Laura Lundquist – Missoula Current
As more Montanans learned this weekend of the closure of the Anaconda Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, some tried to find ways to save it.
After the Department of Labor announced Friday morning that it would close nine Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, including the Anaconda camp, Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester immediately protested the shutdown, as the Missoula Current reported.
The Department of Labor made the announcement after the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the Forest Service would no longer manage the conservation centers. Even those that survived the cut, including the Trapper Peak CCC in Darby, will see management changes and likely be taken over by independent contractors, according to the Labor Department.
In a strongly worded letter, Tester told Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, “It is unbelievable that you would claim to support economic development in a rural state like Montana while closing down this facility, which has a proven track record of success.”
A longtime supporter of Montana’s CCCs, Tester vowed to fight the Trump administration’s action by introducing legislation to defend Anaconda from the sudden decision. He has until September to make something happen, as that is when the nine centers are slated to close.
On Friday afternoon, the Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation sent a joint letter to the USDA leadership saying they had concerns about the closure.
“I urge you to maintain Anaconda CCC’s operating status or provide suitable and equivalent alternatives for the students currently served by the Anaconda CCC,” the letter said. “Shuttering the Anaconda CCC will deprive its students and Montana as a whole of a valuable source of skilled labor and puts jobs at risk in Anaconda and surrounding communities. I request that you reverse this decision and keep the Anaconda CCC open.”
Gov. Steve Bullock added his letter to those protesting the closure on Tuesday afternoon.
Although the Anaconda CCC might not graduate as many students as CCCs in urban areas, it provides youth with an opportunity that isn’t available in much of rural Montana; therefore, it’s more important, the governor and recently announced Democratic presidential candidate said.
Also, CCC students are an important source of seasonal firefighters in a state that is seeing an uptick in wildfires due to climate change, according to Bullock’s letter.
“Closing this center will lead to immediate job loss for the workers, but also will have negative impacts on our state’s resiliency to fires and other disasters, economic development and private enterprise in our state,” Bullock wrote. “With this proposed closure, Montana would be left with just one Job Corps site, down from three that existed just a year ago. For the benefit of our economy and the safety of our state, I urge you to maintain the Anaconda Job Corps Center.”
The Anaconda CCC serves about 200 students, and about 70 students graduate each year. The DOL announcementstipulated that students attending the ill-fated CCCs would be allowed to finished their training or transfer to another center, likely the Trapper Creek Center in this case.
Calls to Anaconda CCC director Ray Ryan were not returned Tuesday.
Former CCC students rallied within a day to sign a petition supporting their alma mater and asking that it remain open.
Anaconda resident Mike Pentilla launched an online petition over the weekend with a goal of collecting 1,000 signatures. By Tuesday, he had almost 1,100.
In his petition, Pentilla takes exception to the DOL’s justification that closing the Anaconda site would “create an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher-performing centers at a lower cost.” He pointed out that the Anaconda CCC ranks No. 1 in the 11-state Dallas region and No. 8 out of 126 CCC’s nationwide, both indications of high performance.
Pentilla also said the 7,700 residents of Anaconda would feel the loss of 60 jobs because one-fifth of the population already lives below the poverty level.
“The stated reason for closing this center is inconsistent with the logic stated in the press release,” Pentilla said.
The 450 comments on the petition back him up, such as that of Kathleen Shipley.
“DO NOT CLOSE THIS CENTER! This is vital to youth in our area! My son went there not once but TWICE! He had to leave early the first time due to family health emergency. When he reapplied several years later, he was accepted and graduated third in his class with honors. His take-away knowledge has been a foundation for him to move forward in life. To close this center will destroy our youths’ ability to gain an education, training in a field of their choice, and the ability to gain social skill. Not ALL youth are able to attend traditional high school. A round peg doesnt fit in a square hole,” Shipley wrote.