[Randy Pinocci] On February 25, 2020, I had the opportunity to visit the Savage School in Richland County. During my meeting with the school’s superintendent, Martha Potter, I learned of the very harsh
realities facing this school in my 19-county district.
The superintendent has worked so hard to stretch her school’s diminishing resources – which
have been so drastically affected because of declining revenue from natural resources. In the
school was a pallet of water bottles, which is not something you see everyday at a school with
just over 100 students – or any school for that matter. I soon found out that they were there
because the drinking water was not safe to drink. Additionally, the school had to bring in 5-
gallon jugs of water to use in food preparation in the cafeteria so children were not consuming
unsafe water that way as well.
According to superintendent Potter, the copper levels were nearly triple what they should be in
some locations. In addition to the high copper levels, many of the school’s copper water pipes
have pin holes due to corrosion. The condition of these pipes is a prime breading ground for
mold growth. With mold growth comes the additional consequence of affecting air quality for
children and adults in the building.
The price tag to make water safe to drink and cook with is estimated at $250,000. With only 583
resident taxpayers in the district, it is almost impossible to acquire those resources from
taxpayers – some of which stood to lose their jobs with the closure of the Sidney coal plant and
mine in Savage. Thankfully we were less than one year away from the legislature convening.
We owe a huge thank you to Rep. Mike Hopkins (R-Missoula), Sen. Mike Cuffe (R-Lincoln
County), and Superintendent Potter. As soon as Rep. Hopkins received our request to appropriate
money to aid the Savage School in this emergency repair, he worked with legislative staff as
well as his colleagues to ensure this did not fall through the cracks. Superintendent Potter got us
the detailed information we needed right away, and Rep. Hopkins got it to the right people. Sen.
Cuffe was the legislator who carried the amendment in House Bill 6, which put this
appropriation in writing as the largest House appropriations bills had already been passed out of
the House and moved over to the Senate for their amendments.
I would also like to thank Rep. Brandon Ler, a represenative in the Montana House from the small town of Savage, who is always quick to express the needs of constituents and who represents them well in Helena.
Some of my critics have questioned whether I should have been involved in this project. To
them, I say this: The Public Service Commission is involved in the regulation of utilities, which
includes water. As a father, former legislator, and public servant, I cannot and will not sit idly by
and not take action where it is needed – ever. Finally, my critics were nowhere near this project.
When they heard about my work to get this emergency funding secured, they did nothing to help.
Dark money has been holding a gun to the heads of our natural resources and rural communities
for years. No matter what, we will never stop fighting them. The spirit and grit of those in our
communities is stronger than any outside force.
[Editor’s Note: This Op-Ed was provided to the Montana Gazette by PSC commissioner, Randy Pinocci]