Missoula is a leader in bringing about a healthy planet for the future with its continued membership to ICLEI - that or it's helping to strip people of their property rights and take their wealth.

"I am concerned that (the) Missoula City Council may be moving in a direction that could ultimately affect my property rights, which are guaranteed to me by both the Montana Constitution and the Constitution of the United States," Trish Auras said during the council's Monday night meeting. "Before you agree to paying dues to ICLEI, I would like somebody on the council to assure me that my property rights will not be affected in any way. Can you do that? Anybody?"

To her question, Councilman Bob Jaffe appeared to nod a yes, but he didn't take the microphone during the packed hearing.

The city's membership in ICLEI - the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives - and its $1,200 annual dues caused a stir last week, and on Monday they drew comments from people who live as far away as Helena and Ravalli County.

After the lengthy hearing, the council voted 9-3 to pay its dues, which gives Missoula access to resources including software programs that allow local officials to do emissions inventories and write action plans with standardized tools reviewed by scientists. Councilors Lyn Hellegaard, Renee Mitchell and Dick Haines opposed the measure, but Councilwoman Pam Walzer spoke in support of the payment.

"I grew up outside of Cleveland where the river caught fire. It did," Walzer said. "We can pollute ourselves to make our rivers catch on fire. We can make our groundwater undrinkable. We can make our air unbreathable. ICLEI helps us reverse that."

She said many people misunderstand ICLEI as well as its link to the United Nations and "Agenda 21," which Walzer said "sounds very mysterious." Really, though, she said the agenda has a goal of creating a planet able to withstand a population whose needs are quickly outpacing the Earth's ability to regenerate resources as fast as people use them.

Many people who spoke at the microphone agreed with her, but not everyone did.

Vondene Kopetski of Missoula said the council was full of "carpetbaggers" who didn't represent the values of natives.

"As a Montana native, I've lived here long enough to know what Montana is about and what we value as Montanans and what's important to us," Kopetski said.

She said she wants to know how much money the city of Missoula is spending on green programs besides the dues to ICLEI. And Kopetski figured the dollars would add up.

"Could we finish work on Upper Miller Creek Road? Could we finally redo Russell Street?" she said.

Robin Saha, though, said letting climate change have its way with Montana will hurt the economy. Spending on tourism contributes to 45,000 jobs in the state, and tourism brings "tens of millions of dollars" to Montana, including Missoula.

"(But) our forests are being killed by beetle kill related to climate change. Our rivers are heating up. Our glaciers are melting," Saha said.

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And he said much is at stake if society doesn't address climate change.

State Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, agreed and he said sustainability is good financial management. He said Missoula can't address climate change alone but must band with other communities, and while it's probably true Missoula could find resources ICLEI offers elsewhere, he said Missoula can't just be a "free rider" and also must be part of a large, collective effort.

"We know there has been a failure in leadership both nationally and at the state. And Missoula and other communities have stepped up to the plate," said Barrett, who said he's proud Missoula has been responsive.

Tyler McRae of Missoula said the city has been a leader on initiatives related to sustainability, and he wants it to continue charging forward for the sake of his future and generations to come.

"I have a stake in the future as opposed to some people who have spoken tonight who won't see the effects of climate change," said McRae, one of the younger people to speak.

In other business, the council also reserved the Fox site at the intersection of Orange and Front streets for one year for the Fox Hotel group to negotiate a development agreement with the city.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.


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