Red Lodge, Montana

Tea with the Mayor, Tuesday March 4

Tea with the MayorHow will construction on the 212 project affect our lives this summer? Are there any solutions in the works to battle trash during upcoming festivals? How responsible am I for clearing snow in front of my business on Broadway? Where can I speak my piece? WHAT ABOUT ALL THE TURKEYS!?!?

These were all very interesting and relative questions posed during March’s installment of “Tea With the Mayor,” which takes place on the first Tuesday of each month, from 8 am to 10 am, at Red Lodge Books & Tea. Mayor Ed Williams reaches out to the community by making himself available during these hours to chat and imbibe a portion of Gary’s vast tea collection with anyone who cares to attend. This is not to be confused with a similar meeting referred to as “Coffee With the Mayor” every third Thursday from 9 am to 11 am at Honey’s Café, wherein Mayor Ed Williams reaches out to the community by making himself available to chat and imbibe coffee and munch biscotti with anyone who cares to attend.

As similar as those two concepts sound, the discussions at each tend to be equally alike. It is safe to assume that the weather conditions this winter have been a point of concern for businesses on Broadway, as well as the effect it has had on our winter tourism season. An illustrated example being the dystopian arctic wasteland we experienced in December that in years past has been called the Christmas Stroll.

Of course we have no control over the weather, and most of us prefer the blank white and five-foot snow berms, but the accumulation does cause an inconvenience downtown. In particular, parking. When the berms build so high that cars are parked most of the way into Main Street, and two cars must pass with military precision, we all get a bit edgy.

The problem? The snow removal budget is really tiny. According to several sources, the snow removal budget for this year has long been exhausted, which is understandable considering we have been gifted with twice as much snow this year as the last. “We try and widen every chance we get,” said Mayor Williams. “Moisture started early [this year] and never quit.” The Mayor also cited 30-year-old equipment when addressing the difficulties of keeping the streets clear and safe. The solution? More (better!) snow removal. Beginning October 1, 2014, between the hours of 3 am and 5 am, cars will not be permitted to park on Broadway so the road may be plowed from shoulder to shoulder. Plowing on Broadway is the responsibility of the State of Montana, as it is part of a state highway. Those nice, big state-owned plows don’t do us any good, however, if they can’t get to where they need to because of cars. So, you responsible drivers that park on Main Street then walk home after the bar should get used to parking off Main, or you will probably have to get your car from Ronning’s after a hefty tow-fee. This also applies to the side streets from Broadway to the alley.

Though the city promises to keep the streets clean, it is up to the businesses to keep the sidewalks clear. Acting Police Chief S. Cope wants business owners to keep the walks in front of their businesses clear to the concrete by 10am on the day it stops snowing. Grab your snow blowers and ice chippers, because non-compliance will lead to ticketing in the future.

The next huge concern, and leading cause of gray hair growth since 2012, is construction on Highway 212. The road is to be closed from Robinson Lane (the road by Beartooth Electric) to 8th Ave (by the library), and is rumored to begin in April. “I wish them the best with that,” said Williams, referencing the volumes of winter precipitation and the likelihood of its presence next month.

I’m not sure how the traffic will be diverted during the construction, or even how much the construction will impede the traffic, but on March 25 between 2 pm and 5 pm in the City Council Chambers (1 S Platt), MDT will be present with the roadwork agenda and any of you could stop by, voice your opinions, or ask any questions you have concerning the project.

A big part of this summer’s road project is the roundabout being built at the intersection of Highways 78 and 212. This roundabout is happening, whether we like it or not, and it comes with its own collection of obstacles.

The first problem, in my opinion, is the size of the roundabout itself, which boasts a 133.5’ effective diameter. I have no idea what an effective diameter is; I assume it is measured from shoulder to shoulder, but it could be from curb to curb, either way I’m still not sure I know how long 133’ 6” is exactly. According to the Mayor, the roundabout is large enough that a 72’ trailer can easily navigate its single lane without as much as a hiccup. I don’t know how often a 72’ long trailer is used, (I imagine an articulated double trailer hauling coal, or hopefully a classified radioactive mineral) but we are assured it will be able to get around the new traffic circle.

Concerns regarding the roundabout rightfully attend to the difficulty the Red Lodge Fire Department will have offering emergency service around town. Other concerns include, obviously, the buildup of snow during the winter months on the shoulder as well as on the proposed sidewalk that is to encircle the roundabout.

During the construction, we are encouraged not to use the word “closed” when speaking of anything regarding Red Lodge this summer. Apparently, last year, many businesses in Billings and Cody informed their customers that our town was “closed”, which cost us a large chunk of business.

Regarding the Mayor’s high hopes for a busy summer season, several business owners seemed concerned about the waste situation on Broadway, citing instances where trash bins become over filled and, as a result, refuse is merely stacked on or around the metal bear-proof receptacles placed by the city. It was said that they aren’t even bear proof anymore due to someone removing all the metal flaps and magnets from inside the bins. An immediate solution is a business placing its own trash can outside on the sidewalk, which the business owner or employees would be responsible for emptying on a daily basis.

My personal favorite recurring topic of distress is the turkey population. The concern lies in the sheer boom in numbers over the past few years, from 50 to over 200, and the effect it could have on town. Police Chief Cope is concerned about an “avian bird flu situation.” Potentially, the turkeys could spread a dangerous and communicable disease around town, possibly creating a doomsday scenario, or, hopefully, a long-awaited zombie apocalypse. Other concerns include property damage and danger to our summer motorcycle crowd. Bird feeders are a huge attraction to the turkeys and if you are having a problem with them in your yard look to what they are coming to your property in search of. Then eliminate it.

As far as getting rid of what some consider a nuisance, bow hunting is out. It was deemed too dangerous. A more humane solution would be allowing, or charging, local ranchers and farmers to trap and remove the turkeys in considerable numbers, hopefully to cut the population around town in half.

These are just a few topics that have been discussed during the open meetings with the new Mayor. Other topics include speed control, paving Airport Road, cigarette butts on the sidewalk, the inaccuracies of Google Maps when navigating local roads, and even what Mayor Williams may or may not have done during an outing with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. If you have questions or just want to know which gear the town is rolling in or even in what direction, then you can come to “Coffee With the Mayor” or “Tea With the Mayor” and see what all of the kerfuffle is about.

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