Town Hall panelists talk vaccines, energy, music

BIG SKY – The fifth installment of the weekly EBS virtual Town Hall meetings featured a diverse panel of speakers that touched on a number of topics ranging from vaccines to live and virtual musical performances.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who is originally from Bozeman, brought a Capitol Hill perspective recapping the series of aid packages and legislation that have been passing through the federal government to support those struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Daines said he’s been fighting on behalf of Montana in the midst of these nationally scaled decisions, making sure state businesses like taverns are included within the scope of the Paycheck Protection Program loan guidelines and that Montana’s seasonal economic nature is factored into monthly payroll calculations.

Looking ahead, Daines is largely focused on expanding testing availability and capacity as well as pushing a vaccine into the public as soon as possible. He stated that there is a chance that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration process for testing and releasing the vaccine could be streamlined, but there is only so much red tape that can be cut through. “You can’t compromise efficacy and safety,” he said. “You can’t.”

Representatives from NorthWestern Energy, a utility company serving Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, said proactive preparations set them up for relative stability during the pandemic. In 2009, around the time of the rise of the H1N1 virus, NWE tested its incident command structure against a pandemic scenario. This allowed them to transition well over half of their employees to work remotely and continue the essential work that that people across their 136,000-square-mile service territory depend on.

“We feel it’s more important today than ever that we continue to harden and make the grid resilient,” said NorthWestern Vice President Bobbi Shroeppel, who was joined by CEO Bob Rowe.

Dr. Kaley Burns, a Naturopathic Medicine physician and the owner of Big Sky Natural Health, narrowed the conversation to a local community scope. Burns said that despite the blows people may be experiencing to their mental and physical health, there are ways to rise above these challenges.

“I think we can kind of find comfort in the fact that we all can take some control in our health and maybe in the health of those that we care for, ” she said.  

The meeting concluded with a special guest and uplifting performance as Brian Stumpf, local musician and 2014 Dirtbag King, took the virtual stage. Stumpf, who has been playing for an online audience once a week in his “Stumpy Sundays” series, reflected on the resiliency of the Big Sky community during these trying times, adding that the strength of the community has never been more evident.

Stumpf closed out the evening by playing what he called the “greatest song ever written,” Monty Python number “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

EBS virtual Town Hall schedule:

  • May 4
  • May 11

Afterward, EBS will host Town Halls on the first Monday of each month:

  • June 1
  • July 6
  • Aug. 3
  • Oct. 5
  • Nov. 2
  • Dec. 7