Brenda Kitterman and her youngest daughter Tricia have been living in Coos Bay, Oregon, since January 2004. She says conflicts in the Flathead Valley and threats against her family didn’t drive her out of town. “The cost of living in Kalispell has gone sky high,” says Kitterman, adding that the local job market and salaries haven’t kept pace with rising real estate prices. Kitterman landed a job in Oregon that paid nearly twice what she says she would have earned in a comparable position in Montana. Leaving the area, however, was harder than she imagined it would be. “I didn’t realize how attached I had gotten to this place,” she says. “But I’m looking forward to the change. I’m going to be making a livable wage.”
After living in Oregon for over a year, the Kittermans are planning to move back to the Flathead Valley this summer. Tricia Kitterman, a senior in high school this fall, is looking forward to graduating alongside her old friends. Liz Kitterman is working at a local television station.
John Stokes continues to host the morning talk show on KGEZ Z-600 “The Edge.” The station now airs FOX News programming. According to a listener survey conducted last fall, 1.6 percent of radio listeners in the Flathead tune into the AM station. In April, Stokes cancelled a Green Swastika rally he had planned to hold around Earth Day.
More than two years after the arrest of the leader of the anti-government militia cell Project 7 and the discovery of a weapons cache, over 50 federal agents converged on the Flathead Valley to arrest more suspects. In May 2004, six people across the country were arrested on illegal weapons charges. One of them was Larry Chezem, who had recently run for sheriff in Flathead County and gained over 2,600 votes. All pleaded guilty in deals with the government, except Chezem who fought the charges. In June 2005, a federal jury found Chezem guilty of conspiring to possess illegal weapons. Chezem, who was set free until a sentencing hearing in September, faces up to five years in prison.
Federal agents pieced together the activities of Project 7 and the identities of its other members over several years of investigation. After the 2002 arrest of Project 7 leader David Burgert, other cell members, fearful of law enforcement closing in on them, moved their weapons. In one instance, they even buried machine guns in nearby Crane Mountain. The FBI was tipped off to the event, and when Project 7 members later returned to dig up the guns, they found an empty box with a business card and note signed by an FBI agent. “We have your goods and we have you. We suggest you call the FBI,” the note read. One member did just that, becoming a key federal witness by making wiretap recordings of other Project 7 members.
David Burgert is serving his ten-year sentence at a federal prison in Rochester, Minnesota.
Flathead on the Move
Since last summer, an informal citizen group has been meeting to find ways of understanding and benefiting from growth and changes in the local economy, and resolving conflict in a civil way. They has tried to bring together a wide variety of groups and individuals in the Flathead, from pro-timber advocates to environmentalists, business leaders and school and city representatives. Flathead County Commissioner Gary Hall and Kalispell Mayor Pam Kennedy, both featured in “The Fire Next Time,” have participated in the process, as well as Columbia Falls Mayor Susan Nicosia, Whitefish Mayor Andy Feury, and representatives from the chamber of commerce in Whitefish, Kalispell, Lakeside-Somers, Columbia Falls, Flathead Valley Community College, Montanans for Multiple Use, Jobs Now Inc., and the National Parks Conservation Association.
Together, citizens involved in the group are addressing issues like growth policies, infrastructure, education and communication and the shift from a resource extraction economy to other economic bases. They plan to create some kind of community club to continue to foster civil conversations between residents of all political stripes about the area’s rapidly changing community and economy. The group has also considered the possibility of increasing road funds in rapid-growth areas, developing mass-transit in the valley, a local option tax, and coordinating curriculum between high schools, the community college and the business community. The effort is part of a larger state movement called “Montana On the Move.” Other fast-growing communities in the state, including Missoula, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Billings, and Butte, are also trying to bring residents together to find ways of better guiding change.