(BROWNING) Governor Steve Bullock got a tour Thursday of the snow situation in Browning and learned what’s being done as communities begin to dig their way back to normal after recent harsh winter weather.
When Bullock landed, he was greeted by Blackfeet Tribal Council leaders to get briefed on the progress being made.
“Browning was isolated many nights off and on because we didn’t have any roads open in or out,” said Incident Commander Robert DesRosier.
The tribe declared a state of emergency in January and Bullock made the same declaration Tuesday.
“So the date that we did it, doesn’t affect what we can provide from a declaration of emergency to help the Blackfeet Nation along the way,” explained Governor Bullock.
The snow drifts were clearly visible from the air as the Blackhawk chopper made its way into Browning. While the roads in town are at least plowed to some extent, DesRosier explained that was not the case just a few days ago.
“When you make a path, then it blows in again just like that,” he said.
DesRosier told Bullock one of the things going right thus far is the cooperation between several agencies.
“There’s been no boundaries, there’s been no ‘nos.’ I’ve had county on state roads, I’ve had BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] on county roads and state roads and I’ve had people just willing to help.”
After a working lunch and a quick brief, Bullock visited the incident command post where they are taking anywhere from 70 to 90 calls per 12 hour shift.
The calls are prioritized, as DesRosier explained, “The emergencies first, the elderly, the medical need, the food delivery, and the fire wood situation.”
The tribal council gave the governor a tour of the area, showing him some of the progress, but also pointing out areas still in need.
“It snows and it blows and then it freezes and it gets icy,” explained one of the members on the tour.
At one point the snow drifts along the road blocked the views out the windows.
“Some of these levels of snow where people had to sort of dig their way through just to get to their door, unless you see it, you don’t fully appreciate it,” Governor Bullock said. “And that’s even here in Browning. When you go to Heart Butte, the challenges that they’ve had have been really challenging for sure.”
Browning schools have been closed four days just this week but most roads are getting better. The Montana Department of Transportation has been working with more than 100 other workers and volunteers to clear roads as best as possible.
“I mean we’ve had our employees not evening going home at night, staying in Browning hotels, really trying to get as much work done as they can,” Bullock said, noting the workload for DOT employees.
As the governor made his way back to the Blackfeet Tribal Council Headquarters, he was met with an appreciative man who had some advice on how to best handle the snow.
“What I’d like them to do is when they come out and plow, don’t put that snow in the yards don’t put that snow in the yards because that’s what caused a lot of that [drifting],” he told the governor with a smile on this face.
Before the governor boarded the Blackhawk to leave, he left the people of the Blackfeet Nation with one message: “We will continue both to work directly with them and with the incident command structure to do all we can to get the resources for the folks in need up here.”