Roundup: Mines, Fire Funding and Sir Elton

By Beacon Staff

FLATHEAD

Libby Man Charged with Murder-for-Hire
A Libby man who allegedly paid an employee $50,000 to help him find someone to kill his estranged wife is charged with murder-for-hire. Shane Sichting, 38, appeared in U.S. District Court in Missoula last week. He did not enter a plea. After receiving the last of the wire transfers, court records said the employee cut off ties to Sichting, expecting him to eventually realize he’d been scammed, prosecutors said. Instead, Sichting traveled to Oregon and contacted his former employee about his progress, which frightened him into calling the police.

FBI agents then began investigating Sichting. An undercover Kalispell police officer to pose as the would-be murderer for hire. The officer met with Sichting in Libby and confirmed he had paid $50,000 to have his wife killed. Sichting remains jailed in Missoula without bail.

Baucus, Tester want say on BP, Cline Mining Proposals
Montana’s U.S. senators last week asked Canada to give Montana scientists a voice in assessing potential environmental effects from proposed coal mining and coal-bed methane work in southeastern British Columbia. Industrial development in that part of the province, north of Montana’s Glacier National Park, has raised concerns in the state about possible harm to water quality in the transboundary Flathead River system.

Montana scientists should have a place in Canada’s federal environmental assessments for a mining proposal by Canada-based Cline Mining Co., and for potential coal-bed methane extraction by British Petroleum, Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus wrote Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the United States. The senators said Canadian law gives officials in that country the option of convening a joint review panel. The letter was sent just days before the 75th anniversary of Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, consisting of Glacier and its northern sister, Waterton Lakes National Park along the border dividing British Columbia and Alberta.

MONTANA

Legislature Funds Firefighting
The Legislature agreed last week to set up a special $40 million account to pay for future wildfire costs, in addition to paying the firefighting bills accrued this summer. The special legislative session Gov. Brian Schweitzer called took just one day, as Republicans and Democrats both largely agreed on the need to spend money on fires.

The new wildfire account departs from the method usually used by the Legislature to pay for wildfires, which required them to pay for the firefighting costs after the fact. But both sides agreed increasingly longer and more expensive fire seasons required upfront payment for coming years. Lawmakers adopted two bills, totaling about $80 million, that set up the wildlife account in the Department of Natural Resources, and spend about $43 million reimbursing the governor’s emergency account, the DNRC and the National Guard for costs accrued this summer.

Elton John Ticket Buying Turns Ugly
Some people who stood in line last week to purchase tickets to the Elton John concert in Missoula became angry and threw their numbered wristbands at the director of the Adams Center after learning nearly all the tickets had been sold online or by telephone.

University of Montana officials issued a written apology. Mary Muse, director of the Adams Center, said: “Online buyers and ticket sales staff at the Adams Center windows, other ticket outlets and on the phones were all accessing the same inventory of tickets when they went on sale at 10 a.m. Internet sales brought the most success in sales. The tickets sold out in 20 minutes.” People who obtained a numbered wristband and stood in line at four Missoula ticket sales locations to buy tickets for the Sept. 28 concert at the Adams Center were almost entirely shut out.

REGION

Sen. Craig Withdraws Guilty Plea
MINNEAPOLIS – Sen. Larry Craig filed court papers Monday seeking to withdraw his guilty plea in an airport sex sting, arguing that he entered the plea under stress caused by media inquiries into his sexuality, the Associated Press reports. Craig, an Idaho Republican, pleaded guilty in August to disorderly conduct following his June arrest in a sting operation in a men’s bathroom at the Minneapolis airport. A police report alleged that Craig had solicited sex from a male officer at the airport, which the senator has denied.

In a “state of intense anxiety” following his arrest, Craig “felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the police officer” and plead guilty to the disorderly conduct charge in hopes the matter would not be made public, said the court papers filed in Hennepin County District Court. The filing said Craig panicked and accepted the plea rather than seeking the advice of an attorney. As a result, Craig’s guilty plea was not “knowingly and understandingly made,” and the evidence against him insufficient to support the plea, the papers said.

Bear Encounters Increase
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – A late freeze and drought across the West have drastically reduced black bears’ natural fare of berries and acorns, driving the animals into towns to forage in garbage bins, bird feeders and even inside homes. Dozens of the intruders have been hit by cars or killed by wildlife officers, the Associated Press reports. Colorado wildlife officers have killed at least 30 black bears this summer for having run-ins with people. Landowners defending livestock and federal agents have killed 42 more, and 29 bears were killed by vehicles. Bear mortality could rival 2002’s record total of 404. There have been at least 877 reports of human-bear encounters this year, compared with 502 for all of last year.

The problem has spread across the West. Nevada’s Department of Wildlife has received nearly 1,000 bear complaints this year, compared with 350 last year. In the Lake Tahoe area, a record 20 bears have been hit by cars. Bear calls are up in Utah after a fatal attack on an 11-year-old boy southeast of Salt Lake City. But the number of visitors injured by bears in Yellowstone National Park is down from an average of 45 yearly in the ’60s to about one a year.

From Beacon staff and AP wire reports

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