Tracy Stone-Manning has some big projects waiting for her when she takes over the Montana Department of Environmental Quality next month.
“There’s a giant opportunity ahead in the Upper Clark Fork cleanup,” Stone-Manning said shortly after Gov.-elect Steve Bullock announced her appointment Friday morning. “DEQ did such a great job with the Upper Silver Bow Creek work, and I’m sure they’ll do the same with the Clark Fork. It’s a big job to see it happens well with the least disruption to the landowners along the basin.”
Gov. Brian Schweitzer is expected to sign off on a $65.5 million long-range plan for removing a century’s worth of mine waste and improving fish and wildlife habitat in the river corridor between Anaconda and Missoula. DEQ will have a lead role in that effort.
“Tracy will know a lot about that from her work with (Sen. Jon) Tester’s office and the Clark Fork Coalition,” departing DEQ Director Richard Opper said Friday. “We’re just getting started on the cleanup, so it’s a really exciting time to dive into it. And then there’s the Upper Blackfoot, with the Mike Horse Dam removal. That’s a big one that’s primed and ready, although we have some litigation to get out of the way.”
Eastern Montana communities are experiencing sudden change as oil and gas development in the Bakken Formation along the North Dakota border has brought thousands of new workers to the area. DEQ doesn’t oversee the drilling activity, but it does have authority over municipal wastewater and related impacts of a growing human population.
“It’s an important opportunity and challenge for the Legislature to help those communities through the growth period,” Stone-Manning said.
“Tracy has a proven record of bringing people together to responsibly manage our natural resources,” Bullock said at a news conference in Helena. “She will work together with whoever it takes to make sure DEQ is doing right by everyone who values and prospers from Montana’s land and water.”
Stone-Manning, 47, has been Tester’s Missoula region director since 2007. For the past year, she also served as Tester’s acting statewide staff director, managing a staff of 20. Before that, she was executive director of the Clark Fork Coalition and Five Valleys Land Trust, also in Missoula.
While on Tester’s staff, Stone-Manning worked on details and negotiations for the senator’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which combined new wilderness and recreation designations with extensive logging and forest remediation projects. She also was involved in Tester’s legislation transferring gray wolves from federal Endangered Species Act protection to state management.
“Tracy is one of Montana’s smartest and hardest-working public servants, and I can’t think of a more qualified person for this job,” Tester said I’m incredibly proud of the decision to bring her leadership and experience to the Department of Environmental Quality. Our state – and future generations – will be better for it. I’ll miss Tracy’s guidance in my office, but I look forward to our future work together and I wish her the very best in the years ahead.”
Those Washington connections probably will grow in importance in the state post. Opper noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which funds state Superfund and related projects, is expecting significant budget cuts next year.
“As that budget goes down, money available to the states will go down, too,” Opper said. “That’s a challenge she’ll have to face.”
Opper served eight years as Schweitzer’s director of DEQ. He said he did not know his immediate plans, but was considering the possibility of remaining active in state government in the Bullock administration.
As DEQ director, Stone-Manning will oversee a staff of 430 people in four divisions. They include a remediation office that handles Superfund cleanups such as the Clark Fork and Blackfoot sites; permitting for waste disposal and disturbance; planning for water quality, energy development and recycling programs; and an enforcement team.
“I will be doing a lot of homework over the holidays,” Stone-Manning said. “I will miss my colleagues and the senator; I think the world of him. I know at DEQ there’s a clear, solid, professional team in place. No director ever does the work alone.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.