Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Sewage Lagoon, politely called a Settling Pond

Last night’s Town Council meeting began with an engineer presenting options for dealing with”sludge,” the semi-solids left at the bottom of the sewage lagoon settling and treatment ponds.  It ended with social sludge preventing options and recourse, though not on the physical sludge issue.  The council accepted the engineer’s recommendation, which was to pump it out in liquid form and explore possibilities for spraying or injecting it into local fields.  

Until a short time ago the Town Council didn’t even know there was a problem with “sludge”, which usually goes by the fancier name of “biosolids” and is included in the regulations of the Clean Water Act, which is organized under the US Environmental Agency.

This is another of the federal rules and laws that make the management of small towns so burdensome and complex that no one wants to be a mayor or alderman.  Aside from regulatory deadlines and rules, which can be punished one way or another, there is always the possibility of someone well-heeled using a lawyer to sue the city for failure to comply or for penalties amounting to persecution.  This last is “tort law” which many people never take into account.  Tort law is what lawyers love, because it means anyone can be sued for anything, though there are penalties for frivolous lawsuits.

Written laws, on the books, are passed by various bodies at many levels and ultimately effective only if they are enforced.  One important step is persuading citizens that they are fair and justified.  Ruling over all other laws are the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Treaty law is the only equivalent and reservations are technically covered by treaty law, but this is often ignored.  Next comes state laws, and then regulations of various kinds.  Towns may pass ordinances.  Sometimes they are unenforceable, given the lack of funds for investigators and the necessary court actions, and sometimes they are unenforceable because the people themselves don’t like the law, are not persuaded that it does anything anyway, and just don’t “buy in.”  As Russians say, “tradition is more important than law.  We do what we have always done because otherwise we are not ourselves anymore.”

Our difficulties with grizzly bears are a good illustration and so are the struggle with tall grass and derelict vehicles.  The Town of Valier ordinances are online.   www.townofvalier.com/ordinances 


A. It shall be the duty of the owner, agent, occupant or lessee to keep his/her exterior private property free of litter, noxious weeds and any junk, inoperable, unlicensed and/or unregistered vehicles. This requirement applies not only to removal of loose litter, but to materials that already are, or become, trapped at such locations as fence and wall bases, grassy and planted areas, borders, embankments and other lodging points.

B. Owners, agents, occupants or lessees whose properties face on town sidewalks and strips between streets and sidewalks shall be responsible for keeping those sidewalks and strips free of litter, noxious weeds, snow and ice.

C. All persons owning, occupying or being in control of property fronting on any alley of the town of Valier shall keep the portion of said alley between the centerline thereof and the property line of such property and fronting on such property free from solid waste, litter, noxious weeds or any other solid waste material including junk, inoperable, unlicensed and/or unregistered vehicles.

D. It shall be the duty of every nonresident owner of a vacant lot or other vacant property to appoint a resident agent who shall have responsibility for keeping that lot or other property free of solid waste, litter, noxious weeds, or any solid waste material including junk, inoperable, unlicensed and/or unregistered vehicles.

E. Every person owning or in charge or control of any vacant building within the town limits of the town of Valier shall barricade or permanently secure all windows, doors, and other openings which are available for access by transients or trespassers.

F. Upon vacating or abandoning any premises within the town of Valier, the occupant thereof shall remove any and all noxious, hazardous, or solid waste material which has been deposited, allowed to come to rest, or permitted to accumulate thereon, and such vacated premises shall be left in a clean and neat condition.

G. It shall be the duty of the owner, agent, occupant or lessee to keep his/her property free of community decay. It shall be unlawful for a property owner or occupant to allow community decay within the public view including junk, inoperable, unlicensed and/or unregistered vehicles. (Ord. 182, 10-10-2016, eff. 11-9-2016)

Having once spent a year working with a citizen committee to write a new Multnomah County Animal Control ordinance in the Seventies with the help of a sympathetic lawyer, I’m very aware of how context and definitions are everything in a law.  The law we wrote is now old-fashioned, unworkable, and rewritten again.  We were working before the pit bull fad; before things like declawing cats or surgically altering dogs' ears for the sake of appearance were defined as cruelty; before the case that defined dogs as potential deadly weapons; and so on.  “Community decay” is a state-defined term.  leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/7/5/7-5-2110.htm  I’ll come back to this topic in later posts.

The problem in Valier is context.  Expected standards for neighborhoods are more strict now that people have moved here expecting an exemplary, peaceful, Disneyworld sort of place, and they feel justified in forcing that onto the pre-existing town, though many people here took refuge or were here by pre-existing default because of tolerance of aging and low costs.  The town has been shrinking and new people are wanted. The town's action to support the new people’s ideas can seriously affect the lives of the people already here, who are often invisible to the new people.

I came to Valier in 1999 and bought this house, so I’m not a floating renter.  (I seriously underestimated the costs of a deteriorating property.  I would recommend that people buying cheap “fixer-uppers” should plan on spending the equivalent of the cost on basic maintenance, quite apart from upgrading.)  My step-daughter was married and lived here in the days when the abandoned Texaco station was an active business in the late Fifties, and I came to her father’s town, Browning, MT, in 1961.  So I have history in this town, though it would be exaggerating to call it roots.  I’m not an example of income disparity due to wealth since my income is on or slightly beneath the official poverty line.  I benefit from SSI and Medicare, so I am — in the eyes of young, healthy, employed men — a freeloader.

The disparity that gets me into trouble is an education disparity.  David Brooks has been struggling with this sort of thing.   https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/opinion/how-we-are-ruining-america.html?emc=edit_th_20170711&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=14191488  The drumbeat in the Fifties was gotocollege
gotocollegegotocollege.  “College” was portrayed as an Ivy League transformation of small town guy into major success.  Ivan Doig, who went to high school here, is the exemplar.  But Valier doesn’t like Doig; he is warmly loved by Dupuyer, where he boarded while bussing to high school in Valier.  They have been celebrating his life while Valier sticked to idealizing Homesteaders, whom we used to disparagingly call honyockers.  They don’t “do” cowboys.

Doig’s reputation in Valier is partly due to anti-intellectualism, which is ironic since publishing sales more or less forced him to drop his sophisticated historical work in order to tell local stories.  It’s apparent and provable that “intellectuals” educated in first rate colleges have an advantage in the nation: a network, a pattern of consumption, a vocabulary, and a set of prejudices that separates them from the run-of-the-mill high-school-educated business person in a small Montana town who feel like they are shut out, and feel that they don’t deserve it since is hardly a ghetto (in their minds).

Last night we ran into an other political sore spot.  I had said that our mayor comes from the military, and evidently he has been attacked for that, going back to the Vietnam-era spitting on soldiers as “baby-killers.”  My artist brother had a very hard time with the scorn after his service in the Marines.  He was a volunteer, partly because of the GI Bill which improved the employment qualifications of so many enlisted people.  I spent the Sixties in Browning where military were never framed this way, except the Cavalry in the 19th Century.  But my basic idea of military is WWII — heroes.

Ray thinks I am a liberal, defined as a person who wants to end law and order; an elitist who considers it an entitlement.  Someone who hugs bears.  Also, I have no real role in his mind.  I’m just retired and no one asked me what I thought.  But thinking is what I do.  Thinking and my kind of writing are inseparable.  I’m far too eclectic to be defined as liberal or conservative.  Maybe progressive.  

Steve thinks I’m a ne’er-do-well who wants to be mayor.  I doubt he has ever guessed my boundaries, which have nothing to do with Valier.  They are the old Blackfeet hunting grounds: the high east slope prairie from Yellowstone to Edmonton, from the Rockies to the Black Hills.  it is an ecological, literary, geological, deep history place with boundaries drawn by humans.  He would be right to say I’m an intellectual elitist because we are a specialized category.  I’m sorry that offends and threatens him.

There’s a category out there that isn’t well defined yet, but the indecency and criminality of the Trumpists has given it major energy.  I may be the only progressive in Valier.  I can see who reads my blog and few locals even know it exists, much less read it.  That’s okay.  I don’t write it for them.  I’m stupid to be uncloaked.  The real advantage of an ivory tower is being invisible.  I would have thought a small country town would do as well.  Maybe it won't.

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