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Missoulian editorial

Local startups to watch; spike in state settlements; Berkeley Pit work; emergency conditions on reservation

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Handful of huckleberries

Huckleberry seeds to the three Missoula companies named to the Montana High Tech Business Alliance’s latest list of “Startups to Watch.” Two biotech startups – DermaXon and Inimmune – and a software company called GeoFli were included in the list of eight Montana companies after the nonprofit alliance studied relevant factors such as revenue growth, expansion plans and expert leadership.

Of course, Missoulians already have our eyes on other local tech businesses that have been making a splash. OnXmaps, for one, recently set a new record for Montana when it secured more than $20 million in venture capital from some big-name investors. The company, which specializes in mapping software for remote locations that keeps people from getting lost in the backcountry, plans to add some 30 positions to its offices in Missoula and Bozeman, which currently employ a total 70 people. A detailed map of local huckleberry bushes goes to this growing company.

A spike in chokecherries to the apparent spike in state settlements, and to the secrecy surrounding them. So far this year, Montana has paid out more than $336,000 to state employees, according to legislative auditors. In budget year 2017, the state paid more than $875,000 in settlements — a big increase from the $45,000 paid in 2011. However, auditors duly noted that they lack a full accounting of the number or amounts of all settlements, and the state has refused to provide this kind of information to journalists who inquired about it in the past. The state’s budget director says that the increase in settlements can be attributed to a change in the way the state does its accounting, but without access to basic information about recent settlements, this explanation is impossible to verify.

Enough huckleberries to fill the Berkeley Pit to the news that Montana Resources plans to begin treating the infamous toxic landmark in Butte roughly five years ahead of schedule. The original agreement between Montana Resources, the Atlantic Richfield Company, and state and federal agencies called for water in the pit to be pumped and treated starting in 2023. However, Butte residents were concerned that water levels at the Superfund site were rising faster than predicted and set to reach critical levels before treatment would begin. It appears their concerns were heard by Montana Resources, which submitted the proposal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step up the treatment timeline.

Drifts of chokecherries to the high winds – upwards of 60 mph in some places – and heavy snowfall that closed roads, schools and entire neighborhoods in some parts of Montana this past week. Gov. Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency in Glacier County, including the Blackfeet Reservation, as well as the Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne reservations and Golden Valley County, as supplies of essential goods – including propane, firewood, food and diapers – dwindled. In Heart Butte, even snowmobiles had difficulty getting through, and to make matters worse, the town water pump failed. Warm and cozy huckleberries to all those, including the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, who rallied to help provide timely information about roads and weather alerts, as well as organize aid to anyone in need.

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