2017: Star staff picks top news stories

Star Staff Writers

(Editor’s Note: The Miles City Star news staff voted for the Top 10 stories in Miles City in 2017. Summaries of numbers 2-4 are below. Summaries of number 1 will be published in Tuesday’s newspaper.)

2. China Beef

So, Custer County residents, would you like to have a beef processing plant here that could employ as many as 300?

That’s what’s in the works and Miles City businessman Fred Wacker — owner of a title/insurance business and the Cross 4 Ranch within the county — is hopeful of it being built here.

“Our chances are very good,” Wacker said. “It’s big for Montana. It’s our time. This would be a whole new industry.”

It’s no guarantee, but after sites and permits are finalized it could be on the way.

“It will be somewhere between Billings and Sidney, and Miles City is in the middle of it,” Wacker said.

The plant would be a boon to the area and Wacker said it is getting positive comments around the area. After all, there are no processing plants in the state and one will be needed to process the deal that was finalized with China, which has agreed to purchase $200 million worth of prime Montana beef in a three-year period.

It breaks down to $50 million in 2018, $70 million in 2019 and $80 million in 2020. After that, who knows?

“It’s been busy, worked on it for a long time,” Wacker said. “It’s been a good three years. We don’t have major feed lots. If we had a processing plant, the feed lots would be built.

“I think it’s a great opportunity. I’ve had a lot of calls and all but one were positive.”

There shouldn’t be a shortage of interested ranchers, one of whom will be Wacker.

“I’m the first guy who stepped up and I will provide cattle to be harvested at this plant,” he said.

Next step: Build it. Wacker hopes that will happen, much to the delight of Montana ranchers in general and Custer County in particular.


— By Abe Winter


3. VA Complex

The Custer County Commissioners are looking a gift horse in the mouth, conducting a feasability study and looking long and hard at an offer from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to give the former VA medical complex, which sits on 14.5 acres in Miles City, to the county.

A six-month extension was granted this month to make the call, giving the commissioners until the end of June to reach a decision.

The county has no intention of being long-term owners of the complex, which will be sold at public auction by the federal General Services Administration if the commissioners decline the offer.

The feasability study, conducted by Stevenson Design of Miles City and accepted by the commissioners lastmonth, outlines five options. Those options are: take ownership as-is; sell or subdivide/condo; lease the facility to a private entity; vacate, raze, subdivide, and sell; or decline the offer and let GSA dispose of it.


— By Casey Jones


4. Drought/Wildfires

How dry was it?

The months of June, July and August were the driest recorded in the Miles City area since records have been kept, according to the National Weather Service Office in Billings. And those records have been kept since 1893.

Less than one inch of rain fell in all three months combined, putting eastern Montana more than four inches below normal for that period before the rains finally came in September.

Crop yields fail. Ranchers shed cattle. And wildfires became almost a daily occurrence in eastern Montana.


— By Casey Jones