Madison County Commission District 2 candidates squared off last week in a forum in Twin Bridges answering questions about roads, streamside setbacks and high-voltage electric transmission lines.
The race for the commissioner seat from district 2 features four men, three of whom were at the forum last Thursday: Ron Nye and Ty Cobb from Twin Bridges, and Dan Happel and Evan O. Gannon from Pony. Gannon wasn’t able to attend the forum.
Madison County Commissioner Marilyn Ross is the current district 2 commissioner and is not seeking re-election.
The forum was hosted by the Twin Bridges Rotary Club and emceed by Frank Colwell. It featured questions developed by club members, along with questions from the audience. About 40 people attended the event, which also featured questions for Madison County Clerk of District Court candidates and Madison County Justice of the Peace candidates.
For Clerk of District Court, incumbent Bundy Bailey of Sheridan is facing a challenge from Karen Miller of Alder. In the Justice of the Peace race, incumbent MaryAnn O’Malley of Virginia City is facing a challenge from Chris Tenny from Sheridan.
In the other contested race in Madison County, commissioner Jim Hart of Ennis is facing a challenge from Dave Germann of McAllister for the seat for Madison County Commission District 3.
Nye described himself as a native Montanan and a farmer. His family roots in the Twin Bridges area run deep and paying honor to that heritage is part of why he’s running for office.
“Together we can make Madison County a better place to live for future generations as our ancestors have done for us,” Nye said.
Happel is a fourth-generation Montanan and he is looking to secure freedoms and liberties for people in Madison County.
Happel is concerned with the state of government, particularly on a national level.
“Our republic was designed to be run from the bottom up,” Happel said.
Now however, things are being run from the top down and that scares him. Madison County needs commissioners who are strong enough to stand up for its citizens, he said.
Cobb has lived in Madison County since 1994 and has worked in the financial industry for 25 years. For the past several years he has worked as treasurer for the city of Dillon.
Since he moved here, Cobb has been very involved in the community and instrumental in improving the finances for the city of Dillon. His experience will be crucial for Madison County.
“It’s one thing to say you do things,” Cobb said. “It’s another to say you’ve done it.”
The first question the candidates were asked was about the Mountain States Transmission Intertie project, which, as proposed NorthWestern Energy, would be to construct high-voltage transmission lines down the Jefferson River Valley through Madison County.
Nye believes there are cheaper forms of electricity than the wind power that NorthWestern Energy claims will be on the MSTI lines. Additionally, the Jefferson River Valley isn’t the place for such a project.
“There’s a federal line corridor and that’s probably where the line should be,” he said.
The whole MSTI project seems ill conceived to Happel. NorthWestern Energy doesn’t even have the contracts signed to sell or provide the electricity, he said.
“I think this would be a really stupid idea,” Happel said.
The reason the line is being proposed in the Jefferson River Valley is because it is mostly private land, he said. On federal land, the agencies analyzing the project would have to deal with lawsuits from environmental groups. Through the eminent domain process, it’s easier to put something on private land than on public.
“They’re looking for the shortest route and they’re also looking for the least likely to have lawsuits,” Happel said.
The county needs to push for coordination on the MSTI review like Jefferson County has, he said.
For the last six months, Cobb has been working with local citizen groups opposed to MSTI and still has several unanswered questions.
“Every time you look under the rock, there’s another question,” he said.
For instance, he still hasn’t got a clear answer on the taxes Madison County could receive from MSTI should it be built in the Jefferson Valley.
He also wonders why NorthWestern Energy is building a line that seems to be too expensive for the company to build. His suspicion is the company is looking to get the permit to build the line, which is a 10-year, transferable permit, and then use that as equity.
But the bottom line is Madison County Commissioners should have a lot of questions for NorthWestern Energy, he said.
“What they’re asking us to accept is a permanent scar in our valley for the shareholders of NorthWestern Energy,” Cobb said.
Next, the candidates discussed streamside setbacks, which are being proposed for the Madison River and it’s tributaries.
The proposed setbacks would be a 300-foot building setback and 150-foot streamside buffer zone on the Madison River. The Madison County Planning Board passed their recommendation on to county commissioners Tuesday.
The Streamside Setback Citizen Steering Committee, which was formed in 2008 by the county commissioners to advise the planning board, essentially recommended a 75-foot setback on the Madison River.
“This is nothing short of a property takings,” Happel said. “What it does is it ruins the value of any property within that area.”
For Nye the issue is a little more complicated. The Big Hole has building setbacks on it and everyone agrees that water quality is important, he said.
He would also be sensitive to the citizen committee’s recommendation of 75 feet.
Cobb is troubled by the uniformity of the proposed setback ordinance.
“You really can’t look at it as a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all (plan),” he said. “I do think the 500-foot and 300-foot (setback) is excessive for most of the river applications I’ve seen.”
In rebuttal, Happel said the streamside setback ordinance was a sign of more sinister motives of government. He said such proposals were an extension of a United Nation’s plan to attack private property rights.
“We need to check into these things and find out where a lot of these things are coming from,” he said. “Because if you do, I think you’ll be alarmed.”
The candidates also discussed roads and how better the three districts within the county could work together.
In Madison County each commissioner is the road supervisor for their individual district. The candidates entertained the question of whether or not they would support a county road supervisor position.
Mainly, the three districts need to work better at coordinating their efforts, Nye said.
Budget restraints are also a problem, but the bottom line is the county has to do better with the roads, he said.
“Some how, some way we have to do a better job,” Nye said. “We have to be more efficient.”
“Right now the road departments are operated as three separate entities,” he said.
Working together would probably provide for some efficiency, Cobb said.
“I would want to take a look at whether or not there were some efficiencies of scale,” he said.
Happel wants to make roads and road maintenance less political.
“Things get politicized,” he said. “It’s easy for people to work together if they just try.”
Happel also felt more magnesium chloride would help the county roads, as well as some common sense use of gravel.
None of the candidates were ready to support hiring a road supervisor at this point.