On February 14, 2012 I left Helena on a trip to Missoula to tend to a health issue. On my return I came to realize that this particular trip had actually begun in the late 1960s when I was a zealous young Montana Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologist working to change an anemic state water quality law to something of substance. Our intellectual leader of that campaign was Dr. Les Rusoff of the University Law School. We prevailed and the Clark Fork’s recovery became possible.
Late in that same decade the Anaconda Company proposed an open pit mine high in the Blackfoot watershed. The company needed an easement on School Trust Lands in order to dam Alice Creek as a source of water. The meeting packed the Governor’s Reception Room of the state capital in an unprecedented display of public opposition. They were mostly U of M students and caused the four person Land Board to vote two-aye and two-nay, thus saying no to “the company” for the first time in a long time, maybe ever. An angry governor told his Fish and Game Department to work it out and my water resources unit became the agency’s Environmental Resources Division. That pit was never dug.
Late in my state career I was called to a meeting of state agency lawyers. The issue was whether or not to file a lawsuit claiming damages due to past pollution of the Clark Fork River. The problem was the federal Super Fund Act was due to expire and the state was left with too little time to give notice of their intent to bring the lawsuit prior to the expiration of the law. The lawyers saw the infirmity and seemed to be concluding that it was too late. I brought forward an argument that infirm or not we needed to file the claim for damages to let posterity know what had happened on that day. The suit was filed, Senator Max Baucus then led the fight to extend the Super Fund Act and the river was given new hope.
I now traveled to Missoula because I was born with a faulty heart valve that after three quarters of century was failing and the International Heart Institute of Montana was among the world’s best. My surgeon who contributed to that greatness told me he was there because Missoula was the smallest town he could find that could both support his profession and the lifestyle amenities he valued. It included the rivers that run through us all.
On February 15, 2012 I lay fully exposed, helpless, and fading under the bright lights of the Heart Institute’s operating room. Then, that surgeon drawn to your town took my heart into his hand while the Institute’s staff of hundreds stood poised and ready. The first three letters of the surgeon’s last name are derived from the word Maximum, MAX - and I will be WELL.
Thank you Missoula for caring so much about where you are and how you live that it makes miracles possible.
Jim Posewitz Helena, MT