appointment can be made to come in to sign. Individuals with title work in-hand or out-of-state driver’s licenses cannot use this process and must come in-person.

Title work appointments are recommended but not required and can be made by calling the department at 406-447-8328.

Additionally, certain requirements for vehicle registration remain suspended until the end of the declared state-of-emergency in Montana. Dealerships have an additional 90 days to submit paperwork to county offices, and vehicle owners to title and register any vehicles transferred after March 16, 2020. New Montana residents have a 90-day extension to title and register vehicles. 

Mail-in renewals are 2-3 weeks behind, but area law enforcement is aware of this. On-line title by e-mail is also 3-4 weeks from submission to invoice and mailing of plates.

Due to office closures and the extensions, no late title fees will be charged on permits expiring on or after March 16, 2020, until the end of the declared state-of-emergency.

While spring and summer are typically the busiest time for motor vehicle registrations, the COVID-19 pandemic has created further delays. Due to the Attorney General extensions, many customers waited to come in and the long lines can partially be attributed to delayed March, April and May customers. The department continues to be short-staffed due to COVID-19 and is currently in the process of hiring two more employees.

People are reminded to check lines on the Motor Vehicles web cam before coming in:  https://bit.ly/2XORUzr

The Lewis and Clark County Motor Vehicle Department is open Monday-Friday, 7:30 am – 5:00 pm on a first come, first serve basis, unless an appointment is made. No title work is processed after 4:30 pm. For renewals, appointments can be made by calling 406-447-8328. Phones are answered 7:30 am – 4:00 pm. It is recommended people continue to call rather than leave a message.

County Commissioners COVID-19 Update to our Communities

This photo was taken pre-COVID-19 pandemic. The Commissioners follow CDC and Lewis & Clark Public Health recommendations and protocols, including social distancing and wearing masks.

May 21, 2020

Dear Lewis and Clark County Community,

We are several months into the COVID-19 pandemic and how our world has changed! While there are still many uncertainties, we continue to look for solutions on how to navigate these uncharted waters. However, one thing remains the same: Lewis and Clark County government continues to operate and figure out how to balance accountability to the taxpayers with the health and safety of the community and our employees.

The operation of government has never ceased as we work to comply with the CDC, Lewis and Clark Public Health, and the Governor’s directives. Navigating the challenges of finding a balance and putting new protocols in place has come with one constant directive from the Commissioners: be kind, be generous, and be thoughtful.

On May 20, County elected officials met to discuss the challenges each has faced in this pandemic, as well as future planning efforts. We want ensure that despite being separate elected offices, the County is working together as a team. With direction from Lewis and Clark Public Health, “adapt and overcome” is the common theme.  

Leo Gallagher, County Attorney, said they are seeing a record number of filings, although trials for most of April and all of May and June have been vacated due to difficulties summoning a jury in the midst of COVID-19. Criminal trials are now set for later in the summer, including several high profile cases. This will result in a huge workload the second half of the year. At the same time, the Civil Department is assisting Public Health in upholding its and the Governor’s COVID-19 directives and responding to inquiries, along with helping the Commissioners move forward with several controversial issues.

With all the trials later this summer, Clerk of Court Angie Sparks said they are determining how to safely bring in and select jurors, and prevent crowding in courtrooms. Many options are under consideration, including but not limited to larger venues or bringing in fewer people at a time. Each option comes with challenges and staff are working hard to find solutions.

Sheriff Leo Dutton and his office have been part of the Unified Health Command alongside Lewis and Clark Public Health, Helena Police Department and St. Peters Health. Taking a balanced and thoughtful approach, they have worked closely with Public Health to educate the public and help enforce the Governor’s and Public Health orders. Keeping COVID-19 out of the Detention Center also continues to be a high priority. Protocols are in place and continue to evolve but this is an ongoing concern. Alternative locations have been established should an inmate become infected and isolation required, but thankfully this has not yet been necessary.

On the education front, County Superintendent of Public Schools Katrina Chaney, shared some anecdotes from her work with rural schools. Wolf Creek reports it has had almost 100% participation with online learning. Kids, teachers and parents throughout the county are all working incredibly hard. While it seems kids are keeping up, it is still too soon to know the academic effects of three months of virtual learning.

Clerk and Recorder/Treasurer Paulette DeHart oversees Elections, Motor Vehicles, Property Taxes, Recorders and Treasurers offices. COVID-19 has effected all these operations, yet they continue to adapt.

The June 2, 2020, Primary Election was changed to mail ballot only, and staff has been working to ensure it goes smoothly and social distancing is practiced for those that do come into the Elections office. Looking past the Primary, the General Election will pose challenging if it remains a polling place election. Several hundred election judges are needed and are typically over the age of 65. With this population being high risk for COVID-19, few may wish to participate and finding enough election judges may be difficult. Some solutions could include consolidating locations so fewer judges are needed and going to bigger venues where social distancing will be possible. These decisions won’t be made for another few months.

Motor vehicles has been operating throughout the pandemic, but with reduced in-person services. With Phase One of the reopening, one appointment-only window and two regular windows are now open, with a third soon to be. As with everything, maintaining six feet between staff and customers, sanitizing, hand washing and wearing masks can help keep everyone safe.

The Commissioners continue moving forward on many issues such as Part 2 Zoning, Rural Improvement District decisions and the budget approval process and are working hard to ensure the public is still able to participate. Staff are evaluating the Last Chance Stampede and will make a decision in the coming weeks as to whether or not it will be held. In looking at the budget, revenues are down; however, so are expenditures. The finance office is looking closely at the budget, working with departments, and more information will be forthcoming as the budget process moves forward this summer.

As an organization, staffing is a challenge across the board. Many employees have children at home doing online learning. Some employees are immunocompromised or live with someone who is immunocompromised and must keep themselves and their families safe by social distancing and continuing to stay at home. Essential services such as law enforcement have had to find creative ways to overcome these challenges and our HR department has been excellent in helping us all navigate. We want to work with employees to make sure they stay safe, yet also must find ways to continue to get the work done.

The Commission has been involved and doing everything we can to support Public Health, Disaster and Emergency Services and all the others. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and during the lull we seem to be in, we are all taking a hard look at how we move forward, particularly if we see an uptick in cases again.

While we face many challenges, not much is impossible. With an organization full of dedicated employees who want to serve, we will keep moving steadfastly forward and ultimately come out stronger and more resilient.

Know that we care about you and will do all we can to keep our communities safe.

In community spirit, 

Lewis and Clark County Commissioners

Susan Good Geise

Jim McCormick

Andy Hunthausen

Mail ballot elections: What you need to know

In March, the Governor issued a directive allowing counties the option to conduct the June 2 Federal Primary election under Montana’s well-established mail ballot election laws. All 56 Montana Counties chose to conduct the election by mail ballot.

This is the first time a statewide election has been conducted by mail ballot. Across the nation, people are talking about moving to mail ballot elections and wondering: how do mail ballot elections work? 

The first thing to know is that in Lewis and Clark County, and indeed counties across Montana, we are accustomed to conducting elections by mail ballot. In fact, even in elections where polling places are open, most Montanans cast their vote absentee-by-mail. 

There are laws and procedures in place that account for every ballot issued, received, and counted. These processes also ensure that every person’s ballot is secret. Most importantly, these processes are open to public observation.

When someone registers to vote in Montana, a voter record is created by their county in the statewide election management and voter registration database. Every application received from a voter is scanned into this system. 

A few weeks before election day, ballots are mailed to all registered voters with an Active voting status. Mailed ballot packets include the ballot (or ballots in a primary election), instructions, a ballot secrecy envelope, and a return envelope with the voter’s affirmation.

Voters are instructed to seal their voted ballot in a ballot secrecy envelope. The voter then signs the affirmation on the return envelope and encloses the ballot secrecy envelope within the return envelope. The return envelope, signed with the enclosed ballot, must be received at the elections office or designated drop-off location by 8pm on Election Day.

In Lewis and Clark County, we set a goal of processing returned ballots the day they are received. Voters can track the status of federal election ballots online with the state’s My Voter Page service at https://app.mt.gov/voterinfo/. The online tracking service is updated every night, so if we receive and process your ballot on Monday, you will be able to see that on My Voter Page on Tuesday.

When voted ballots are received at the elections office, we compare the signature on the voter’s affirmation to the signatures scanned into the voter’s record. If the signatures match, the ballot is accepted for further processing. If the signatures do not match, or there is no signature, the voter is notified and must resolve the issue by showing ID and providing an updated signature. This signature is then applied to their voting record to assist with future signature verification.

The status of returned ballots is tracked in our election management and voter registration database. After processing batches of accepted ballots, we print a report from that database. Now we begin a series of reconciliation steps. First, staff ensure that each envelope reflected on the report is included in the batches, and vice versa. This is a double check to make sure the staff who processed the ballots in the system did everything correctly.

In the next reconciliation step, the secrecy envelopes may be separated from the signed return envelopes. Two staff are required for this step. As they work, they complete a report of the total number of return envelopes from their batches, and the total number of secrecy envelopes removed. They are also making sure that each return envelope only contains one secrecy envelope. If they encounter anything other than one secrecy envelope per return envelope, they check-in with supervisors. They document their work on reports.

Once the secrecy envelopes are separated from the return envelopes, we cannot tie a particular ballot to a voter. We can still tie the reconciliation reports together, so we have a documented paper trail accounting for each ballot received.

Starting three business days before Election Day, the ballots can be removed from the secrecy envelopes. The Election Judges who do this job complete reconciliation reports documenting how many ballots were removed from secrecy envelopes to be delivered to the tabulators that count the votes.

Starting one day before Election Day, the ballots are tabulated, which means the votes are counted. The tabulators also complete reports showing how many ballots they received and counted. Though results are tabulated the day before Election Day, they are not released until voting closes at 8pm on Election Day. 

In the end, we are able to tie the reports from the final step, tabulation, back to the first reconciliation reports from the election management system, without being able to tie the votes on a single ballot to a single voter. 

Most importantly, the steps to protect the secret ballot make these processes transparent and open to public observation

Reminders in case of flooding in Augusta this spring

In the event of another spring flood event in Augusta this year, Lewis and Clark County has several reminders for the public, as well as what resources will be available.

If water begins to flow across roadways, it is important the public obey all traffic signs and not go around barricades put up by law enforcement and road crews. Often, it is impossible to know the condition of the road underneath the water and these closures and detours are in place for public safety. Roads covered by water could collapse. Additionally, the average vehicle can be swept off the road in 12 inches of moving water and attempting to drive through it could stall your engine and cause irreparable damage.

When water is flowing down Main Street, it is also important to avoid the area. Driving through floodwater creates wakes that can push water into businesses, creating more damage than they already will have to deal with. If driving through this area is unavoidable, please slow down.

While the County no longer provides sandbags, there are approximately 12,000 still available from prior years. They are located at the Augusta Volunteer Fire Department at 408 Manix St. If necessary, sand will also be available in the parking lot, donated by the Elkhorn Community Organizations Assisting in Disaster.

Remember, do not drink, cook or wash with water from a private well that has been flooded. It can make you sick. Twenty test kits will be delivered to the Augusta volunteer fire department ahead of time for distribution if needed, and Lewis and Clark Public Health will coordinate collection and sampling. If you have questions about the safety of your well, contact the Lewis and Clark County Water Quality Protection District at 406-457-8584.

The Elkhorn COAD will have bottled water available again if wells become contaminated. The water will be at the Volunteer Fire Department ahead of time in the event of road closures preventing volunteers from getting the water to Augusta.

Avoid contact with floodwaters. All floodwater should be considered contaminated by sewage/wastewater, pet and livestock waste and other pollutants. People working in floodwaters should take precautions to avoid ingestion or contact to the extent practicable.

If COVID-19 is still a community concern, people are reminded to practice social distancing protocols should they need to pick up water or sand. This means staying at least 6 feet away from one another. Remember, health care services could be at capacity due to COVID-19 and people should do all they can to lessen the strain on services.

Finally, please remember that stream permits are required for planned projects. In the event of flooding and loss of life, property or crops is imminent, an emergency notice needs to be filed with the Lewis & Clark Conservation District, 790 Colleen St., Helena, MT 59601, lccd@mt.net or call 406-449-5000 ext. 5. Work can be done to address the immediate emergency and the notice should be filed within 15 days after doing work.

Lewis and Clark County Primary Election to be Conducted by Mail Ballot

The Lewis and Clark County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to request the June 2, 2020 Primary Election be conducted by mail ballot in accordance with a directive issued by the Governor last week.

Under normal circumstances, the June 2 Primary election would be a polling place election. In a polling place election, ballots are only mailed to voters who have signed up to receive absentee ballots; voters who haven’t signed up for an absentee ballot must go to the polls in person on election day to vote. After consulting with public health experts and emergency management professionals, the Governor determined polling places pose risks for the health and safety of all Montanans.

In the directive, Governor Bullock clarified that in-person voting would still be available, “To be clear: in counties with mail ballots, in-person voting is still permitted. The hope in giving counties the option to invoke mail ballot procedures is to shift the presumption: the default would be that Montanans can vote without leaving home, while the option to vote in-person remains. The opposite presumption exists now, and could pose serious public health risks under the trying and unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The directive further states that postage will not be required for voters to return mail ballots, while giving counties the ability to seek reimbursement for these costs. Additionally, the directive requires counties to establish, implement, and enforce social distancing policies for all in-person voter interactions.

“We are taking this pandemic very seriously and looking at all available options for doing County business during this difficult time,” said Lewis and Clark County Commission Chair Susan Good Geise. “Elections are essential and critical and by making the decision to do a mail ballot election, we are encouraging everyone to vote despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This decision protects voters, election judges and staff while still allowing the publics voice to be heard.”

The decision means anyone actively registered to vote in Lewis and Clark County will automatically be mailed a primary ballot on May 8 to the mailing address on file with the elections office. Those who are not registered, or who need to update their address, have until May 26 to mail in a Montana Voter Registration Application. Registration can be verified online at www.MyVoterPageMT.com or by calling the county elections office at 406-447-8339.

While the shelter in place order is in effect, the elections office is still open, but is limiting occupancy. In accordance with state and federal guidelines, the office recommends citizens take advantage of options to conduct business by phone, email, fax, or mail. More information is available on the office’s website at www.lccountymt.gov/car/elections.

“We appreciate the actions and support of the County Commissioners and Montana’s Governor and are working swiftly to plan for socially-distanced in-person voting,” said Paulette Dehart, Treasurer/Clerk and Recorder and Election Administrator “From line-management to drive-up options, we are thankful that we can provide services that are safe for our voters and our staff.”

For more information about upcoming elections, contact Audrey McCue at 406-439-3592 or amccue@lccountymt.gov.

Lewis and Clark County Court Schedules Modified

Changes made following First Judicial District Court order

Helena – The Lewis and Clark County courthouse is going to see some changes and limitations in regards to in-court proceedings due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Court Order #SB-2020-14 from the First Judicial District Court, it has become increasingly difficult for parties, counsel, court, clerk of court, pretrial services, probation and parole, and detention center staff to be present in the courtroom while strictly following public health recommendations to mitigate the virus.

Pursuant to the Montana First Judicial District Local Court Rules, Parties are encouraged to file documents by email to clerkofcourt@lccountymt.gov. Staff will follow-up with parties for payment. The filing of the Original Document is waived until May 1, 2020, pursuant to the Court Order.

Additional information about online or phone services offered by the Clark of Court can be found online at https://www.lccountymt.gov/cdc.html

County Online & Phone Services

We recognize many people are now working from home or unable to leave the house due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please note Lewis & Clark County has many services that can be done either online or by phone and have listed them below for your convenience.

Clerk & Recorder Services

The following services under the Lewis and Clark County Treasurer/Clerk and Recorder’s office will be available through mail and online only beginning at 5:00 p.m., March 23rd.

All of the following services are available on an emergency basis by calling the department you need during regular office hours:

Elections (406) 447-8339

Records (406) 447-8337

Tax Department (406) 447-8329

Motor Vehicle Department (406) 447-8328

Accounting Department (406) 447-8327

Burn PermitsRenew at https://app.mt.gov/burnpermit/
ElectionsVoter Registration and Elections Online Services Check if you are registered to vote and if you are signed up for absentee ballots: www.MyVoterPageMT.com While you cannot register to vote or request an absentee ballot online, you can download the form so you can complete, print, sign, and then return:

Voter Registration Application https://www.lccountymt.gov/fileadmin/user_upload/Clerk_and_Recorder/Elections/Forms/Voter-Registration-Application.pdf

Absentee Ballot Application https://www.lccountymt.gov/fileadmin/user_upload/Clerk_and_Recorder/Elections/Forms/Application-for-Absentee-Ballot-2018.pdf

Voter Registration and Elections Phone Services Most updates and requests require a signed form; however, if you call our office at 447-8339 we can look up your registration information and mail you any forms you need.
E-Recordinghttps://www.lccountymt.gov/car/records.html
Motor Vehicle RegistrationRenewals:
-On-line at https://app.mt.gov/vrr/renewal/index.html. If you have changed counties or moved since your last renewal/initial registration you will need to verify your address prior to renewing.
-Through the mail*.
-Drop payment in the Red Box in Lobby.
-Please email DOJMVDLEWISCLARKCOUNTY(at)mt.gov or call 447-8328 to verify address prior to renewing on-line or to get an amount due for registration or permanent registration.
-We will accept credit card payments over the phone for renewals expiring before 4/30/2020.

Temporary Registrations:
-E-mail front and back of the title or bill of sale to DOJMVDLEWISCLARK(at)mt.gov. Please put TRP Request and Last name in the subject name.
-Fax Front and back of the title or bill of sale to 406-447-8330 with a cover page that has your name and address on it. We will then mail your TRP to you.
-Drop a copy of the front in back of the title or bill of sale in the mail slot in Motor Vehicle Window 4. -Please include an e-mail address if you wish it to be e-mailed to you or an address if it is to be mailed.

Vehicle Titles:
Dealer/lender sending paperwork to MVD:
-If you received a letter with a quote on it please send that amount in or email DOJMVDLEWISCLARK(at)mt.gov or call 447-8328 for alternate plates or payment type.
-E-mail or call DOJMVDLEWISCLARK(at)mt.gov or call 447-8328 for instructions.

Customer with paperwork in-hand:
-Email DOJMVDLEWISCLARK(at)mt.gov for review of paperwork, if needed.
-Mail* all necessary documents to Lewis & Clark County MVD with blank check for payment or a reliable phone number where we can reach you for payment.
-Drop Title Paperwork in the mail slot in Motor Vehicle Window 4 with blank check for payment or reliable phone number where we may reach you for payment.
Pay property taxes https://www.lccountymt.gov/car/tax-information.html
Record documents https://www.lccountymt.gov/car/records.html
Responding to recording information requests by e-mail
to records@lccountymt.gov or phone at 447-8337
Request vital recordshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/car/records.html Email
completed forms to records@lccountymt.gov 
Review and file surveysCall 447-8337 to coordinate  
Search documentshttps://eagle-web.lccountymt.gov/recorder/web/

Permits and Applications for Building and Development

Addressing applicationshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/permits/address-applications.html
Approach permitshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/permits/approach-permits.html
Encroachment agreementshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/permits/encroachment-agreements.html
Floodplain permitshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/permits/flood-plain-permits.html
GIS and Map Serviceshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/it/gis-maps.html 
Subdivision applicationshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/permits/subdivision-applications.html
 All permits processed on a regular basis are online: https://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/permits.html. Email to planning@lccountymt.gov or call 447-8374.

Clerk of Court

Marriage Licenseshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdc/marriage-license.html If document is pre-filled out, it should not take long to issue marriage licenses.
Records Requestshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdc/copies-and-search-requests.html
Filinghttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdc/email-filing.html Filing can be done by email and staff can then call to get payment.
District Court Calendarshttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdc/calendars.html
Jury Informationhttps://www.lccountymt.gov/cdc/jurypool.html

Environmental

East Helena property cleanup statushttps://helenamtmaps.maps.arcgis.com/
East Helena soil displacement permithttps://www.skipthepaper.com/myApplication.aspx?myApp=026420CF-7E5E-415F-9F38-C38BBDC3D22C
General informationhttps://www.lccountymt.gov/health/environmental-health.html
Septic permitshttps://www.skipthepaper.com/myApplication.aspx?myApp=1B341D0E-2691-410E-B30D-FCCAB07794A0

Community Letter About Preparedness for COVID-19

A letter from the Lewis and Clark County Commissioners

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Dear Lewis and Clark County Community,

Over the last few weeks we have witnessed our community taking quick actions to contain the spread of COVID-19. While we don’t know whether or not we will have a confirmed case in Lewis and Clark County, it’s important we strive to keep us all as healthy and safe as possible.

As we all strive to understand what is happening and keep up with the ever changing information, the response can feel like too much to some, while for others it feels too slow. Without physical evidence of an emergency like flooding or fire, it’s hard to comprehend the need to respond so quickly.

Lewis and Clark County has an Emergency Operations Plan that includes planning for infectious disease outbreaks. We’ve worked closely with Lewis & Clark Public Health, state and county Disaster and Emergency Services, law enforcement, community stakeholders and others to plan and drill for emergencies like this, hoping it would never arrive, but knowing we need to be prepared. We are all in communication and doing all we can to support the ongoing efforts of our Public Health team.

While Lewis and Clark Public Health and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services remain in the lead on this public health emergency, Lewis and Clark County government is actively working to support their efforts while keeping critical County services operational. We are taking steps to protect the health and safety of our employees. We are communicating with our first responders, on whom we will all depend as this continues to develop in our community, to ensure they are safe and have what they need. We’ve suspended non-essential travel and training, we’re examining our leave policies to ensure our sick employees stay home and those with children not in school can work remotely, and we’re working to adapt to provide services through virtual methods. 

There may come a time when some services are suspended, but as of now, we are working to adjust our operations to continue to serve our community.

The best way to stay up-to-date on all this is to check our website often. You can also follow our Facebook page at Lewis and Clark County Government (@LCCoGovernment) for updates.

We need your help to contain this and can’t emphasize enough how important it is to follow the Public Health Guidelines:

  • Cover your cough. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your elbow.
  • Don’t shake hands. Avoid unnecessary contact by not shaking hands, hugging or kissing as greetings. Find other, non-contact ways to say hello.
  • Leave space. Maintain a 6-foot radius between yourself and others in public spaces. (Droplets that may carry influenza and COVID-19 can commonly travel up to 6 feet.)
  • Think it through. If you would normally reconsider attending an event during flu season, reconsider it now. People over 60 and those with pre-existing respiratory, cardiac conditions, or who are immunocompromised should avoid all large gatherings. 

Know that we care about you and will do all we can to keep our community safe.

In community spirit, 

Lewis and Clark County Commissioners

Susan Good Geise

Jim McCormick

Andy Hunthausen

Teepee Burner in Lincoln receives 2019 Historic Preservation Award

Sitting among the trees along Highway 200 on the west side of Lincoln, Montana, the Delaney Sawmill TeePee Burner at the Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild has become a familiar piece of the landscape. It has also become the symbol of the future of a community that once relied on the logging and mining industries.

In summer 2019, the TeePee Burner received the Lewis and Clark County Heritage Tourism Council’s Historic Preservation Award, which recognizes historic preservation contributions in the City of Helena and Lewis and Clark County.

The Teepee Burner received the 2019 Lewis and Clark County Historic Preservation Award.

Originally used to burn scrap wood at the old Delaney & Sons Sawmill on the Landers Fork, it burned day and night, lighting up the sky. When the sawmill closed in 1971, the Teepee Burner was left on the landscape. Framed with iron and steel and skinned with sheet metal, it weighs in at 20,000 pounds, stands 90 feet tall and is 45 feet across.

While the fate of the Teepee Burner may have been to languish in place, that changed with a vision from Ireland’s Kevin O’Dwyer when he visited Lincoln in 2011. Having directed two sculpture symposia in his home country, his sculptures involve re-imagining industrial structures as artwork, with a strong emphasis on memory. He considers his installations to be memory pieces that function not only as works of art, but conduits, transferring memory and knowledge to future generations.

O’Dwyer gives a tour to Lt. Governor Mike Cooney before the 2019 BPSW fundraising banquet.

Following O’Dwyer’s vision and the creation of the sculpture park, the Teepee Burner was taken apart and moved to the site in September 2014. O’Dwyer proposed re-creating the orange glow of the Teepee Burner locals recounted to him using photovoltaic cells, sensors and LED lighting.

Interior features include black and white archival photographs of the area’s historic logging industry printed on steel plates.

Inside the Teepee Burner.

Several members of the community donated time and labor, while others donated funds. The Teepee Burner serves as a community-gathering place and performance space, as well as an art installation among others in BPSW.

O’Dwyer said of the award, “It’s wonderful to receive an award for this iconic piece of Montana’s industrial heritage! I’m especially delighted that Lewis and Clark Co. Heritage Tourism Council has acknowledged “re-purposing” of the TeePee Burner into an art installation, education facility and acoustic music venue, and a place for storytelling and sharing the history of the Delaney Saw Mill and the logging history of the Blackfoot Valley.”

Live in a Rural Improvement District? Here is what it means.

The Lewis and Clark County Public Works Department maintains approximately 550 miles of roads. County tax dollars pay for maintenance on high traffic roads or those that collect traffic from large areas. But as with many large, primarily rural Montana counties, there is not enough funding to maintain all public roads, many of which only benefit a few properties. One option for road and other public works improvements and maintenance is to create a Rural Improvement District (RID). An RID is a legal taxing authority that can raise funds in specific areas for specific improvements and on-going maintenance for those improvements.

RIDs are most often initiated by citizens in need of road upgrades, better road maintenance, or other services. The County prefers a citizen-led approach to ensure support, but also to allow residents to engage in and lead the effort. To begin the process, the County requires a petition, detailing the proposed district, supported by a minimum of 60% of the affected property owners. Once received, County staff develop a ‘Resolution of Intention to Create’ the RID. This resolution specifies the boundaries of the proposed RID, the services included, and the tax assessment for each benefitting property owner. Once passed by the Board of County Commissioners, notice is published and copies of the notice are mailed to all affected property owners, allowing a period of protest and the opportunity for public hearing and testimony. If protest from over 50% of property owners is received, the process halts; otherwise, the RID is created.

At this point the County begins collecting RID payments, via property taxes, that are entered into a separate account designated only for payment of services identified in the RID’s resolution.

RIDs can be similar in function to an HOA; however, the County provides oversight through tax assessment and the coordination of services.  Designated property owners within each RID are responsible for collaborating with the County to monitor funds and plan for work.

Rural growth within Lewis and Clark County, primarily across the Helena Valley, has prompted a huge surge in the development of Rural Improvement Districts. What began as an innovative way to provide road improvements and maintenance to County residents has grown into a program all of its own. Currently, Lewis and Clark County manages over 100 RIDs. These include districts for road improvements and maintenance, fire suppression, lighting, parks, flood mitigation, and more.  

With the current population density and projected growth, the Public Works Department has invested in two new employee positions to manage the program. Jessica Makus, Special Districts Program Coordinator, and Calob Marquis, Rural Improvement District Construction Coordinator, have come on board to manage existing RIDs and assist the public with the development of new RIDs. They join long-time County employee, Jesse Whitford, in what has become a new team working to improve services to residents.

With this additional capacity, the goals are to provide better service to existing RIDs, improve public outreach, update policies for more efficient management, and develop long-term maintenance plans for RIDs moving forward. Long-term planning will enable staff to work with residents on comprehensive maintenance schedules to look at the lifetime of the improvements, rather than just focusing on today’s needs. This approach will enable the County to better coordinate construction projects and services such as plowing and grading, efforts that will save both time and money.

More information on RIDs can be found online at https://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/special-districts.html