The bipartisan infrastructure bill will help Montana for the next generation

November 23, 2021 5:49 am

The Milk River dam (Photo via the United States Bureau of Reclamation).

For several decades, the Milk River Project has been chronically underfunded and in need of essential repairs. Politicians of every stripe have failed to deliver the dollars needed to forge a long-term solution. 

Until now. 

Help has finally arrived in the form of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The legislation allocates $100 million specifically for the Milk River Project. It will pour key resources into upgrades, new construction and pipeline replacement. 

After years of patchwork solutions, this legislation will breathe new life into  “The Lifeline of the Hi-Line” and ensure that nearly 20,000 Montanans continue to have access to clean drinking water. The funds will keep water flowing to more than 120,000 irrigated acres and nearly 700 farms. The project will help alleviate repeated drop structure failures (most recently in 2020) along the river’s 729-mile route and rehabilitate the aging St. Mary’s diversion dam which is in dire need of modernization.  Not only will the resources help revitalize the Milk River Project, it will also provide scores of job opportunities for rural Montanans. This entire legislation is a win-win for communities all along the Hi-Line. 

In addition to making necessary investments in Montana’s rural communities, this bill is also a game changer for Montana’s Tribal Nations. 

More than $200 million is set aside for critical repairs and enhancements that have languished for too long. These projects alone have the potential to impact more than 100,000 Montanan and dozens of rural towns across the state. But, the bipartisan infrastructure bill doesn’t just set out to fix roads and bridges, it also aims to finally make good on at least a pair of promises the federal government made to Montana Tribes. 

The bill provides roughly $100 million to fulfill a water compact settlement with the Crow Tribe that was agreed to almost a decade ago. Plus, nearly $300 million will be used toward completing a settlement with the Blackfeet Tribe that was first authorized in 2018. These funds will help Tribal community members in a myriad of ways including much-needed fixes to water, sewage and sanitation systems. Finally delivering on these promises is something every Montanan can be proud of. 

It can’t be overlooked that breaking the decades-long deadlock was due in large part to our senior U.S. Senator from Big Sandy. Jon Tester was one of the chief architects of the bipartisan effort to revolutionize our nation’s infrastructure and he made sure rural Americans had a prominent seat at the table. That’s the kind of common sense problem-solving every Montanan can appreciate. 

But, the infrastructure bill is just one step forward for Montana. To truly see the benefits of this historic achievement, we also need our elected leaders to pass Build Back Better. The bill will have an enormous impact for families by cutting taxes for the working class, providing universal free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old, expanding healthcare access and extending the Child Tax Credit for the foreseeable future. 

Now is not the time to stop short. 

Montanans are counting on the folks in Washington, D.C., to finish the job and we need Tester to step up once again for Montana. Given his long track record of doing just that, I’m beyond confident he’ll have our back. 

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Barbara Bessette
Barbara Bessette

Barbara Bessette is a former Montana legislator and lives in Great Falls.