Bullock signs HB 142 into law on Friday

Gov. Steve Bullock declared a winter storm state of emergency Tuesday in two Montana counties and three tribal reservations.

“The safety and security of Montanans must be our top priority,” Bullock said in a statement. “During these challenging winter conditions, we have been and will continue to communicate with local and tribal officials and offer state resources however necessary.”

The announcement came after days of extreme cold, heavy snow and strong winds that have created dangerous conditions across much of northwestern and southeastern Montana.

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The state of emergency covers the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne reservations and Glacier and Golden Valley Counties. It authorizes Bullock to mobilize additional state resources, including the Montana National Guard, to protect life, health and property. It will also allow local governments to be reimbursed for the costs they’re already facing.

In a second executive order Tuesday, Bullock also temporarily loosened restrictions on how many hours commercial drivers can work when carrying diesel fuel, propane and heating oil. He said the change would ensure the needed fuel reaches northwestern Montana without shortages or delays.

Leaders say parts of Glacier County and the Blackfeet tribal areas have seen more than two weeks without a break in severe winter weather.

“It is unusual,” said Delila Bruno, administrator for Montana Disaster and Emergency Services. “Winter in Montana is one thing, and then there’s a whole other thing to have 16 straight days of blowing snow and trouble.”

Leaders activated the Montana State Emergency Coordination Center earlier this month, to start preparing for the storm. They say they’re working closely with the Blackfeet Tribe’s incident commander.

“I just can’t say enough about how good of a job they’re doing up there,” Bruno said. “They’ve got a strong incident command system, strong leadership, very well organized, very good response effort that’s been going in these last couple weeks, and something to really be proud of.”

Montana DES has sent a district field officer to the Browning area to help coordinate the response.

The Montana Department of Transportation has sent additional resources, including equipment and mechanics, to work on northwestern Montana highways covered by snow drifts. Photos and video posted on the department’s Facebook page (facebook.com/montanadot) show dramatic drifts that closed State Highway 464 north of Browning. MDT leaders said high winds continued to pose challenges for their crews Tuesday.

State leaders say they’ll continue to assist local governments in any way they can.

“What they’re going to have to assess over the next couple weeks is roll up their expenses, roll up the effort that’s really gone into this disaster,” said Bruno. “They’ll be the ones telling us, ‘Hey, these are the things we’d like additional assistance with.’”

Gov. Steve Bullock today issued an executive order Monday declaring a state of emergency on the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap, and Northern Cheyenne reservations and in Glacier and Golden Valley Counties.

“The safety and security of Montanans must be our top priority. During these challenging winter conditions, we have been and will continue to communicate with local and tribal officials and offer state resources however necessary,” said Bullock.

This declaration is in response to extreme cold and blizzard conditions with drifting snow that have created extraordinary conditions impacting most of Northwestern and Southeastern Montana.

The Montana State Emergency Coordination Center (SECC) began preparations and assistance for this winter storm event last week. The SECC has been in close coordination with the Incident Commander at the Blackfeet Tribe and a District Field Officer has been deployed to Browning as a resource for the Incident Commander. In addition, the Montana Department of Transportation is making available as many resources to the area as possible, including equipment and mechanics.

Bullock also issued an executive order for an extension of hours of operation for fuel delivery statewide, to ensure that needed fuel can be made available to Northwestern Montana.

The Blackfeet Tribe has established an Incident Command structure to manage the incident, field calls, and assist community members. One semi-load of food and two shipments of firewood have been donated and are available for distribution by the Tribe. The shelter in Browning remains open.

“We are working cooperatively with the Montana Department of Transportation, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as other counties and tribal entities lending mutual aid assistance,” said Robert DesRosier, Incident Commander for the Blackfeet Tribe. “We are pleased with the support and assistance we have received thus far in dealing with our situation.”

“We are working cooperatively with all the partners to provide assistance to the Blackfeet Tribe,” said Delila Bruno, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services Administrator.

Other locations across the state have experienced severe weather over the past several days as well. At Fort Belknap, officials have opened an Incident Command System and are assisting with hay donations, warming shelters, and firewood.